Morristown might rejoin the Lamoille County Planning Commission, three years after opting out.
The Morristown Select Board and Morrisville Village Board of Trustees jointly voted to leave the county planning commission in August 2016, and relations have been frosty, at best, since then.
But a thaw could be coming.
Bob Beeman and Chris Towne, chair and vice chair of the Morristown Select Board, broached the idea of rejoining the county planning commission on Monday night.
Both have met with Tasha Wallis, executive director of the planning commission, and Caleb Magoon, chair of the organization’s board of directors, about the possibility.
“I think it’s beneficial for us,” Beeman said, and the town and commission should reunite and work together “like adults.”
“Let the past go,” he said.
Morristown dropped out after several years of a bureaucratic turf war, with town officials asserting the planning commission staff was interfering in town and village business.
Towne wasn’t on the select board then, but he’s quickly been catching up on the details.
“I just think we’re much better off if we have a healthy relationship, and can collaborate,” Towne said.
Wallis is excited about having the largest municipality in Lamoille County back on board.
She said Beeman and Towne “wanted to talk about the services we offer and building up the relationship going forward. We think that would be great.
“We are committed to serving all the municipalities in Lamoille County to the best of our abilities,” she said. “We would look forward to working with them and assisting them in any way we could.”
If Morristown rejoined the regional planning commission, it could reapply for a downtown designation for its village, one of the major benefits that Beeman sees from mending fences.
Morristown’s downtown designation was revoked early in 2017, because it requires membership in the county planning commission.
The commission “can help us with some state stuff,” Beeman said. While Morristown needs the commission’s help less than smaller towns might, the downtown designation “is no small thing.” It opens up doors for tax credits, Act 250 permit relief, help with signs and traffic control, and priority for state grants for historic buildings, of which Morristown has several.
“Back when we walked away, I didn’t feel like it was that big of a deal to lose the downtown designation,” Beeman said, but he knows more about the benefits now, and wants to regroup with the planning commission.
Judy Bickford and Brian Kellogg, the other board members at Monday’s meeting, expressed support for at least exploring the option of rejoining.
“I think we need to forget what happened in the past. I think all these groups should work together,” Kellogg said. “I’m all for working together.”
Select board member Eric Dodge wasn’t at the meeting, so the other four board members decided to wait until Dodge could participate in the decision.
“I’ve talked to Eric,” Beeman said. “He wants to move forward too.”
A similar vote by the village board of trustees would also likely be needed for that municipality to rejoin.
That decision to rejoin is really all that’s needed, Wallis said, because in reality the town of Morristown and village of Morrisville never officially left the organization.
“All municipalities are members of a regional planning commission,” Wallis said. The town and village simply stopped paying their dues and attending board meetings, so they weren’t really full members with access to the services and benefits offered by a regional planning commission.
“All they need to do is vote to participate, appoint some board members and pay their dues,” Wallis said.
Beeman said it will take time to rebuild the relationships shattered by several years of squabbling.
Towne called it “strategic forgetting.”
“I don’t think it will be super easy,” he said, and he doesn’t expect everyone to be best friends, but it needs to happen.
Beeman attended the commission’s annual meeting earlier this year, and has visited the commission’s Portland Street offices, right across from the town offices. He received a warm welcome, and thinks better communication will avoid the problems that led to the split three years ago.
“If there are things we don’t need help on, we don’t want to hide that. Be upfront” about it, Beeman said.
Beeman and Towne have already been tossing around ideas on who should represent Morristown on the commission’s board. Beeman recommends Towne for one of the spots; Bickford or village trustee Tom Snipp would also be good choices, the board agreed.
More discussion is planned July 29.
Other town business
• The select board voted July 1 to approve a new parking layout around the Noyes House Museum. The plan will add nine public parking spaces to the area around Lower Main Street, where parking is often tight.
There are now two parallel spaces on the slip road in front of the museum; the new plan will add five angled parking spots on that location and a bit of the museum lawn. Six more pull-in, back-out spots will be added on another portion of the Noyes House property; they won’t be angled.
Lindley said he and his staff are still working with Peter Bourne, who owns a parcel across A Street from the museum, to add four spots there, which would bring the total number of new spots up to 13. The three angled spots in front of the News & Citizen offices will stay as-is, but will likely be made two-hour parking and designated for compact cars only.
The new parking layout replaces a plan to add angled spots farther up Lower Main, closer to the four-way intersection. Lindley hopes the new parking spots will be a reality by the end of this construction season.
• A proposal to build a small dog park on another portion of the Noyes House Museum property was scrapped. The dog park isn’t a good fit there, the board decided after hearing from several residents July 1. The group promoting a dog park is going to keep looking, Lindley said.
• The board selected the bid of J. Hutchins of Richmond for paving work on several town roads. Hutchins’ bid was $193,066; Pike Industries bid $250,920 and Williston-based ECI bid $216,970. Hutchins is already repaving all of Morrisville’s Class 1 highways in a state project. New pavement is planned on Pleasant Street, over a mile of Randolph Road, a section of Bridge Street and the parking lot behind Brigham Street.
• The board accepted the bid of Bradley Concrete to build 1,150 feet of new sidewalk on Congress Street. Bradley bid $34,932. Workers began pouring new sidewalk last week.
• The town has all the permits needed to build permanent bathrooms at Oxbow Riverfront Park. Bids will be sought soon.