Friday January 18, 2013

BELLOWS FALLS -- Members of the public are invited to a meeting designed to give them a chance to discuss the future of The Island and what it offers.

A charrette is scheduled for the Rockingham Town Hall Lower Theatre at 5:15 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 24, and all residents are encouraged to attend and voice any concerns or questions.

Rockingham Planning-Zoning Administrator Ellen Howard defined a charrette as a hands-on planning and design exercise where planners, property and business owners work together to discuss issues and potential solutions for a development. She said the charrette will be a great opportunity to speak with John Mullin of Mullin Associates, the consulting firm hired to help revitalize the section of Bellows Falls known as The Island.

The Green Island Project is one of several for the Sustainable Valley Group, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to generating financially and environmentally sustainable economies. The project aims to improve and beautify The Island by revitalizing its old buildings and attempting to bring in businesses to create jobs. According to SVG, the project is about training and jobs in the sustainable sectors of an evolving economy -- energy conservation, efficiency and curtailment, renewable energy and local food systems and permaculture.

Rockingham Planning Commission Chairman Alan Lacombe previously said Mullin Associates was one of the respondents to a municipal planning grant written by the commission.

Mullin told the Reformer he plans to lay out at least three options at the charrette and get the citizens’ perspective. He said he looks forward to hearing the people’s opinions of the plans’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

He, Zenia Kotval and Carlos Nieto-Mattei used concept drawings and a PowerPoint presentation at a public hearing Wednesday, Nov. 30, to detail their ideas and thoughts on how to highlight the village’s cultural history and agricultural resources. Kotval is Mullin’s business partner and Nieto-Mattei, is a landscape architect with The Berkshire Design Group Inc. (Northampton, Mass.) who is working with them on this project. Mullin said the three options he presents next week will consist of minimum, moderate and maximum changes to the designs shown in November.

Mullin said the charrette will consist of people using only their first names -- no surnames or ranks -- as a way to "get their minds going." He said it is a technique that has proven effective in the past.

"I’m pumped. It’s an absolutely wonderful project," he said in a telephone interview this week. "We love working with smart people and Bellows (Falls) is full of them. It’s a treasure."

Mullin said he expects the recent fire that destroyed Blodgett Auto on Island Street earlier this month might affect some of the plans but is not yet sure how much.

Howard said reinvigorating The Island is crucial for the village because it is adjacent to the downtown area.

Mullin was also scheduled to attend a private meeting Wednesday with stakeholders (property owners, business owners or tenants) so they could ask any questions specific to how the plans will affect their livelihoods.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.