GARDINER — After months of applications, interviews and site visits, Gardiner has won a $100,000 grant for community planning.

Nate Rudy, the city’s director of economic and community development, said officials received word last week that their community was selected for an Orton Family Foundation Heart & Soul planning grant.

Rudy said Tuesday that the grant approval came after the city hosted a visit from a small group of Orton Foundation officials and project advisors. Those officials met in November with more than 50 Gardiner community members, including residents, business leaders, city staff members and nonprofit directors.

The grant is awaiting approval by the City Council at a Jan. 11 meeting, Rudy said.

He said city leaders hope to use the money for an inclusive, community-driven planning process to “define a clear, shared vision for Gardiner that will inform decisions, actions, regulations and plans into the future.”

Five communities were chosen for the second phase of a $10 million, five-year Heart & Soul Community Planning initiative to change the way small cities and towns engage their citizens and plan for the future.

The other recipients are Essex Town and Essex Junction, Vt.; Polson, Mont.; Cortez, Colo.; and North Fork Valley (towns of Paonia, Hotchkiss and Crawford), Colo.

Bill Roper, the foundation’s president and CEO, said the five communities exhibited an acute awareness of their issues and demonstrated the desire to shake up the status quo, reinvent their planning processes and chart a course that will place them on a path to vital economic growth.

“Through the challenges each will overcome and the local wisdom each will contribute, these towns will help us build a model for communities all across America,” Roper said.

Rudy said upon approval, the city will embark on a two-year community planning process with the help of foundation staff who will work with project leaders, volunteers and officials to provide tools, trainings, resources and other technical assistance.

“We have already heard strong interest from community members eager for news about the award and a list of volunteers asking how they can get involved in our next steps,” Rudy said. “The foundation will assist us in trying innovative processes designed to build stronger bridges between us, inspire our vision for sustainable growth, and help us steer our change for many years to come.”

Roper said agreements with the towns will be complete by early February 2012.

“The projects are predicated on building a shared expectation for civic engagement and transparency in local decision-making,” Roper said. “Throughout the Heart and Soul process, citizens not only articulate what makes their places special, they also share the responsibility for acting on what they value and stewarding their values-based vision over the long-term.”

According to a statement from the Orton Family Foundation, based in Middlebury, Vt., and Denver, Colo., the foundation seeks to help small cities and towns discover and describe their “heart and soul — the collective attributes that make communities unique — and build on those attributes in planning toward a vibrant, enduring future.”

“This is a good sign that Gardiner’s going in the right direction,” Rudy said. “We welcome and encourage all to participate.”

Mechele Cooper — 621-5663

[email protected]

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