BRATTLEBORO -- Ever since the rains from Tropical Storm Irene flooded the Whetstone Brook in August 2011, forcing the emergency evacuation of Melrose Terrace, the Brattleboro Housing Authority has been looking forward to life after Melrose.
Irene did millions of dollars of damage at Melrose Terrace, an almost-50-year-old public housing complex in West Brattleboro.
And while most of the tenants were able to eventually move back in to their apartments, Brattleboro Housing Authority Executive Director Chris Hart knew the group would have to come up with a plan to replace Melrose Terrace.
BHA has a plan; Red Clover Commons, a new apartment building which will be built near exit one in Brattleboro and which will house about 55 of the approximately 80 people who still live at Melrose.
But Hart said there are still a lot of questions about what will happen to the land and buildings at Melrose Terrace.
Now, almost three years after Tropical Storm Irene, BHA is looking for answers to those questions.
BHA is opening a month-long public input process to gather as many ideas as possible from area residents about the best use of Melrose Terrace once the last tenant moves out.
Hart said the housing authority is hoping to get dozens, or even up to 100 ideas, which will then be presented to a yet-to-be-named committee which will determine the feasibility of the proposals.
"We starting the planning process to tackle the issue of how we want to reuse the Melrose Terrace site," Hart said.
Hart said instead of scheduling public meetings, which may or may not be attended, the housing authority is asking anyone to come down to Melrose Terrace, walk around a little, and submit ideas about the future of the public housing site.
Melrose Terrace is located across the street from Academy School off of Western Avenue.
Ideas can passed on to any BHA staff member, they can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, mailed to P.O. Box 2275, West Brattleboro, Vt. 05303, or they can be called in to 802-254-6071.
Ideas are also being accepted on ibrattleboro.com.
BHA is accepting ideas until Aug. 29.
"We want everybody's thoughts and suggestions. We want them to be unfiltered," said Hart. "We want to come up with a blueprint of what Melrose should be."
Hart said the housing authority is asking community members to be creative, but she warns that the property does have severe restrictions on it because it is in the flood way.
BHA is being forced to abandon Melrose Terrace because it is along the Whetstone Brook, and therefore prone to future flooding.
The possibility of grant funding will be limited and most banks will be reluctant to invest money into the property.
It will also be expensive to insure the buildings.
Melrose Terrace sits on 8.11 acres and is made up of 16 residential buildings with two to four units in each.
There is also a four bay garage, a community room and the housing authority offices.
Hart said she expects the final resident to move out before the end of 2018 at the latest.
After the suggestions are gathered Hart will help form a committee of planners, nonprofit organization leaders, finance experts and other community members.
Every idea will be weighed and the committee will pass on the top recommendations to the BHA board which will have final say.
Hart said she expects to work closely with the Selectboard, the West Brattleboro Association and with state housing and environmental staff members in coming up with the best and most viable plan for Melrose Terrace.
BHA owns Melrose Terrace though the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a deed restriction on the property which BHA is asking the federal agency to remove.
She said BHA could sell or turn the property over to a new owner, though she said it is too early to decide how the property would be transferred.
For now, she said, BHA, is looking for ideas and ideas are free.
"This is an open invitation to everybody. We have a lovely, charming community here, and it deserve to have a second life," Hart said. "The first thing we need to do is have a really good and open process and hear from as many people as possible. This is a really important community asset and we are asking the whole community to be involved in deciding what we should do with it."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.