Vernon celebrates its new Town Center

| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:53

Sees it as a model for smart growth, By JoAnn MacDougall Vernon — Vernon’s beautification project along Route 515 was celebrated on Wednesday with a crowd that gathered in the roadway to perform a ritual ribbon cutting. Those present spoke in glowing terms of the controversial project, which had its roots more than 20 years ago. “The goal of this project is to create a town center that Vernon has never had, a business community, a place where people could gather,” commented Helen Carew, wife of Mayor Austin Carew. She noted that Vernon was originally an agricultural community. Recently retired engineer Eric Grove said the multi-layered project took many hands to complete. “It was a collaborative effort on the part of the township and the county.” In April 2008, engineer Eric Grove described in a memorandum the Route 515 improvements, a project timeline which included four phases and the project milestones. Ground was broken for the new Main Street in late October 2003 and in August 2007, construction began. The project has not been without its troubles, including cost overruns of more than $1 million under the leadership of the former township manager; reviews by the town council and finally by an outside authority and outrage from citizens. It’s all led to a call for a more transparent government, which Vernon has worked hard to follow. In his ribbon cutting speech, Carew said: “Residents of the township want to see growth occur, while preserving the natural landscape that makes Vernon so wonderful.” He lauded the project, calling the development it created beneficial to the township. “The centerpiece of the town center redevelopment is the new Main Street which was designed to function as a bypass, giving more travel options through the town center and alleviating traffic congestion while creating new economic opportunities and civic space. It will be developed with mixed use buildings with street-level retail, restaurants, upper floor offices, and some residential flats. A new civic space will be created around the existing firemen’s pond. Main Street has been constructed and is awaiting the new buildings to shape the space.” According to the mayor, the project shows how environmental protection, preservation and economic development can be balanced in a sensible way.