Elaine Ezerins, St. Albans Messenger
ST. ALBANS – More than 25 people attended the town’s selectboard meeting Monday night with many discussing the need for sidewalk infrastructure and connectivity in residential areas.
“I think the new bylaws are an improvement from what we were using before,” Dave Schofield, a member of the St. Albans Walk and Bike Coalition, said. “But the way it’s written, it’s set up so it’s essentially an optional choice for the developers to put the sidewalks in.”
In the current draft of the town’s bylaws, developers in mixed commercial residential districts could receive a three percent density bonus on building and parking coverage for building a sidewalk or building upon an existing one. Developers could earn a 5 percent density bonus for building sidewalks in the commercial district.
Schofield said he wants there to be specific requirements for developers, including those creating residential areas, to install sidewalks. He mentioned the 2003 Sidewalk Master Plan, referenced in the Town Plan, as a good basis for building sidewalks.
John Thorton, a town resident, agreed with Schofield and said, “For kids to play, for connectivity, for people to get around town from one neighborhood to another, it’s very important to have sidewalks.”
He mentioned the town’s portion of Fairfield Street and the northern portion of the shopping area as specific locations that required attention.
“It’s ridiculous,” Thorton said in reference to the shopping area on Route 7-North. “There’s no way for someone to get across five to six lanes of traffic as a pedestrian. There’s no pedestrian lights, no pedestrian sidewalks out there.”
Town Planner Nathaniel Neider said the town and the city were working together on a joint grant application to provide non-motorized transportation from the town boundaries to the city. The grant would be funded by VTrans, Vermont Agency of Transportation.
Town Resident Heather Blackburn commended the selectboard for a sidewalk built alongside the bay. “As a pediatric physical therapist, I work with children with disabilities all the time and it’s unbelievable to families when we can make our town more accessible to those kids,” she said.
“It makes a huge difference for them in quality in life and participation in life with other kids and their families,” Blackburn said, getting choked up.
After the selectboard heard comments from multiple town residents, the Chair of the Town’s Planning Commission Sam Smith discussed how the selectboard would address the issue moving forward.
Smith said the board plans to revisit the 2003 Sidewalk Master Plan, update it, and come up with a “five-year plan to connect both ends of the community and connect our schools with the sports center.”
He suggested the board should add incentives for sidewalks in residential areas and if developers didn’t build a sidewalk, to leave a right-of-way for future availability.
He explained the town had not required sidewalks for development in the past because of the maintenance costs that would fall upon the town. Selectman Bruce Cheeseman said there have been recent talks with the city to resolve this issue and help with maintenance.
“As we continue to work with different groups in the community, this is something that we all together need to keep in mind,” Neider said in regards to the ongoing maintenance costs.
Selectboard members suggested they would bring their recommendations to the town planning commission and have another public hearing regarding the town’s bylaws in January.