WILTON — What does it take to make a vibrant downtown?

Is it rows of buildings filled with quaint shops, apartments and local businesses providing useful community services?

Are the immaculate streetscapes with well-kept sidewalks, diverse landscapes and public parks the key?

Those are just a few of the questions consultants behind a revitalization plan for Wilton’s downtown posed to community members Wednesday night.

While the answer they gave is it takes all of these things and more, the reality is that the most vital feature of a thriving downtown is having people who are committed to helping it succeed.

That was the primary challenge that the plan prepared by the Wright-Pierce consulting firm found stands in the way of reviving downtown in the rural Franklin County town of about 4,100 residents has to overcome, according to Amanda Bunker, who gave the presentation for the Topsham-based firm.

Many of the community members, however, have already shown some of that necessary commitment by spearheading the months-long process involved in preparing the plan that will help guide them over the next 15 years, she said.

And after a series of workshops, planning sessions and a community survey, the partnership between residents, town officials and the consulting firm is nearly finished with that plan.

About 25 residents and town officials gathered for the final workshop Wednesday at the Academy Hill School, where Bunker presented the rough draft that outlines the goals and steps the community will take in the coming years.

Among their top priorities was finding a way to promote the many assets that downtown already has to offer, ranging from beautiful Wilson Lake and various outdoor recreation attractions in the area to the regional economic development assets.

Bunker also told the crowd the plan lays out steps for addressing everything from building façade improvements to finding funding for streetscape improvements.

She noted the plan gives tips about securing more government community development grants to pay for these projects and enacting local ordinances to regulate property maintenance downtown.

She said there have also been steps already taken as part of the process to get the revitalization project moving forward. For instance, the town is improving the gateways to downtown with its plans to add more signs this summer on major highways, including U.S. Route 2 and Route 4 that run just outside downtown.

She said the community survey results show “people can drive right by Wilton and not even know it’s there.”

Resident Nancy Merrow, who owns a building and business downtown, said the community is already beautiful and just has some problems to fix before it can be successful.

She is worried, however, that those who are committed to the plan may be harmed by other property owners without the same goals.

Merrow, 57, said she has invested in upgrades to her 352 Main St. property and is concerned she is wasting her money because the upkeep of neighbors’ property continues to decline.

“I don’t want to be the only one doing something,” she said.

Bunker explained that a property maintenance ordinance should address some of these concerns. But she added that the community members committed to the solutions must also reach out to neighbors and keep working together to show the benefit for everyone.

Town Manager Rhonda Irish noted the town has already formed several community groups that focus on these issues and will continue to work with town officials to implement the revitalization plan.

The majority of the cost to prepare the plan was paid for through a federal Community Development Block Grant, Irish said. The grant paid for $10,000 and the town contributed a $2,000 match for the project.

The final version of the plan should be completed in the near future and will be available for review at the town office, before residents will be asked a future town meeting to official approve the plan.

Irish said adopting an official downtown revitalization plan is also a required step in pursuing many of the grants and other government programs that support economic development.

Near the end of the workshop, Merrow reiterated her belief that the community is on the verge of making its downtown a vibrant and attractive place for residents and businesses alike.

“We have some problems but (Wilton) is already beautiful and we need to keep promoting our assets,” she said.

David F. Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]


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