BELLOWS FALLS — In its heyday, The Island was home to a grand summer hotel in the 1850s; it eventually became the nerve center of the booming Bellows Falls paper mill industry.
But that was more than 100 years ago, and The Island, and the nearby area called “Under the Hill,” are now industrial wastelands in large part.
The town received a $30,000 grant from the Windham Regional Commission last year as part of its brownfields projects to hire a consultant to evaluate The Island and “Under the Hill.” Both areas are rife with brownfields from former industrial use.
The town’s consultant, Stevens & Associates of Brattleboro, is slated to make a presentation on what is being called the “area-wide plan,” and hear from the public Thursday evening in the Lower Theater in the Town Hall. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m., and is also available via Zoom at https://bit.ly/3g5tACz.
Gary Fox, the Rockingham development director, said the future economic vitality of Bellows Falls depends largely on what happens in those two areas of town, and town officials need to hear what people want in the area.
The three-month planning process will gather community support for various options, making sure any suggestions follows the town plan, and is economically feasible, Fox said.
“It’s the 40,000-foot view,” he said. The consultant will do a “deeper dive” for five sites in those locations, he said. He said Stevens started work about a month ago on the project, and spent half a day walking The Island and “Under the Hill.”
The “Under the Hill” area includes former paper mills, including the town-owned TLR building, located off Mill Street.
Currently, the town is facing major investments in bridges serving The Island, and some have questioned whether a different kind of development — residential — might be the better idea.
While a potential new business recently backed away from locating in a new building on the Robertson site, Fox said the town still needs to invest in infrastructure — particularly bridges — to draw businesses to the area.
But since Robertson Paper Co. was demolished and cleaned up in 2019, the town and development groups have been unable to attract new businesses to The Island, which is home to about 25 small businesses, and two large ones — Cota and Cota Oil, and Great River Hydro.