Originally published in The Weekly Packet, April 13, 2017
In search of a better Blue Hill, group asks for help, funds
David Dillon, at right, discusses concerns over the sidewalk initiative’s attention to downtown Blue Hill compared to South Street.
by Anne Berleant
Blue Hill Community Development, a newly formed nonprofit group, drew over 50 people to its first public forum late in March at town hall.
The group’s first project is a plan for a more walkable and bikable Blue Hill, with its own group heading the initiative, and members asked for input and donations, and to support a warrant article at town meeting marking $100,000 in matching funds required for grant applications.
The warrant article easily passed on April 8.
BHCD, which board member Scott Miller described as a “hub” to coordinate projects with active volunteers, has already done significant footwork on the sidewalk initiative, drafting a map of Blue Hill that highlighted where trails and sidewalks could link Main Street with South Street, and locating specific grants that could help fund the project.
BHCD, described by member John Burns as a “leaderless collective,” is the latest community group to form over the town’s current and future well-being, spurred, in part, by concerns over South Street students walking alongside fast cars on a road with no sidewalks. Maine Department of Transportation recently reduced traffic speed between Bay School and the South Street-Tenney Hill intersection, at the urging of the community group. The Blue Hill Co-op future move to South Street has added more concerns.
The sidewalk project could take years, Burns said. An MDOT Bike and Pedestrian Program grant could jump-start the project with $400,000, if the town offers $100,000 in matching funds, while a state Trails Program grant could chip in $40,000, with the matching amount of $10,000 able to be fulfilled through in-kind donations, Burns said.
Both grant applications are due in August, and the MDOT grant requires an engineering study, at a cost of $20,000 of which $5,500 has been raised. Burns asked for donations and urged people to vote in favor of a town meeting warrant article allocating $100,000 for the MDOT grant, which requires a 20 percent match from the town in order to submit the grant application. However, BHCD hopes to raise that amount before construction would begin in 2020.
One Main Street business owner, while in favor of the project, expressed concern over the lack of downtown representation on the project, and noted the emphasis on South Street.
“The lion’s share of tourists are walking up and down Main Street and there’s no sidewalks,” David Dillon said. “Gorgeous sidewalks on South Street and leav[ing] downtown alone—do you think that’s not going to impact Main Street?”
Burns acknowledged the concern. “I would like to think of South Street as a coherent part of Main Street and downtown,” he said. “This is not South Street trying to enrich itself at the expense of the rest of town.”
An engineering study will determine the top priorities, he said, noting that “like any economic development issue,” the project started with a single problem, the issue of students, faculty, parents and staff at Bay School and Blue Hill Harbor School. Burns is board chairman of the Bay School board.
“We’re looking for input,” said Miller, who also serves on the sidewalk initiative. “Come join us.”