Wednesday January 2, 2013

BELLOWS FALLS -- A development group in the village wants to display an historic rail car at the Bellows Falls Waypoint Center after the Rockingham Selectboard decided to reject the donation.

Board members last week respectfully declined the gift from Green Mountain Railroad due to the costs associated with restoring and maintaining it. However, the Sustainable Valley Group, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is interested in accepting the 51-seat baggage car to assist in its mission of rejuvenating the section of Bellows Falls known as The Island.

SVG Director Gary Fox said the historic rail car is "part of a bigger picture" of The Green Island Project, which aims to rehabilitate an area that once held numerous factories and job opportunities. Fox said the group is committed to getting the car but must take care of logistics and some final paperwork.

He said the rail car would pay homage to the region’s history and culture and would also make a fine tourist attraction. Fox said the piece of New England history would go hand-in-hand with the town of Rockingham, which received a municipal planning grant over the summer.

He said the town was first approached by Green Mountain Railroad two years ago. Rockingham Selectboard Chairman Tom MacPhee said the attempted donation was a nice gesture but "had too many dollars involved."

If accepted by the Selectboard, the rail car would have become town property and had to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He said it also would need lighting and electrical work, a reinforced slab to lay on and some protective covering. MacPhee said the monetary figure associated with accepting the car would be around $100,000.

Fox said the rail car would fit in perfectly The Green Island Project’s master plan. Three consultants were brought in by the Rockingham Planning Commission for a public meeting last month to offer their suggestions on how to highlight the village’s cultural history and agricultural resources.

John Mullin, Zenia Kotval and Carlos Nieto-Mattei used concept drawings and a PowerPoint presentation in the Rockingham Town Hall Lower Theatre to detail their ideas and thoughts. Mullin and Kotval are with Mullin Associates Inc. while Nieto-Mattei is landscape architect with The Berkshire Design Group, Inc., working with the other two on the project. Commission Chairman Alan Lacombe said Mullin Associates was one of the respondents to a municipal planning grant written by the commission.

Mullin, who is also a professor of urban planning at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said the village needs to do a much better job of emphasizing its history.

"I’ve got to tell you, you guys are the most subtle in terms of celebrating your history," he said. "I was just talking to (Rockingham Health Officer/Zoning-Planning Administrator) Ellen Howard, I said, ‘Show me where it says something about your historic canal.’ It’s up by the Post Office. And then show me where it says anything about the petroglyphs (images etched on rock surfaces by Native Americans).

"You are sitting in a town in Vermont that has a 6,000-year history and nobody knows it," Mullin continued.

He told the audience in order for The Green Island Project to succeed, the village will have to determine the potential design guidelines for new and historic buildings, as well as methods and options to improve pedestrian accessibility and safety, and assess parking needs and recommend options for improvement.

He said over the next five years, the Vilas Bridge will remain closed, the railroad property and Bellows Falls Waypoint Center will stay open, all infrastructure issues must be determined and funding options must be included.

The island will need to have fiber optic connectivity, said Mullin, who used humor and anecdotes to amuse the crowd. He also said there is a need for some re-parcelization, which is when lands such as wooded areas are cleared for residential, industrial or commercial use, as well as a revision of parking requirements.

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