Committee has suggestions for improvements
Wilton group working on developing projects for town
WILTON – The Economic Development Committee has been working for several months to develop projects and programs to increase the town’s economic base, and committee Chairman Jennifer Beck provided selectmen with an update of their work.
Her hourlong presentation on Monday, Oct. 10, included an overview of the work and where they are now.
"This is a celebration of where we are," she said. "And my own observations. We still have a long way to go."
Beck began by saying that those who say there is nothing to do in the downtown are wrong.
Within a five minute walk, she said, among other things, "You can shop for antiques, drop off your dry cleaning, rent a tux, eat pizza, listen to blues bands, see a movie, grab a good book, crunch on dark chocolate, take a yoga class, scrapbook your heart out, get a bikini wax and literally smell the roses at Works of Heart."
And within a 10-minute drive, there are wilderness trails, a variety of wildlife, a lot of history, a waterfall, and both public and private schools.
"And you can breathe fresh air and drink clean water," Beck said.
The committee’s focus isn’t just on the downtown, although that is important, but on what Beck calls "the whole village." That includes promoting development along Route 101 toward Peterborough and Route 31 north and south.
"We need a downtown that provides the basic needs," she said, "from groceries to an aspirin."
Selectman Kermit Williams said there could be larger enterprises along Route 101, "those that need big parking lots," such as stores and restaurants.
"The last couple of convenience stores (on Main Street) did not do well," he noted, and said getting a drug store would be "next to impossible."
"We have to find out why," Beck said, and fix that to "give our young people a reason to stay."
Working with the Nashua Regional Planning Commission and the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, a survey of residents was devised. That survey found that people like the small-town atmosphere but that the town needs to market itself; provide a family restaurant and basic needs; exploit the river and the railroad; and not allow any more residential development on Main Street.
On respondent said, "Downtown is a Norman Rockwell painting. Just upgrade the facades, clean up the signage, create some directional signs to mills and satellite parking."
All of the committee’s consultants have said the river and the railroad are assets that need be used. An often proposed river walk and development of the area between Main Street and the Souhegan River is high on the list, as is better use of the town-owned area between the police station parking lot and Stoney Brook.
Beck said the committee’s goal is to protect the town’s character while setting priorities and making recommendations to selectmen, the Planning Board and Budget Committee. As an ad hoc committee, the Economic Development Committee can’t spend town money or make decisions. Its recommendations include diversifying the tax base, building a vibrant downtown and establishing Wilton as a destination.
To do that, the committee has compiled a list of businesses – about 110 of them – and is interviewing them to find out what they want, what they need and what they see as the future of the town. Training is offered for those who wish to take part in the process.
"People are getting interested," Beck said.
"We appreciate your enthusiasm," Williams said. "The biggest challenge is engagement (on the part of the residents). Nothing gets people out of their houses."
Beck said the committee is working with Town Administrator Scott Butcher and looking into what grants are available.
For information or to volunteer, email Beck at jenniferscottbeck@gmail. com. Other committee members are Selectman Dan Donovan, Jackie Kahle, Christine Devine, Tina Smith, School Board member Harry Dailey, Mike McGonegal, Dick Putnam and Nancy Clark, of the Heritage Commission and Historical Society.