Farmington Downtown Plan put on hold

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FARMINGTON — Selectmen unanimously placed the Downtown Redevelopment Plan on hold Tuesday after concerns were voiced by business owners and members of the board.

Concerns centered mostly on hiring staff to coordinate events and the plan not being well suited to Farmington.

“It’s too big for our downtown and too costly,” Tammy Parsons, owner of Divine Inspirations on Front Street, said. She suggested the cost of staff would take the focus of events from promoting the downtown to fundraising to support the staff position.

She endorsed the use of volunteers, which was successfully done 25 years ago. She read minutes from the then Farmington Downtown Business Association’s meetings where business owners stepped forward to lead downtown events.

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Parsons attended a workshop on the plan Dec. 20 but couldn’t stay to express her concerns because of holiday business. She expected another workshop, she said.

The agenda included a vote on the plan causing Selectman Andrew Hufnagel to question “why” because he assumed another workshop would be scheduled so everyone would have the opportunity to speak before a vote was taken.

Town Manager Richard Davis indicated the action noted on the agenda, whether it’s a vote or discussion, is a guide as he doesn’t know what the board will do on any agenda item.

Funds amounting to $9,850 and approved by the board last summer to create the plan by John Holden of Eaton Peabody Associates have reached the limit, perhaps exceeded it, Davis said. He suggested the plan should be adopted or scrapped in the near future.

We need “to fish or cut the bait on this,” said Stephan Bunker, board chair before others also raised concerns.

Parsons suggested slowing down and producing a plan that’s better and more suited to the downtown.

John Moore, owner of Narrow Gauge Cinema, agreed, saying the plan needs “more fine tuning.”

He questioned the use of tax increment financing funds to pay for an event coordinator rather than development. He also wanted more time for the town to research creating two TIF districts, one downtown and another in West Farmington.

Moore provided board members with a list of other business owners with the same concerns.

Selectman Ryan Morgan asked if the plan had been presented to and/or voted on by the Farmington Downtown Association.

Association members brought the idea of creating a downtown TIF district to the board last summer. To create the district, a downtown plan is needed. The board approved funding for creating the plan and another $9,500 to help develop the TIF district with the funds taken from another town TIF district.

The role of the FDA in the plan was previously questioned at board meetings and the workshop.

Morgan said he was under the misconception that the plan had been brought to all members of the Downtown Business Association.

“Twenty businesses don’t seem to be on the same page,” he said.

Association member Alison Hagerstrom said the idea of pursuing a TIF was discussed. She thought they had voted but it may have been just a discussion.

The board moved to authorize Davis to work with Holden to set up another workshop and to discuss contractual obligations for future work on the plan.

Holden is leaving his employment with Eaton Peabody Consultants but agreed to come back and help with the workshop.  

abryant@sunjournal.com

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