Wilton mulls grant for beautification project

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WILTON – Selectmen heard some ideas for a possible community-improvement grant at their Tuesday meeting, the first of likely several meetings which could lead up to a major beautification project for the town’s downtown and lake area.

Town Manager Peter Nielsen said that several businesses had been discussing filing for a Community Enterprise Grant to improve their facades in the downtown area. This follows a Sept. 16 presentation by resident Betty Shibles and Rocky Hill Landscaping owner John Black, who have been meeting for months on a plan to improve the area around the foot of Wilson Lake.

Nielsen noted that the town could apply and possibly get a Community Enterprise Grant, consisting of up to $150,000 in federal funds which are administered and awarded through the state. Nielsen and the selectmen have some reason to believe that an application for funds might be viewed favorably, and the town has made use of similar grant programs in the past.

“[The grant] is to make the downtown pretty,” Nielsen said.

The facade upgrade has been done before, with a grant paying for repairs to storefronts throughout the downtown area. Selectman Russell Black said that all businesses in that area should be allowed to make a case for funding, should an application be filed.

“We need to make sure that other businesses down there have the same opportunities,” Black said.

Possibilities at the lake include planting trees, flowers and lawns in the area between Wilson Lake and the Lake Road, moving the gazebo and some of the Bass Park playground equipment, and installing a line of granite posts linked by chains to serve as guardrails. Some parking spots could be moved elsewhere with this plan.

Shibles’ group also is looking at a variety of other ideas, such as “pocket parks” in downtown Wilton, new seasonal events and community activities. Which of these could be covered by the grant, and which would utilize other sources of funding remains to be seen.

A meeting on Dec. 2, at 7 p.m. in the town office, will focus on the lake foot project. Nielsen noted that a letter of intent would need to be filed by Jan. 9 in order for the town to be considered for this year. That doesn’t leave much time, given the extremely complex and detailed planning that needs to be accomplished within the application.

“You score points for community participation,” Nielsen said, “we need to get all of this input in a short time frame and the devil’s in the details.”

Selectman Irving Faunce also stated a need for local input, noting that not every one was in favor of some of the recent proposals.

“These are very substantial changes,” he said, “that not everyone agrees is the greatest idea ever.”

Some residents have concerns that the identity of the lake foot could be negatively impacted, while others are worried that diverting too much parking away from the lake could end some people’s practice of enjoying their lunch by the lake.

Resident Lori Lewis worried that the issue of timing could result in a less than well-considered plan.

“I have my concerns,” she said. “This should not be a harebrained plan that is rushed through in one and a half months to meet a January deadline.”

Selectmen agreed. However, Selectman Chair Paul Gooch said that removing the gravel, broken guard rails and changing “gray to green” would all be positive developments. He also said that parking and recreational needs could be balanced with some consideration.

“What’s going to draw people to this town is that they will see that the people in this town care about this town,” he said, “and that people want to take care of this town.”

Selectmen also heard for a proposal for a Wizard-of-Oz themed park opposite the library. That $40,000 concept was rejected by the selectmen, in its current state, as being too expensive at this time.

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