Main Street in Brattleboro seen from the top of the Brooks House building. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
Main Street in Brattleboro seen from the top of the Brooks House building. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
Friday March 1, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Letters will be going out in the next few days to property owners near the town Common who might be included in the Downtown Improvement District if the Selectboard decides to adjust the district boundary lines.

The Selectboard at its last meeting voted to continue looking into extending the northern most boundary lines beyond Terrace Street and Williston Place and the Planning Department will send out letters this week to businesses, including Trust Company of Vermont, Atamaniuk Funeral Home and the Elks Lodge, to let them know about the pending boundary change.

Brattleboro established the boundary in 1999 to take part in the then-Vermont Downtown Board's Downtown Program, which allows the town, and property owners, to apply for grants, technical assistance and networking opportunities with other Vermont downtowns.

Brattleboro was one of the first towns in the state to be admitted into the program.

Town Meeting representatives adopted the current district boundary lines in 2005.

Property owners in the district, which includes all of downtown, pay an assessment on their properties which helps fund Building a Better Brattleboro, the town's designated downtown organization.

The annual assessment is tied to BABB's budget, so additional properties included in the district would lower the yearly assessment for the other property owners.

The town is reapplying for the downtown program, as it is required to do every five years, which spurred the Selectboard into looking at the boundary lines.

Town Manager Barbara Sondag, in a memo to the Selectboard, said it made sense to extend the boundary lines north because it would "result in a district that is perhaps more consistent with the objectives and guidance from the Downtown Program than the existing boundaries."

Sondag also said the extended district would give the town more options when it is looking for financial and technical support to improve the Common, and she told the board that moving the boundary lines "would provide an elegant solution to the current boundary line bisecting the courthouse parcel."

The town also was considering extending the boundary lines up Canal Street and South Main Street, but the board appears to be focusing on the northern extension at this time.

Planning Director Rod Francis agreed that the proposed change was consistent with the characteristics of the Downtown Designation Program, which is now administered by the Department of Economic, Housing and Community Development.

The buildings near the Common include commercial space and offices, are densely clustered, and create a continuos streetwall running up to the sidewalk, Francis told the board.

Francis also pointed out that the Common and the northern edge of downtown act as a gateway to the downtown business district and he said it made sense to include those streets within the district.

Selectboard member Dora Bouboulis was opposed to the move, saying that BABB was already contending with its own issues, and she said it made more sense to go out and speak with the property owners first, before sending them a letter telling them they were being considered for the expanded district.

The rest of the board, however, pointed out that they were only advancing the process, and said the property owners would have time to react to the proposal.

If the town does proceed with the plan then there will be a number of opportunities for property owners to weigh in on the plan. The boundary extension would require an ordinance change, which would be considered during two public hearings.

Letters are going out this week and the Selectboard likely will continue discussing the plan at upcoming meetings.

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