Plans for Town Hall Green weigh history vs. utility issues
Published 5:23 am, Tuesday, October 20, 2015
It’s actually three different plans that Jehle said may form the basis of a final plan that incorporates the best ideas from each. The museum manages the green, as well as the historic buildings on the site, including the Sun Tavern, Burr Homestead, Old Academy and Victorian Cottage. The green is also home to the seat of town government in three buildings — Old Town Hall, Sullivan-Independence Hall and a former residence on Penfield Road that houses the Social Services Department.
Jehle and landscape architect Thomas Elmore have been hosting meetings with residents and town employees to get their feedback on the plans. On hand at last week’s meeting with several veterans, perhaps spurred by rumors that the Honor Roll — the monument with the names of local military veterans fronting on the Old Post Road — could be moved.
That, Jehle assured the veterans, will not happen and the Honor Roll, he said, is not even part of the discussion. “Some people have said they think our veterans deserve better,” Jehle said, referring to suggestions that the monument needs some sprucing up. “But that’s not part of this,” he said.
Two of the plans being reviewed eliminate the driveway between Old Town Hall and Independence Hall, instead providing pedestrian access and restoring a historic pond that was once the site of colonial-era witch trials. New driveways could be established -- one off the Old Post Road between St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and the Burr Homestead, and the other off Penfield Road.
Additional parking would be created in the new Old Post Road driveway and behind Independence Hall.
“The purpose is to generate conversation,” Elmore said. “Nothing is cast in stone. Some of the asphalt in front of Old Town Hall would be eliminated and Town Clerk Betsy Browne expressed concern about the loss of parking spaces at the building, which houses not only her office, but offices for the tax collector and assessor as well.
“There’s no parking already and over 30 full-time employees in that building,” Browne said. There are currently 46 parking spaces at Old Town Hall. “So, that leaves only a handful of spots for the public,” she said.
While the area is historically significant, Building Department employee Carolyn Daruka said it is important to remember that it is also where the town’s government offices are located.
“It’s an extraordinary campus to work on, we’re extremely lucky,” Daruka said. “I have a great concern that it’s being looked at as a historical site with some government, or even government and history on equal footing.”
Jehle agreed that a balance must be struck between the two interests. “What makes this site great is that it’s a formal center of government,” he said. “We’re not trying to revert it back.”
“This is the seat of government,” said Tom Quinn, who serves on the Riverfield Buiding Committee. “People are coming here to do business.” Quinn said his health will not allow him to walk from Old Town Hall to Independence Hall if the driveway were eliminated.
A Penfield Road resident reminded Jehle that when the Social Services Department was moved into a house on that street, officials promised there would be no entrance or exit to the building from Penfield.
And while some thought an elevated boardwalk through the swamp next to the soccer field sounded like a good idea, the fact that one end of that boardwalk was on the grounds of Sherman Elementary School gave them pause.
Jehle said planners hope to have one, cohesive plan, that looks at the campus in a holistic manner, ready to present to the Board of Selectmen in December.
But, he said, even then it doesn’t mean the plan will be a done deal. Not only will funding need to be secured, Jehle said, but the Historic District Commission and Town Plan and Zoning Commission both will have to approve the plan.
The project, if done, will likely take place incrementally and not all at once, he said.