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Residents Oppose Sidewalk Plan

White River Junction — The Hartford Selectboard accepted a town plan that would improve sidewalks along Route 5, Christian Street and Bugbee Street in Wilder by widening shoulders and adding grass buffers to make it easier for children and walkers to bike and exercise.

But the majority of Hartford residents who attended the public discussion last night at Bugbee Senior Center denounced the intrusiveness of the plan, noting that expanded sidewalks could infringe on property and damage rural scenery, in addition to raising taxes and safety concerns.

Henry Hazen, a landowner on Route 5, said that was too much.

“It’s too grandiose,” said Hazen, who has lived in Wilder his whole life and enjoys the rural beauty of the area.

Lori Hirshfield, a director with the town of Hartford’s Department of Planning and Development, assured the board that accepting the plan would still allow them to go back and modify parts of the it as needed.

Before going forward with construction, the Selectboard said they wanted to look into the concerns residents voiced at the discussion. There is no set date for construction to begin .

David Saladino, a town-hired consultant and director of the Resource Systems Group in White River Junction, said the three roads are segmented, meaning the town prioritizes which areas require foremost attention. The entire project could take anywhere from 4 to 15 years to complete, based on the consistency of funding from the Vermont Agency of Transportation, he said, and cost up to $2.3 million — 15 percent of which the town would pay.

Hazen also voiced concerns that the expansion of sidewalks will require people to cut down trees and tear down fences.

“We don’t need (the sidewalks) encroaching on people’s property,” Hazen said.

In response, Saladino said that some areas of surveyed private property would be impacted. “Those concerns are certainly valid.”

Chris Andresson, a biker, walker and Wilder resident, said he wasn’t just worried about the possibility of infringement.

“I also pay taxes,” he said. “And I’m starting to think that I can’t retire here. I’d love to see Christian Street widened a little bit, but to put all that money there? It’s too much.”

Andresson stressed that these additions would also change the pace of life in Wilder.

“If I wanted to live in the big city, I would have gone there,” he said. “I chose to live in a rural city.”

Cathy Hazlett spoke in favor of the new plan, saying wider, more accessible sidewalks would promote better health.

“Infrastructure change is a recommended strategy by the Center for Disease Control to help reduce obesity,” she said.

But Carol Hardy, a Wilder resident who lives on Bugbee Street, expressed views similar to Andresson.

“I’m not sure that spending this money will improve the goals of this community,” she said. “I applaud the plan, but we are a rural community.”

On the whole, most residents centered their complaints around Christian Street.

“I don’t let my children go near there,” said Jennifer Krom, a Wilder resident. “It’s too dangerous. There’s too much traffic.”

Krom has two children, she said, one going into kindergarten, the other in second grade. She said she can see the street from her backyard.

The lack of visibility on the road frightens her. So do the drivers who speed at 40 mph or more.

When the public discussion ended, the Selectboard discussed the ramifications of moving forward with the plan.

Selectboard Chairman Chuck Wooster and F.X. Flinn proposed moving forward with a motion to accept the plan and work closely on individual issues.

“It’s not like the science of the engineering is bad,” Flinn said. “We’re wrestling with the implications of the design.”

Wooster asked if each member would second the notion to accept the report.

Only Selectman Alex DeFelice said he had reservations.

“I’ll reluctantly second it,” DeFelice said. “But I want it made known that I’m only voting on the science, not endorsing all three segments. Because I think we have some problems to address.”

Zack Peterson can be reached at 603-727-3211 or zpeterson@vnews.com.