Pedestrian safety and ideas for “a walkable, bikeable Shelburne” took center stage early this week when the Shelburne Selectboard met for its annual retreat.
A public meeting with an agenda, this annual exercise is intentionally somewhat informal, and the board opted to gather away from its usual municipal offices meeting space. It set up instead inside Wild Hart distillery at Shelburne Green with a stack of pizzas and soft drinks to share with about 20 people who attended over the course of several hours.
Karen Yacos, executive director of the Burlington-based nonprofit Local Motion, joined the board at the table for the discussion of walking and biking safety in Shelburne.
Members of the audience included volunteers from committees that work on bike and pedestrian safety and village safety issues. Much discussion ensued about Falls Road where the sidewalk is on grade with the street. Falls Road residents spoke about vehicles still speeding despite recently lowered speed limits.
“I see kids on bikes, walkers, strollers all day long and cars going by right next to them at 45, 50, 55 miles an hour,” said resident Bruce Nunziata. “I see this as dangerous.”
A chorus of anecdotes about near-misses and difficulty using crosswalks ensued. Town Manager Lee Krohn, however, took the opposite view and drew some rebukes when he said, “I know this will sound like heresy, but I think (Falls Road) is the safest road in the entire town of Shelburne.”
Yacos encouraged local officials gather data on traffic and speed to inform planning. Peter Keating, a transportation planner at the Chittenden Regional Planning Commission, was in attendance and offered to assist with studying trouble spots to help plan solutions.
In addition to Falls Road, the group discussed U.S. Route 7 in some detail and how to make that corridor safer and more appealing for people to slow down and spend time along that stretch exploring Shelburne.
Selectboard member Mary Kehoe noted how Shelburne Museum sits along Route 7 attracting thousands of visitors each year.
“I feel people come and don’t stay,” she said. “They get back in their cars and leave.”
Planning commissioner Kate Lalley suggested Shelburne look into the process by which the town could assume more control of Route 7, which currently is maintained and controlled by the state. It might see fit to alter lighting, signage and other details to make it more inviting, she said.
Town Highway Superintendent Paul Goodrich cautioned about the impact such a move might have on staffing and budgeting.
Although no concrete actions were recommended, by the end of the discussion volunteers and elected officials alike were aware that the topic can be addressed from a variety of angles and likely will top their priority lists in the coming months.
The second half of the get-together featured a lively discussion of the recently adopted Town Plan. Members of the selectboard admitted that they carry with them printed copies of the plan. Town Planner Dean Pearce flipped through his copy during the discussion.
Illustrated with photographs and magazine-like graphic design, the 100-plus page plan is available online on the town website’s planning and zoning section.
Lalley called it “an amazing document” meant to be used as a foundation for decision-making into the future. The plan contains numerous recommendations on a host of areas including land use, natural resources, housing, energy, transportation, child care and parks.
Selectboard and planning commission members discussed ways to work together to keep those recommendations in view in the coming year to guide decision-making. Pearce offered for staff to put recommendations in one list with notes on ways to implement them; Krohn suggested flagging items on selectboard agendas to note when they correspond to sections of the town plan.
Planning Commission Chair Jason Grignon said he would like to see more community engagement to help guide the work of the commission and the selectboard as it relates to the plan.
“Things go smoother when people are more knowledgeable,” he said.
Selectboard Chair Jerry Storey said keeping the town plan in ongoing discussions will help ensure that the plan’s recommendations are reflected in next year’s budget.
Toward the end of the retreat, discussion took a turn to housekeeping with the board going over how agendas are assembled and information circulated among members and the town manager.
Also at the meeting, the board briefly revisited topics it discussed in 2018 with one key update regarding the dog park. The location off Harbor Road has been problematic because of wetlands and improvements made on the site that ran afoul of state permitting restrictions. A year ago, town officials sought an alternate location to move the park.
Krohn said that idea has been abandoned with the plan now to remove some of the additions made at the park such as a shed, woodchips and benches. Work will proceed this summer with a goal of having the park less-developed by August so the site can comply with state regulations, Krohn said.