Monday January 7, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Every five years the town has to decide if it wants to continue participating in the Agency of Commerce and Community Development’s Vermont Downtown Program.

With that five year period up in 2013 the Selectboard has asked participants in the program what they want and so far there has been a strong response.

Brattleboro Town Clerk Annette Cappy said there are 88 property owners and 104 properties in the designated downtown district, and so far she has received 49 responses to the ballot the Selectboard sent out to gather input on the future of the program.

Each parcel gets one vote and some property owners own more than one parcel so there are more than 49 votes in the envelopes that have already been returned to Town Hall.

Cappy said that was a pretty good response to a survey and the property owners have until Jan. 8 to return the surveys to Town Hall.

Vermont created its downtown program in 1998 based on a national program that was created to spur downtown development and counter urban and suburban sprawl which draws business away from village and town centers.

There are 23 municipalities involved with the Vermont program.

Once a municipality elects to join the program its properties become eligible for grants and important tax credits which help preserve and rehabilitate buildings.

The Brooks House, Sam’s Outdoors Outfitters, The Wilder Building and The Latchis Theater all received tax credits through the downtown program which developers say were crucial to helping redevelop the historic structures.


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But before the town decides to move ahead and reapply for the program the board has asked the property owners who pay into the program what they think.

Under a Brattleboro town ordinance, an advisory vote must be taken before the town can reapply for the downtown designation.

The downtown district generally is made up of an area from the Windham District Court to the Marlboro Technology Complex and to the west to the commercial and nonresidential properties that extend away from the Connecticut River.

The downtown program requires that there be a group to work on development and business issues in the district. In Brattleboro that group has been Building a Better Brattleboro.

The organization can be a volunteer committee, or a staffed organization, though it has to have a budget and it has to show that it is active.

According to Brattleboro Finance Director John O’Connor, the value of the properties within the district is about $57.8 million.

When BABB gets its budget approved, each of the parcels share in funding that annual budget.

Last year each property was assessed $13.47 per $100,000 of property value. The owner of a $200,000 property, for instance, paid $269.40 to fund BABB.

The state generally approves the plans of the downtown organizations, though there have been two cases when the state removed a designation because the plans were not acceptable, Leanne Tingay, coordinator for the Vermont Downtown Program, said.

In both cases the designations were put back in place when the municipality’s organization adjusted its plans.

"As long as they are active and sustainable we support them," said Tingay. "We need to see that they are raising money and that they are doing something to improve the downtown. You can’t just say that the chamber is doing something. There has to be a work plan."

Cappy said the survey results will be opened on Tuesday and then the results will be given to the Selectboard.

The board will likely discuss the program at its next meeting.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.