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Residents, city officials brainstorm ways to spruce up West Lebanon

  • Rebecca Owens associate planner in the Planning and Development Department for Lebanon, N.H., walks participants through live audience polling questions on how the West Lebanon village may be improved. A second day of workshops and revitalization discussions were held in West Lebanon, on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sid Schwartz and her partner Austin Feula, of West Lebanon, N.H., look over revitalization ideas for the West Lebanon village during a workshop on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. Schwartz said the two bought their dream house in West Lebanon. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Greg Bakos a transportation engineer for Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., works on West Lebanon village plans during revitalization discussions on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, in West Lebanon. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/19/2019 10:22:21 PM
Modified: 10/21/2019 4:00:09 PM

On sticky notes and oversized sheets of paper, in high-tech surveys, face-to-face conversations and architectural sketches, a vision for the future of West Lebanon began to take shape on Saturday, as the city wrapped up a two-day design workshop that gathered input from the public on how best to revitalize the downtown area.

The visioning charrette, as it was called, took multiple formats and sparked ideas ranging from the straightforward to the complex, but a few clear themes emerged.

“I get the sense that people are open to some modest change ... that would make downtown feel and function like a place,” said City Planning Director David Brooks.

At a presentation at the SAU 88 building on Saturday afternoon, Brooks revealed the key issues and ideas that came out of the event, as well as drawings and architectural sketches that illustrated what some of the proposed changes might look like.

The most popular proposals were beautification efforts like planting trees and installing benches along Main Street and structural improvements that would reconnect the area to the river. Other resounding themes were traffic-flow improvements, the addition of green spaces and pocket parks, accommodations for cyclists and pedestrians, a well-defined village space, historic preservation and a welcoming environment for small businesses that would improve the quality of life in the area.

Some of the public’s ideas could be implemented soon with money that’s already been set aside, Brooks said, and some could be put into the budget over the coming years. Other projects will require creative fundraising and partnerships both with the state and with private businesses.

About 25 people attended the presentation, the culmination of several input-gathering initiatives, including a stakeholders meeting, a walking tour, a visioning session, an open house and an online survey.

About 240 people participated in the online survey, and about 100 people total attended the various events.

The workshop grew out of the city’s 2012 Master Plan, which includes directives to promote the revitalization of downtown West Lebanon and to engage residents and business owners in creating a vision toward that goal.

The survey revealed that few people were aware of the master plan or what it entailed. It also revealed a desire for more housing downtown and strong support for relocating parking spaces from one side of Main Street to improve the appearance and safety of the street.

At the open house Saturday, residents got a chance to expand upon the ideas in the survey in various ways. On the walls around the gymnasium, they could express on yellow sticky notes the things they liked and disliked about the West Lebanon village and their suggestions for making it better. They could also participate in a real-time survey/forum on issues related to the master plan.

Sid Schwartz and Austin Feula came to the forum because they think West Lebanon has the potential to be a thriving downtown with walkable streets and a community feel. They relocated here from Salt Lake City about a year ago because they’d both lived in the Upper Valley in the past and loved the area. Schwartz said she was dubious at first about Feula’s decision to buy a house in West Lebanon but loves the neighborhood and has high hopes for a more vibrant downtown.

The couple, both in their 30s, said they want to see more recreational opportunities in West Lebanon and better accommodations for pedestrians.

“That’s just one piece of making it a community that young professionals are going to want to come to,” said Schwartz, who works as an office manager in White River Junction.

The event brought together longtime West Lebanon residents as well as newcomers to the area. Lebanon Mayor Timothy McNamara said the proposed changes would in some ways return the village to an earlier time when trees grew along the sides of the street and people walked to and from the schools and businesses.

“It was a different feel,” he said.

While the live-polling forum provided a productive way for people to collaborate, it also revealed that people want more such opportunities, said Associate Planner Rebecca Owens, who led the session.

“I think people want ongoing engagement ... to address these things,” Owens said.

West Lebanon had a civic organization in the past but it eventually died out, Brooks said. Reviving such a group and giving it a little more formal structure would go a long way in implementing the vision that’s starting to take shape, he said.

“One of the big things coming out of this is the need for organizational leadership,” Brooks said.

Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com or 603-727-3268.

Clarification

A two -day design workshop on West Lebanon was run by Lebanon Planning and Zoning Director David Brooks and project consultant VHB, while Lebanon Associate Planner Rebecca Owens oversaw a forum polling residents that was part of the workshop. An earlier version of this story was unclear on who ran the overall event.




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