AUBURN — New Auburn residents told designers working on downtown improvements that they want the bells of St. Louis out where people can easily see them — and they want them kept together.

Initial design plans presented Wednesday night suggested the bells be displayed in two spots in a future green space near the river — some bells on the west end of the park, some bells on the east end.

Residents disagreed.

Elaine Biron and others said the four bells should be kept together and in a spot where they’d be easily seen, such as Second Street. The bells should be shown off with a tower to create a real presence, they said.

The reaction from planners was positive, thanking citizens for sharing their views. The bells could come out of storage and be displayed next year, officials said.

The city held a public meeting Wednesday night to share design plans for a future New Auburn Village Center designed by consultants Greg Bakos of VHB Engineers and Sam Coplon of Landscape Architects.

After years of planning, final designs were shown to get resident input.

The village center would show off the Androscoggin River, hugging its banks. It would include a gentle hill, built by bringing in lots of fill, which would take the land out of a flood zone.

The center would have lots of green space, trees, public plazas and spots for outdoor performances, festivals, markets and a new playground. There would be a river overlook by Rolly’s Garage.

An 8-foot-wide trail with water views would run next to the river for jogging, biking and walking, and there would be places for people to fish, watch wildlife and put in canoes and kayaks. A new road would  built — Riverway — giving people easy access to the green spaces and the trail.

All of that wouldn’t happen until 2019 if the city is successful in getting grants, officials said.

But the future village would begin in 2017 with improvements to slow traffic on Broad, Mill and South Main streets, city planner Doug Greene said. The goal is to make the area more pedestrian-friendly.

“We want to acknowledge the feedback we’ve heard about the traffic speed and volume on Main Street, Mill Street and Broad Street,” Greene said. Unless ways are found to slow traffic and make the area more pedestrian-friendly, “it’s not going to work for anybody.”

Traffic would be slowed in a variety of ways, including improvements at the intersection of Mill and Main streets. There would be new traffic lights with modern equipment that would better control the flow of cars, said Greg Bakos of VHB Engineers.

There would be a raised sidewalk/speed bump that would force traffic to slow to 15 to 20 mph.

“The concept is a low-speed bump,” Bakos said. “The car is comfortable going over (it), as long as it’s not going (too) fast.”

The raised crosswalk would have flashing lights to alert traffic when someone is crossing.

The plan includes more street parking, more trees along the streets, bigger sidewalks and built-out crosswalks that would shorten the distance of pedestrian crossings.

Lighting would be better and more consistent. The lighting now is inconsistent, Bakos said.

“There’s light areas, dark areas,” he said.

Better lighting, especially at crosswalks, would make pedestrians more visible and improve safety.

Residents agreed that traffic needs to slow down. The plans would not bring traffic to a crawl, but vehicles would not be driving through at 40 mph, Bakos said.

Resident Annette Lausier said the word needs to get out that New Auburn is changing, that  motorists who want to speed through “should take another route.”

“New Auburn is going to be slower,” she said. “Don’t try to get there from here.”  

Councilor Leroy Walker Sr. said residents have been waiting for years — too long — for improvements.

“We’ve seen so many plans,” he said. 

Several residents said they like the planned improvements. People are looking for a place to walk, ride bikes and enjoy the river, said D. Peter Cyr, who bought a historic home in New Auburn 12 years ago.

“It’s pretty exciting to see the village come back,” he said.

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