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Return of Historic Features Being Considered for Downtown Hamilton

Community Preservation Act money could be used to recreate historic features in downtown Hamilton.

Several vestiges of history could be returning to downtown Hamilton if voters OK a plan to use Community Preservation Act money to install benches, gas lanterns and plant trees.

“There is really a lot of history in Hamilton that someone who is newer to town would have no idea about,” said Selectman Jeff Hubbard, who has been pushing the plan to return some of the features of the downtown that were commonplace 100 years ago.

This week, Hubbard presented a plan to the full Board of Selectmen outlining the plan to install gas lanterns, install benches, plant trees and install an archway (similar to the one at the ) highlighting the pedestrian walkway that connects the Shoppes at Hamilton Crossing to the area between and .

“I like the concept and I like the idea,” said Selectman Jeff Stinson said, adding he wanted to start small.

“I say let’s get going,” said Selectman Chairman Jennifer Scuteri.

Hubbard has been pushing to fund the improvements through the historical category from the CPA, which is money collected from a property tax surcharge. The other categories are recreation and affordable housing. No exact cost has been determined for the work, but it estimated to be about $90,000. It would come from the existing CPA fund and not affect the tax rate under Hubbard's proposal.

“By doing something good downtown, it is going to increase all of our real estate values,” Hubbard said. The changes could help achieve a “healthy and thriving downtown.”

The improvements could help increase downtown property values that would, in turn, stimulate further interest where “people will want to buy land and not store snow shovels and logs on it,” Hubbard said.

The town has also collected about $50,000 in local meals tax money. The downtown merchants association in developing a list of prioritized ideas to use the money.

Hubbard said planting tree along Railroad Avenue would help make the area cooler in the summer. And benches used to be commonplace in the downtown as people waited for the train to arrive.

“These benches were the Facebook of 100 years ago,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard will also discuss the plan again on Thursday when the Community Preservation Committee meets with the Board of Selectmen at 7:30 p.m. on . The CPC would have to approve the plan before putting it before Annual Town Meeting voters in May.

Hubbard said he would continue to solicit feedback about whether residents favor the changes and whether they want CPA money to fund the work.

“It would give Railroad Avenue something it doesn’t have,” said Ed Brown, a Hamilton resident and small business owner in Essex, talking about the plan for gas lanterns. He said Newton funded street lighting with CPA money.

Jeff HUbbard March 08, 2012 at 01:33 PM
...to get a sense of what Hamilton was like at the turn of the century check out MY FIRST YOUTUBE VIDEO ever, thanks to the help of my kids! Hamilton 1900 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71q90bKIluw Jeff
Bill March 08, 2012 at 02:12 PM
Good use of money. Cut back garbage collection and install fake gas lamps so we can pretend it is 1895.
Michelle Bailey March 08, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Why not use the meals tax money specified for improvements to the downtown? What has that money been used to do so far? Isn't it something like $50-75K per year? The CPA money has so many restrictions. I doubt it could be used for things like adding benches, improving lighting, or addressing streetscape.
M. M. March 08, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Good one!
Brian Stein March 08, 2012 at 04:01 PM
We need to look at the bigger picture before we start adding lights and benches. The power lines along Railroad Ave need to be buried, then the sidewalks improved - ideally as one material along both sides of the street that unifies the whole street. The area in front of the post office is awful and needs to be addressed. I'm all for making the area near the tracks look better and more pedestrian friendly. More trees there would be great and a nice start. There needs to be an overall, cohesive vision for the downtown that is put in place in the correct sequence, using the limited funds to the maximum extent possible.
Crows Corner Gift Shoppe March 08, 2012 at 04:30 PM
Inproving the Railroad area will be benefical to the town itself in that it will attract home buyers, merchants, tourists and show what a nice community Hamilton is to live in, work in, visit, eat & shop. The ideas presented by Jeff Hubbard are definitly needed & are only positive suggestions. Patricia Cecchetti, owner Crows Corner Gift Shoppe, Wenham,Ma.
Catherine Hardy-Tinsley March 08, 2012 at 08:42 PM
Burying the powerlines would add to the ambiance of a historic downtown and be beneficial to the town.. benches are lovely if placed in a user friendly location. But to spend taxpayers money on "fluff" with so many repairs, updates and replacements on the horizon is a tough sell.
richard boroff March 08, 2012 at 10:45 PM
There are a number of things that are much more important and needed than this. We have $5mill in water pipe infrastructure that is needed. How about playing fields for sports both at the high school and youth levels. Languages in the school. Are we saving money on garbage collection to spend it on fluff like this. NUTS!
Michelle Bailey March 09, 2012 at 03:55 AM
Give the guy a break. He presented this idea and video to the Hamilton BOS on Monday night as part of their regular meeting to see if the BOS would support going to the CPA committee to seek funding. There are 2 open seats on the BOS (need to get info from town clerk soon) for election in May and I think one on the CPA committee. You seem knowledgeable of the CPA and the needs of the town. Instead of criticizing Mr. Hubbard for his enthusiasm, become part of the decision making process.
Jay Burnham March 09, 2012 at 11:33 AM
Mixed metaphors? Apples and oranges? At least two commenters are suggesting that funds created from savings with the new SMART trash plan will somehow be used to support Mr. Hubbard's downtown improvement plan (Bill and R. Boroff). I recommend they re-read the article... it is clearly indicated that Mr. Hubbard is seeking CPA funding for the project, not tax savings from the trash program. At present we have a substantial amount of cash in the CPA fund and a strong community desire to improve the downtown. Please don't confuse the issue by "talking trash".
Jay Burnham March 09, 2012 at 11:41 AM
Jeff...Thanks for the video link. One thing I noticed was that there were overhead electric wires on poles in most of the pictures. And although I'm sure we would all agree that placing the utilities underground would be great, the cost would be prohibitive. Additionally, as someone that has had to deal with National Grid recently, I can attest to the fact that they are, shall we say, less than helpful in accommodating requests for underground utility placement. Also, I saw a photo of the arch in front of the library. Weren't there two identical arches at one time? Do we know what happened to the second? Is that the archway you have suggested be used? I think that would be great. Hopefully it is still stored somewhere.
Brian Stein March 09, 2012 at 01:26 PM
Just because there were overhead wires there in 1900 (by necessity), does not mean they are nice to look at. My overlying point is that sticking some benches and lights downtown does not restore the historic look. At the very least, the sidewalks need to be addressed/repaired/replaced. Obviously it would be wise to do this before we add lights/benches/trees. One big thing the video shows is the character the buildings had that has since been lost (minus a few buildings that have remained). I am all for improving the downtown. I live downtown and walk railroad ave often. I appreciate that our BOS is thinking about it and wanting to improve it. That said, there needs to be an overall concept and vision encompassing the entire downtown to ensure any monies appropriated are spent wisely and not out of sequence.
Jay Burnham March 09, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Mr. Pizzano...Wouldn't you say that when Hamilton enacted the meals tax, which now has somewhere above $50k in an account, that the merchants were in fact contributing to the betterment of the downtown? You'll have to ask Jeff Hubbard about any additional contributions the merchants may or may not being willing to agree to. We have already collected the CPA funds, which by the way have funded numerous good projects throughout Hamilton, and now it seems as though Jeff is simply suggesting we look at directing some of those already collected funds toward another worthwhile project. I'm willing to bet that private funding would also be available toward improving the downtown area.
Jeff HUbbard March 09, 2012 at 02:21 PM
One favor to ask, before throwing stones, do me a favor and give me a call at 781-316-5939 so I can give you the whole story, which is hard to do sometimes in print. We may still disagree, which is fine, but I just want to be sure we disagree on the facts, not on emotions or misinformation. Thanks again! Jeff
Jeff HUbbard March 09, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Hi All, Thanks for the feedback. First off, if we could use CPC funds for the Schools and pipes and other things...OFCOARSE I'd be all over it! But we can't. VERY strict rules by the state on how we can use what is essentially money we the taxpayers in Hamilton have saved...mandates, a whole other story. Please know, that if this project added even ONE CENT to our tax burden...this wouldn't even be on my radar screen. Below are the links to the Master Plan, Downtown Charette and CPC. All documents I used during the past 9 months to try and figure out a way to free up resources that WE ALREADY HAVE, help the merchants, which indirectly, atleast the hope here is, to increase interest for other retailers, people to cross the street from the Shopping center, the thousands that pass through our down-town on the train everyday and see absolutley nothing of interest when they look out the window at our town, etc. Hope this helps. As hard as everyone tries, it's so hard to get the whole story out, the good and the bad, which everything has, but the actual facts. We'll have to keep trying. Thanks again for taking the time to be interested in this project. Sincerely, Jeff Hamilton Master Plan http://www.hamiltonma.gov/pages/HamiltonMA_Planning/plan Downtown Charette http://www.hamiltonma.gov/Pages/HamiltonMA_BComm/BOS/Charrette.pdf CPC Rules http://www.hamiltonma.gov/Pages/HamiltonMA_BComm/CommunityPreservation/CP%20Plan%20FINAL.pdf
Dorrie Louise Kimkaran March 09, 2012 at 02:43 PM
As a Boston train commuter I spent last winter standing in the snow and in sub blizzard conditions waiting for a train (that was often late, to boot). It would be nice to have an inexpensive yet attractive shelter there-perhaps selling coffee, promoting the Town, a link to our stores? Commuters would be sheltered, spend money on items, etc. Just a thought! :-)
Jeff HUbbard March 10, 2012 at 03:38 AM
Love it, Henderson's used to do that...but then they built the new station, fences etc and it didn't work anymore..I'm going to mention it to Nick who runs Hendersons now...your right, seems like there's an opportunity there.
Jay Burnham March 10, 2012 at 10:20 AM
Dorrie and Jeff...Great idea!
Ron Powell March 11, 2012 at 07:02 PM
I'm not a Hamilton resident, but this sounds like an excellent idea. While I served in Town government in Reading, we undertook an initiative to develop the center of town with a pedestrian way that included cobbled streets, park benches, and gas lights (well, alright, faux gas lights). It seems like a very appropriate and wise use of CPA funding. We really wanted to provide a place for residents to get together and socialize -- I know that there are places like Patton Park and other places that can suit this need, but to offer a place close to local businesses will help those businesses and help to further improve the Town's quality of life. I wish your Town well.
Jay Burnham March 11, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Ron...Thank you for your positive response and support. It's good to know that Reading was able to appropriate funding from CPA, thereby setting a precedent for Hamilton's CPA Committee. Faux gas lights will be just fine, I think, in Hamilton and improving the "social networking" capabilities of the downtown will benefit everyone from business owners to residents to visitors to our community. I heard from a reliable source this week that Hamilton currently has $1.5 million in the CPA fund so it seems as though we can afford to do something positive and worthwhile in the center of town with a portion of those funds.
Robert Foringer March 12, 2012 at 10:27 AM
Thank Mr Pizzano for the real facts!!!!!
Jay Burnham March 12, 2012 at 11:12 AM
R. Pizzano...Thank you for that information. I stand corrected about Reading. It appears we are in a better place than I thought, having already collected sufficient funds from Hamilton's membership in CPA to perhaps accomplish the same level of improvement that required additional funding in Reading. That's a positive note.
Ron Powell March 12, 2012 at 03:04 PM
I probably could have been clearer with my earlier comment. I did not mean to imply that Reading used CPA funding, we used smart growth funds. The point that I was trying to make is the one that Jay just made -- that Hamilton is in a better position because of its CPA membership. I think that the relevant questions are: 1) Will the project benefit residents and local businesses? It will. 2) Is the CPA an appropriate funding source for the project? It is. 3) Are there other communities that have undertaken similar projects? They have.
Ron Powell March 12, 2012 at 04:30 PM
The plan returns some of the features of the downtown that were commonplace 100 years ago. That's the part that makes it culturally and historically significant. That the plan will probably increase pedestrian traffic near local businesses would be a side benefit. This is a plan that achieves both.
David Branga January 11, 2013 at 08:08 PM
Hi Ron - I am a Reading resident and was just installed as the new Postmaster of Hamilton. I can attest to what a good job was done downtown. I would love to see something like that happen here.
Ron Powell January 12, 2013 at 08:10 PM
Congratulations on your new appointment, David. I'm sure that you will find that Hamilton residents are proud of their town, and rightfully so. It's a lovely town with beautiful open spaces and good, friendly people. Reading is a well-managed town, and though my role was very small, I am forever grateful for the opportunity that I had to assist in the planning for the Common in Reading.

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