Lillard property meeting attracts crowd

Herald of Randolph article by Martha Slater (7/31/14)

About 25 people attended a community meeting Thursday evening, July 24 at the town office to gather input about the re-use of the Lillard property alongside Route 100 at the north end of the Rochester village.

Rochester took title to the property, which included an apartment house, in April. The building, which was badly damaged during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, was demolished earlier this summer, and the town is working with the White River Partnership on plans for what is now public land.

Mary Russ, executive director of the White River Partnership, led the meeting. Kevin Geiger of the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission, Steve Libby of the Vermont River Conservancy, and Karen Foley, an intern with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, were also present to contribute.

Russ asked each person in the room to identify themselves and say what they would like to see the property used for. Almost all of those who spoke expressed their wish to have the land used for recreational purposes, including a picnic area, hiking trail head, a spot to launch canoes and kayaks, etc.

Following the initial discussion, there was a site visit to the property, which has been seeded and mulched, then everyone returned to the town office to talk about what they had seen.

“Everyone then had a better realization about where some of the components that people were interested in seeing happen would fit the best, based on where the mature trees were, the slope of the land, access to the road and the river, etc.,” Russ said.

Dan McKinley marked out where a riparian buffer would be best, and Russ noted that a 50-ft. buffer at the site would improve water quality and habitat for fish and wildlife, as well as shading the river to keep it cool.

During a brainstorming session after the site visit, it was pretty much agreed that access from Route 100 into a small parking area of 8-10 spaces would be best from a south corner of the parcel on the Route 100 side. Since it’s a state road, VTrans would have to do a traffic study before permission for access to a parking lot was approved.

Russ noted that if approval for that driveway was not given, alternate access could be through a driveway behind the new firehouse.

“There are two options for river access,” she said. “We think the best one is at the north end of the property, near where the Brook Street Brook runs into the White River. It’s good as a swimming hole and for boat access. Also, the northeast corner of the parcel is where most of the mature trees are and folks thought that would be the best spot for a picnic area. A community garden and a porta-potty were also suggested.

“Another idea was to have an interpretive sign there to explain the history of that spot, including the fact that mills were once located there, as well as the story of Irene,” Russ added. “There were also suggestions for having a sculpture, or a community garden and apple orchard located on the Graham-Frock property across the road.”

Other interesting adjacent opportunities that Dean Mendell talked about were creating a trailhead that went south to connect with the path already established along the river behind the school property and further south. The driveway by the old creamery building behind the new firehouse was also mentioned as a good unloading spot for canoes and kayaks, or even drift boats.

Russ noted that the money from HUD can only be used on improvements to the buyout parcels, but additional grants could possibly be found to do work on adjacent property.

What are the next steps?

“The goal is to apply for a Community Development Block Grant planning grant from HUD to develop a design, perhaps work with a landscape architect, and get more community feedback,” Russ said. “The aim would be to do things on the ground next summer if funds are received.”

For more information

Follow this link to learn more about the WRP buyout improvement project.