WILTON — The thought of putting a slum and blight designation on part of the town is not a pleasant one, but a majority of voters Tuesday agreed it was a good move.
About 30 residents attended a public hearing and special town meeting Tuesday at the Town Office to decide whether to accept the declaration of slum and blight. The proposed designated area included Main Street from Academy Hill School to Wilson Lake and Depot Street from the Route 2 intersection to Academy Hill School.
“It is a small price to pay in order to be able to take some positive steps,” property owner Nancy Merrow said of the label. “Let’s go with slum and blight.”
The designation is intended to meet federal and state requirements to apply for a Community Development Block Grant.
This is the first step, Town Manager Rhonda Irish said.
For the past few years, a downtown redevelopment plan has been considered and worked on, she said.
This year, Darryl Sterling of Richmond was hired as a part-time community development infrastructure director for the town. Part of his work includes looking for grants and opportunities to accomplish the work, she said.
The town doesn’t meet the low-income eligibility standards to apply for the CDGB grant, but it could apply with the slum and blight designation, which would be in effect for 10 years. Other towns, including Rockland, Richmond, Waterville and Kingfield, have taken the step, Sterling said.
More than 200 people responded to a recent survey asking what keeps them from downtown Wilton, Irish said. Their responses included words such as shabby, dumpy, derelict and a poverty appearance.
The grant, if received, could be used for public infrastructure, including roads, sidewalks, parking lots, light fixtures, railings at the town library and improvements around the town monument, she said.
The town received a $500,000 CDBG in 1988 that was used on parking lots, downtown lights and razing of some downtown buildings. The work only made it to Food City, she said.
Now it is time to look for ways to “jazz up” the work, get more investments and grants, and be competitive in looking for funds, Sterling said.
Accepting the label in order to receive the CDBG will help the town move on and find other investors and grants. He referred to how Richmond turned around in just over three years. A growth of business netted 500 new jobs, he said of the improvements.
“I see Wilton popping with the next few years,” he said. “There are a lot of good things going on here.”
The move would not affect real estate values, and Sterling said there were no downsides from the slum and blight declaration. It could be changed within the 10-year span.
It will help the town to avoid shouldering all that investment, he said.
Some have tried to redevelop the downtown, but it has gone beyond us, Betty Shibles said. What’s the alternative? she asked.
Raising taxes to pay for it all, Selectperson Tiffany Maiuri answered.
The funds would not cover demolition of the Forster Mill on Depot Street. The town is still in mediation with the owner, Selectperson Tom Saviello said.
The mill was the reason for including Depot Street in the designated area, Irish said. It is within a gateway into town and people travel Route 156 or Depot Street on their way to Weld.