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Board approves parking lot changes

BARRE — With a long-promised parking lot now under construction on one side of Pearl Street, the Development Review Board has blessed a plan to reconfigure another city-owned lot on the other side of the street.

Amid some concern the proposal might not work as well as advertised when the Pearl Street Parking Lot is at, or near, capacity, the board unanimously approved the plan prepared by Public Works Director Bill Ahearn and presented at its Thursday night meeting by Planning Director Janet Shatney.

Though member James Hart noted that motorists entering the soon-to-be-60-space lot at either of its designated entrances on Buzzell Place might have to “back out” if no spaces were available, Jeffrey Tuper-Giles said there was ample room — 24 feet between rows of parking — to perform a three-point turn.

Shatney noted the lot is largely permit parking, with 25 spaces dedicated for use by tenants of nearby Barre City Place, another seven 24-hour spaces, and two spaces equipped with charging stations for electronic vehicles.

In its current configuration, the lot also has two handicap parking spaces and 10 metered spaces with the ability to park for up to 10 hours.

Those who use the lot, which is located on Summer Street between Pearl Street and Buzzell Place, now park in four rows that are each parallel to Summer Street and separated by a curbed walkway that runs down the middle of the lot.

The walkway, all the curbing and two entrances on Summer Street will be eliminated as part of a plan that essentially calls for the parking spaces to be rotated 90 degrees. The change will retain four rows of parking, but the spaces will all be perpendicular to Summer Street — facing the retaining wall where local Rotarians recently installed a colorful mural.

Fueled by the board’s approval of a fence requested on private property next to Jerry’s Sports Tavern, Ahearn indicated the proposal had a number of advantages.

In addition to creating 10 new parking spaces — three in the lot and seven more on Summer Street — it would eliminate the uncontrolled entrances on Summer Street and improve snow removal by eliminating curbing and creating a “single smooth surface that can be plowed in one direction” — toward Summer Street.

The proposal also creates a one-way right of way using an entrance at the end of the public portion of Buzzell Place and a newly created exit on Pearl Street. The latter curb cut will eliminate one parking space, but improve delivery access to the tavern and fulfill a right-of-way commitment to the neighboring Central Hotel.

Board members approved the plan after meeting privately in deliberative session after re-electing Chairwoman Linda Shambo and Vice Chairwoman Denise Ferrari.

Also approved by the board was a three-year-old proposal to reconstruct the handicapped accessible entrance to Key Bank and relocate a subsurface propane tank on that North Main Street property.

The board was told that project will take five weeks from demolition to completion and the request mirrored one that was approved in 2016, but never constructed.


Jpkuckens / Josh Kuckens / Staff Photo  

Chilling Out

Will Robinson, of Will’s Lemonade, reaches for another round of fresh lemons for thirsty customers at the Waterbury Arts Festival on Saturday.

'Space walk' launched in Barre

BARRE — There is a chipmunk crossing between Neptune and Uranus, school buses will soon roll regularly between Jupiter and Saturn and the Sun is ironically located in the shade — not far from the trail that leads to the local dog park.

Welcome to the “Barre Planet Path,” a just-completed project that got its first official workout over the weekend and has suddenly made it possible to literally get lost in space without ever leaving the short section of paved bike path that runs by Barre City Elementary and Middle School.

It isn’t a first of its kind, or even first in Vermont (there’s one like it at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich) and Rick McMahan will tell you it sure didn’t happen overnight.

“It’s been a work in progress for awhile,” said McMahan, a longtime member of the Barre Kiwanis Club, who got a thumbs up for the project from the club and the city’s bike path committee five years ago.

Both the club and the committee embraced McMahan’s vision of installing a dozen interactive signs, including one for each planet and three others — one for the sun, another for the asteroids that can be found between Mars and Jupiter and the third for Proxima Centauri.

That last sign, located at the end of the Barre Planet Path, is the only one out of step with the one-foot-equals-one-million-miles scale of orbital distances developed by a now-retired NASA scientist.

Posted on the Bridge Street end of the bike path about 3 feet from the sign for Pluto, McMahan said the sign for the nearest star to our Sun should actually be nearly 4,300 miles away in South America based on the scale prepared by Dr. David Hathaway.

“It should be in Bolivia,” he said.

That would be an awfully long walk and it’s the kind of thing McMahan hopes folks ponder while watching some of the videos — more than 250 in all — he has embedded into the QR codes that are part of each of the signs and can be scanned with your smart phone.

You can view everything from the latest edition of “The Mars Report” to an interesting video about the geysers on Enceladus, which if you didn’t know it (most people don’t) is Saturn’s sixth largest moon.

“I really view this as hopefully a spark that could get central Vermont kids interested in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics,” he said.

McMahan well remembers the planetarium that was built at the Long Island high school he attended prior to his senior year, fueling what has been his own lifelong interest in astronomy and space exploration.

“Wouldn’t it be great if central Vermont became a hotbed for space exploration?” he said, suggesting he’d settle in kindling an interest in “one kid interested in figuring out the next big thing.”

“The more we know, the more we realize we don’t know,” said McMahan, who didn’t know he’d become a NASA Solar System Ambassador Volunteer — one of five in Vermont — when he first proposed the planet path in 2014.

McMahan didn’t achieve ambassador volunteer status until early last year and by then he borrowed a measuring wheel to plot the path and spray paint the solar system to Hathaway’s scale not once, but twice.

“The spray paint faded,” he explained, noting that it since required a “refresher,” but won’t need another thanks to the signs that he posted earlier this month with the help of fellow Kiwanis Club members.

Along with providing a wealth of information — most of which you need a smartphone to unlock — the signs themselves answer a question that has nagged bike path users who have wondered why the names of the planets were painted on the narrow strip of asphalt that runs from Fairview Street in Barre to Bridge Street in Barre Town.

Bisected by Parkside Terrace at the entrance to the elementary school, the path gives path users a sense of the relative distance between the planets and the sun.

The sun is the size of a basketball in Hathaway’s model and the Earth, which is located a little more than 30 yards (93 feet for 93 million miles) away from the Sun is the size of the head of a quilting pin.

It’s less than 500 feet between the sun and Jupiter (486 feet, or 486 million miles), but that’s less than half the distance between the neighboring planets of Uranus and Neptune. They are separated by 1,016 feet (more than 1 billion miles).

McMahan, who eventually hopes to mount the signs on granite pedestals, said he wanted to install them before this Saturday’s 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. He also wanted to accommodate fellow Kiwanis Club member Ian Gauthier, who is the children’s librarian at the Aldrich Public Library.

Gauthier, who just launched a summer reading program, “A Universe of Stories,” included a visit to the Barre Planet Path on Saturday.

Joined by McMahan, several children and their parents, Gauthier read “Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot” in the shady spot near the sun at the outset of an afternoon walk that included more than a little space trivia.


Drag queens get rave reviews in Montpelier

MONTPELIER — There were “queens,” but no drama at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library on Saturday. Not, that is, unless you count a uniformed police officer gamely posing for a photograph with a couple of colorful drag queens before he and his partner went on their way and Nikki Champagne and Emoji Nightmare sat down to read out loud.

They had a lot of listeners.

More than 130 people filled the Hayes Room — spilling out into the library’s corridor — for a story hour Carolyn Brennan, the co-director at Kellogg-Hubbard, said was never in danger of being canceled despite rumors to the contrary.

“There has never been any credible local threat to this event,” Brennan said, even as the room was filling with folks who traveled from near and far to hear two Burlington drag queens read children’s books.

If you’re keeping score it’s Champagne and Nightmare, 1, “Mommy Activist,” 0.

Nikki Champagne is the stage name for Taylor Small, reading partner Emoji Nightmare is Justin Marsh and “Mommy Activist” is the online persona of conservative Facebook personality Elizabeth Johnston.

Brennan said Johnston provoked an avalanche of angry phone calls — most from out of state — that quickly subsided in early-June.

Separate news accounts — one at the time and another last week — prompted others to weigh in on the opposite side of the issue.

“We have nothing but local support,” Brennan said, defending the library’s decision to host Drag Queen Story Hour for the second straight year.

“The library is the great third space where you shouldn’t be judged for any point of view,” she said, as Small and Marsh entered the room dressed in drag and ready to read.

With enemies like Johnston, Small observed after surveying the growing crowd, who needs friends?

“The more they (critics) talk about it, the more we get people to come out to our events,” Nikki Champagne declared, a day after the pair performed before about 30 people at the Jericho Town Library and a few hours before they held their second straight story hour at the Ainsworth Public Library in Williamstown.

The Montpelier event made headlines and it was the one that drew by far the biggest crowd.

On a morning when the closest thing to a “demonstration” was actually a show of solidarity, the queens ruled at Kellogg-Hubbard.

Folks of all ages and genders attended the event and while many brought children, more than a few did not.

Gingey, who did not provide a last name or a preferred pronoun, was among the latter.

Gingey, who lives in North Bennington, showed up an hour early with a rainbow flag.

“I wanted to show support and make everybody feel safe,” Gingey said.

So did Marka May, who traveled from Shaftsbury with a big banner boasting a dragon with flowing locks and the words “Drag On.”

However, Brennan said rules are rules and politely asked those with banners to move away from the library entrance and up to the public sidewalk.

“The library is private property and I don’t let anybody demonstrate on private property,” she said, explaining the “universal rule” guarded against those who might show up pushing a much different agenda.

None did.

Those that did show up came for a variety of reasons.

Montpelier resident Linda Quinlan, who co-hosts the show “All Things LGBTQ” on the local public access station, said for her, the stories were a bonus.

“I’m here to support the drag queens,” she said.

Julia Rogers said she made the trip from Stowe to Montpelier with her daughters, Claire, 3, and Nora, 5, for a simple reason that she discussed with them on the way.

“We’re here to celebrate diversity,” she said.

Some moms think alike.

Lauren Hierl of Montpelier said she brought her sons Elias, 8, and Isaac, 5, for similar reasons.

“I want to show my kids all kinds of people and that we want to accept all kinds of people,” she said.

Hierl said she liked the “positive energy” of the story hour and appreciated the “supportive” audience.

“That says a lot,” she said.

One mother from Barre, who preferred not to share her name, said she and her children enjoyed the show and offered some simple advice to those who might object to it.

“If you don’t like it, don’t come,” she said with shrug.

Montpelier resident Amanda Garces didn’t just like it.

“We loved it,” she said, describing Small and Marsh as entertaining and engaging readers.

Garces got no argument from her six-year-old daughter, Isabel, or son, Henry, 3.

Isabel Garces said the drag queens saved the best book — “King and King” – for last.

“That was my favorite,” she said of a book that ends with the same-sex marriage of two princes who live happily ever after.

Nora Rogers said she preferred “A Big Guy Took My Ball” — a book from the “Elephant and Piggie” series that the drag queens read during an interactive performance you didn’t have to be a child to enjoy.

Just ask Jeri Ryan, who came from St. Johnsbury hoping to persuade the Small and Morse to bring their show to the Northeast Kingdom.

“It was wonderful!” Ryan exclaimed.

After wrapping up in Montpelier, Small and Morse hopped in their car and headed to Williamstown. It wasn’t standing room only at the Ainsworth Public Library, partly because it couldn’t have been. The story hour there was held outdoors and a small crowd gathered on the lawn to hear Nikki Champagne and Emoji Nightmare read out loud a few feet from Route 14.


Jpkuckens / Josh Kuckens / Staff Photo  

Here’s the Scoop

Northbound motorists funnel to the left lane on Monday as ledge work continues at the Interstate 89 Exit 6 off ramp in South Barre.

City to address energy efficiency disclosure for buildings

MONTPELIER — The mandated energy-efficiency rating of properties at the time they are sold in the Capital City will be the focus of a meeting for realtors and developers at City Hall next week.

A breakfast meeting will be held at City Hall Council Chambers on July 26, at 8:30 a.m.

The first of several public meetings for homeowners will be at the same venue Aug. 20, at 6 p.m.

The meetings follow legislative approval earlier this year for a charter-change request by the city to craft an ordinance requiring energy-efficiency ratings on properties to meet the citywide goal of fossil-free energy use by 2050. An earlier goal seeks to make all municipal buildings in the city net-zero by 2030.

An amendment to the final language of the Senate bill removed a controversial element that would have allowed Montpelier to enforce minimum energy efficiency standards, while the new language focuses on efficiency disclosure.

When the article was first approved by voters, initial discussion by the City Council proposed that the buyer of a building in the city would have to upgrade its energy efficiency to a standard that met city or state guidelines to reduce energy use and combat climate change.

The proposal sparked a backlash among some realtors, rental property owners and developers concerned about increased costs to upgrade properties, and difficulties complying with new regulations.

In response to those concerns, the House Government Operations Committee decided to water down the language, only stipulating disclosure requirements for energy efficiency when a property is sold, which the Senate passed.

The committee also heard from Richard Faesy, a principal and co-founder of Energy Futures Group in Hinesburg, who is a specialist in energy efficiency, and will work with the city during meetings with realtors and property owners.

Faesy presented a Better Buildings study by the U.S. Department of Energy that showed energy-efficient homes sell significantly faster and for more money nationwide.

Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson said a study group would look at similar programs by Efficiency Vermont, and in other parts of the country, for guidance.

Watson said an ordinance was a form of consumer protection.

“You would never buy a car without knowing the gas mileage, and likewise, why would you buy a house without having some standardized energy information about that purchase?” Watson said. “That’s a major purchasing decision.

“It’s also a way to make energy visible. Buildings are the number-two contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, right behind cars and transportation. Cars have a life cycle of about 10 years, but our buildings are here almost permanently. The more work we can do to address building efficiency, it will have a lasting effect on the energy consumption of our community,” Watson added.

Watson noted that there had been previous work on energy efficiency in Vermont and nationwide that could help craft an ordinance.

“We want to get feedback on those tools so far, and then we’re going to get people’s input on what they think it would take to be a successful ordinance in terms of consumer protection,” she added.

Commercial property owners in the city, Steve Everett and Steve Ribolini, said they would be interested in learning more and providing input to a discussion about energy efficiency in buildings.

“My feeling all along and my strategy for the last 30 years was, show me how to reduce my costs long-term by making energy-efficiency improvements and I would be happy to do them; everything costs,” Everett said, and suggested a loan fund might help property owners make improvements.

Ribolini noted that a lot of property in the city is old stock that could benefit from energy-efficiency upgrades to windows and heating systems and adding insulation.

“My idea is that it could help everybody: It could help landlords selling and it could help tenants, so it could be a win all round if it’s properly crafted and properly addressed,” he added.


“The worst thing about the Jeffrey Epstein case, without question, is the insult, the callous intrusion and ultimately the terrible damage that his pedophiliac behavior inflicted upon the dozens of young women and girls who were his victims...”

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