By Antoinette (Toni) Supple
The at right map showing a proposed “loop road” and new intersection in the village is dated October 2012. Although it’s a new design, the idea of a loop road stems back to as early as 1987, when the road concept was an actual loop around the village, extending from points north, going behind the old Shelburne Inn, through and behind the supermarket plaza to join with Church Street, then extending around the current town offices, following the railroad tracks through Harbor Rd. and reconnecting with Shelburne Rd. at some point near the Creamery building.
Fourteen years ago a loop road plan was approved by the Selectboard, but there was no funding support in the town for it. Eventually the project withered on the vine and came out of the Long Term Capital Expenditure Budget plan.
Now it’s back. Last December, while shopping in the Shelburne Country Store, the owner, Steve Mayfield, approached me to ask, “Do you know what’s going on with the road in front of my store? I heard something about it becoming a one-way street and I’ll lose my parking out front to put in a new sidewalk…” He knew I was on the Planning Commission because my daughter works at his store, but I knew nothing about the plans he was describing. I told him to come to our next meeting, and in the meantime I’d find out what I could for him.
What started out as research on his behalf turned into an investigation of sorts. I learned that a loop road is supported by the majority of the Selectboard members, although additional traffic studies of the intersection are still underway. The map, which may or not be the final “preferred alternative,” would add a new 3-lane road to the intersection next to the Bearded Frog (the building where Little Luna Blue is would be taken down), and a two-lane connection from the Shelburne Supermarket Plaza that extends all the way past the Shelburnewood Mobile Home Park to the recently approved Harrington Village project (roughly across from the Creamery Building on Shelburne Rd.). Falls Rd. would become one-way, and a traffic light would be added at the end of Church St. where it joins Rte. 7.
“The loop road is in the capital plan for 2014 for $1.5 million,” the Selectboard minutes from Dec. 2012 read. It also states “the loop road was voted the #1 priority for capital planning last year.” According to Town Planner Dean Pierce, it is likely that the final traffic studies and chosen alternative will be determined by next summer.
“It (the new intersection) will totally destroy the traditional character of our town, and won’t help the traffic at all,” Kevin Clayton, owner of the Village Wine and Coffee shop business and building emphatically told me. “Falls Road will suffer the most–those businesses are struggling as it is. With the five corners, I would fear for the safety of all pedestrians, especially children trying to cross a widened roadway, where it’s already a safety risk now, not to mention the removal of parking spaces for local businesses,” he added.
The loop road project would benefit the sale of a future commercial lot opportunity where Shelburnewood Mobile Home Park currently resides. If the loop road project is approved and funded, Shelburnewood residents would be relocated further east on the lot, enabling that lot to be sold, explained owner Tony Pomerleau to Shelburnewood residents earlier this month, according to one resident.
Meanwhile, Anna Loucheim, owner of Little Luna Blue, waits and worries why her landlord, Redstone Commercial, won’t return her calls regarding whether the building is going to be demolished; Josie Leavitt wonders what will happen to her business, the Flying Pig, if the Bearded Frog building loses its 10 employee parking spaces behind the building. “Parking is a problem here as it is,” she said. “If my customers can’t find a place to park, it hurts my business!” she lamented.
As I point out in my brochure and website (www.ToniSupple.org), I’m not opposed to the loop road project per se. Its merits should be openly discussed and carefully weighed by all. The Five Corner intersection, though, and making Falls Rd. a one-way street would be a grave mistake, I believe – likely sentencing Falls Rd. to become a row of abandoned commercial buildings whose businesses have either failed or moved on.
Concern over this project is what prompted me to run for a Selectboard seat. Knowing that this is on the fast track to go through with the possibility of little or no input from our town’s Planning Commission has me worried. It is at the discretion of the Selectboard whether to involve Planning or not. The Planning Commission reports to the Selectboard, and is responsible for recommending our town’s design, vetting zoning and planning issues with the public, approving building projects and designs and forwarding these to the Selectboard for their approval.
The businesses that would be directly impacted by its implementation are also worried. Many feel frustrated that they weren’t invited to the scoping study hearings, and those who were limited to a brief discussion of traffic safety issues only. I’ve spoken with a variety of people throughout the town and business owners in the village and one common theme has emerged–people are frustrated and don’t trust the town’s government.
“I was told there’d be plenty of chance for me to have input (about the sidewalks) by the Town,” said Matthew Taylor, who owns Matthew Taylor Designs on Harbor Rd, “Yet, next thing I knew, they were paving outside my door. I was never notified to attend the hearing when they discussed the project – which is against the law. As the building owner, I’m supposed to be notified. When I complained, I was treated very rudely,” he added.
This scenario was repeated with street lights being removed in the Davis Park and Longmeadow neighborhoods. Residents in those neighborhoods weren’t notified for inclusion in hearings before the removals and subsequent installations took place. In most cases, they found out about it the day before or the day the town trucks arrived.
Townspeople and business owners should not have to be on guard or constantly worried about what the town might be doing. Our elected officials and town administrators essentially work for us, and they should do a better job of keeping us informed. We shouldn’t have to regularly monitor the town’s website to see if there’s an issue brewing that concerns us, or question the veracity of what is told to us. Issues and events should be adequately communicated to the media beforehand, all stakeholders should be contacted (right now only property owners, not businesses that rent commercial space, are notified), and meeting agendas should be routinely posted on Front Porch Forum.
Our Selectboard will be making many important decisions facing our town over the next two years. It is my hope that creating public awareness about this loop road project will ensure townspeople are paying attention and will participate and understand all the ramifications of the project before it comes up for vote.
Antoinette (Toni) Supple is a member of the Shelburne Planning Commission and is currently running for the 2 year Selectboard seat. Toni is the Managing Editor of Picket Fence Preview, which she and her husband, Bill, founded 20 years ago. They’ve resided in Shelburne for 18 years, and have three children ages 15–20.