The town of Middlesex and the Middlesex Planning Commission are recipients of two Vermont Planners Association 2021 planning awards.
The town’s Walkable Middlesex Village Study is the Vermont Planners Association (VPA) Plan of the Year.
The Walkable Middlesex Village Study envisions alternate scenarios for redeveloping the town’s main street, which is also a state highway. State management of the central roadway presents challenges for village center placemaking – a challenge common to towns throughout Vermont. The study presents two scenarios for collaboration between the town and state government, integrating the needs of the community with the policies and priorities of the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
“By envisioning walkable and bikeable village solutions with and without state management of the highway, the report points the way towards a variety of walkable futures for Middlesex’s village center. These visions are presented in an engaging graphic style to illustrate the value walkability would have on community safety and placemaking. The study emerged from a 2018 community visioning process, a 2019 Town Plan rewrite, and designation of the Village Center area in 2019. These previous efforts are reflected in the plan’s design for multiple walking and bicycling connections among businesses, homes and community center,” VPA judge wrote.
The judges pointed out that the planning process was also notable for the amount of public outreach that was undertaken during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, outreach was conducted with social distancing requirements in place, and extra efforts were required to assure a broad array of community voices were incorporated into the plan. Individual interviews with land and businesses owners, multiple walking tours with key stakeholder groups, a series of virtual public meetings and direct mailers to all town residents bridged the void created by the unprecedented pandemic circumstances. An additional strength of the plan is how clearly it states the steps the town and its partners must take to move beyond the plan and build a walkable Middlesex Village. “At just 38 pages, the plan is direct and does not suffer from bloat due to boilerplate or floral language. The plan walks the reader through a process of vision, research, analysis, recommendations and specific implementation steps,” judges said.
VPA judges also awarded the town’s planning commission with the Citizen Board of the Year award.
Since 2018, the Middlesex Planning Commission has dedicated extraordinary volunteer time, meeting at least twice per month, to develop and implement Middlesex’s municipal plan and pursue special planning projects. Planning commissioners’ efforts to educate town residents about planning, map out strategies for achieving specific goals and enhance the capacity of the community to realize its vision by supporting a capital improvement planning program have rallied residents and attracted funding for specialized studies and implementation actions,” the judges found.
The Middlesex Planning Commission has engaged with local residents through planning processes for the “What’s Next Middlesex?” community visioning program in 2018, a successful village center designation application, a Municipal Plan update with an Enhanced Energy element, and the Walkable Middlesex Bike and Pedestrian Plan. Specific outreach strategies have involved education events to solicit public input on the municipal plan and resident surveys to determine aspects of the town’s zoning that needed revision.
“Through consistent engagement over several years, Middlesex residents and local businesses have gained a better understanding of the planning commission’s role in the town, which has allowed for beneficial dialogue and consensus on community issues and solutions. The commission’s partnerships with local business owners, “What’s Next, Middlesex” action groups, and a revitalized Middlesex Energy Committee have been key to recent planning achievements,” they added.