LITTLETON — Littleton River District Redevelopment Chairman John Hennessey gave a friendly welcome to what was the first in-person commission meeting in more than a year.
On Thursday, commission members and town officials gathered at the Littleton Opera House to provide an update on projects in the heart of town, including active projects on Cottage and Mill streets and the new rail trail.
Hennessey provided an update on the plan to coordinate arts and cultural programming with the recently formed Littleton Cultural Arts Commission.
New Town Manager Jim Gleason, 14 weeks into the job, also introduced himself.
“Jim and I had a one-on-one meeting a few weeks ago and I shared the commission’s perspective,” said Hennessey.
Gleason is aware of the projects and is up to speed, he said.
The parcel for Riverfront Commons, owned by Ron Murro and on the Littleton Area Senior Center side of the river, went to a Yellow Book appraisal that should be submitted to the town in the next few days, said Gleason.
The plan is for the town to buy the 7-acre parcel from Murro.
Residents at the 2020 town meeting authorized a town share of $175,000 toward the total $800,000 project that will establish a town commons to provide green space and space for events and recreation.
The three-phased project will involve the acquisition of the property and site development, pedestrian-scale lighting, a parking area, development of utilities, and creating a community flex space for concerts and other events.
Also planned is a welcome center and restrooms in the red barn that will be renovated.
In June 2020, the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority approved $575,000 in tax credits for the project.
Once the appraisal is in hand, Gleason said it will be sent to the funding source and then the town will acquire the property and send the project out to bid by autumn.
“This is the most valuable parcel in Littleton,” said commission member, Dave Ernsberger.
Ernsberger thanked Murro for his support in leasing the property to the town to hold events, such as the Littleton Farmers Market and this summer’s two First Friday events with arts and crafts and music.
The Littleton Department of Public Works has completed its work on the rail trail, the former railroad bed now turned recreational trail that extends from the Littleton Industrial Park toward the Apthorp area.
Recently, the public works completed the grading and crowning and submitted it as in-kind work for the grant that funded the project, said DPW Director Doug Damko.
Concerns have been raised, though, including from Littleton Police Chief Paul Smith, who said ATVs, which are not authorized to use the new portion of the rail trail, are using it, said Damko.
“The police would like to see physical barriers,” said Damko.
Hennessey said the hope is that signage will help resolve the issue.
“It’s a shared-use trail, which includes biking,” said Hennessey. “We will have to observe what the usage is and plan for it.”
Although ATVs are prohibited from using the new rail trail segment per state and federal rules, snowmobiles are allowed on it during winter.
After delays in the $1 million project to add new sidewalks and other improvements on Cottage and Mill streets, Damko said that the project is at the end of its preliminary engineering and will soon transition to final engineering and the acquisition of easements.
The goal is to complete that this year and then send the project out to bid to get the best construction price and begin construction next year, he said.
The $1 million Cottage-Mill project is being funded with a 20-percent town share and 80-percent federal grant, and 80 percent of the project funding is for Cottage Street.
The consultant recommended there be no additional parking along Cottage Street (part of Route 302 and a state highway), which is something the New Hampshire Department of Transportation didn’t want, said Damko.
As for more parking, once the dilapidated barn adjacent to the public parking lot off Pleasant is torn down, it will open up dozens of new parking spaces, said commission member, Chad Stearns.
For arts programming, Hennessey said the cultural arts commission is far along, and two arts commission members, Scarlet Moberly and Andrew Lidestri, who are also new river district commission members, will keep the river district commission updated.
The river district commission is focused on infrastructure, and when the Riverfront Commons gets closer to its engineering phase, a discussion will be had on the best way to build out the town commons to best serve the arts and other activities, he said.
“The town is doing well,” said resident and property owner, Jere Eames. “If we can just keep that momentum going.”