WATERVILLE — The planning process for improving the downtown periphery is set to begin in earnest next week as representatives from Beyer Blinder Belle, a New York City-based architecture and planning firm, begin holding planning sessions. listening for audience feedback.
Council Chair Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, outlined the timeline for the process Tuesday as council held its fifth and final forum for residents to pitch ideas and ask questions about everything from parking to public spaces. The dates of the listening sessions will be announced.
Listening sessions will include participation from downtown institutions including Waterville Creates, the Waterville Public Library, the Midtown Maine Chamber of Commerce, social service providers, elected officials, city staff and others.
Green said the listening sessions will be followed in early November by four “charettes,” or meetings with the public to get ideas and present solutions.
The first charette, according to Green, will be a general information gathering, with all contributions welcome. At the beginning of December, another session will be organized to share concepts and a third and final meeting will take place in February for a summary presentation.
“In addition to the public charettes, the city council will be hosting our own listening sessions, traveling to places in the community,” Green said.
These meetings will be held in each of the city’s seven wards and councilors representing those wards will be present. Additionally, the meetings will be held at locations including The Lighthouse soup kitchen on College Avenue, the Spectrum Generations Muskie community center on Gold Street and at Waterville Senior High School, according to Green.
The idea is to involve people at different times of the day and to include young people, older people and low-income people. Faye Nicholson, co-executive director of community group REM, also shared how her organization can help by hosting virtual public input sessions.
Jim Wood, retired transportation director for the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, who is now a special projects advisor for KVCAP, said the development of a dedicated public bus stop in the downtown core would important to help increase the visibility of the transport service and make it easier for people. to get into town and who cannot drive. A bus shelter would be used by people of all ages.
“It’s something that’s pretty big in more urban communities,” Wood said. “I think that’s a real benefit for the people of Waterville.”
Resident Diane Weinstein recommended the creation of a centrally located community center and suggested that a building for sale at the corner of Main and Appleton streets would be suitable and could be used for city council meetings. She also floated the idea of having a multi-storey building for commercial use on the ground floor, with accommodation on the upper floors accepting Section 8 vouchers, with the building to include solar panels. Covered walkways, fully lit wheelchair-accessible sidewalks, and adequate sheltered parking are also important, according to Weinstein.
Resident Elizabeth Leonard said the poorer members of the community need to be part of the discussions and be at the center of everything the city does.
“They should not be forgotten,” said Leonard, who is part of the Poor People’s Campaign.
The public consultation sessions are part of the second phase of the city’s revitalization work. The one underway is an $11.2 million downtown revitalization effort by the city, Colby College and the Maine Department of Transportation. It is approaching its final stretch, with Main and Front streets due to be changed Nov. 5 from one-way traffic to two-way traffic. The project also includes landscaping, new lighting, and improved intersections and sidewalks.
The area targeted in the second phase is directly outside the city center and bounded by Front Street, College Avenue, Elm Street, Spring Street and part of Water Street, according to City Manager Steve Daly.
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