People plan to make Paris pretty

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PARIS—Ideas started flowing Tuesday night during the first of two public meetings regarding the strategic plan for South Paris, after those gathered were informed it was a session to help move the town forward and not lodge complaints.

The brainstorming session was led by Sandy Swett, a local business owner who was hired by the town to write its strategic plan, and Jeanie Stone of the Revitalization Committee. The area the plan focuses on is Market Square and the surrounding downtown area, from the railroad tracks to Ripley and Fletcher Ford on Main Street to the bridge that crosses the Little Androscoggin River.

After residents began complaining about the school system and lack of zoning laws, Stone reminded them why they were there.

“I’m doing this as a volunteer and I’m hoping we can turn Paris into a positive place. Tonight is to brainstorm,” she said, adding it wasn’t a venue to point out all the things that were wrong with the town.

Swett told the 18 people in attendance that a successful community needs a strong foundation and the town needs to develop partnerships locally, statewide and across the region. She added the town needs to capitalize on in assets already in place.

“What makes our town special and unique?” she asked. “That’s what you people need to think about tonight.”

Swett added that the strategic plan’s main goal does not focus on bringing business into Paris, but to create sustainability for existing businesses and build the town up from its building blocks. She started with the category of beautification and green space. It was suggested the town partner up with McLaughlin Gardens. Since it’s a nonprofit, it can apply for grants and has a small group of volunteers to do gardening around town. Someone else pointed out there’s a master gardener program at the Cooperative Extension office on Olson Road.

Paris Board of Selectmen Vice Chairman Robert Wessels said he would volunteer his time for such an endeavor, but someone would have to tell him what sort of work to do since he isn’t knowledgeable about gardening or green space maintenance. Selectman Sam Elliot suggested planting trees on the town’s main roads—where they had been in the past—because they look barren.

Sarah Glynn offered the idea of adopt a street or adopt a block program to help clean up and beautify the town. She said business owners, welfare recipients looking to earn their Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or food stamp, benefits through volunteerism, students looking to fulfill community service or even those required to do community service for a crime could pitch in. Town Manager Amy Bernard said the town could reach out to Paris Elementary School to see if a volunteer or service committee wanted to help. Someone else suggested posting a list of volunteer opportunities at the town office.

“This is exciting to see so many ideas,” Stone said as she wrote down the suggestions.

Peter Kilgore asked Swett to take a look at the town’s sign ordinance, saying it’s not enforced. He pointed to “junk signs” that were allowed to be posted in the front of Moore Park.

“We can’t go forward until we clean up what we’ve got,” Kilgore said.

Swett agreed with him, saying even though she feels like she has a conflict of interest because she co-owns Swett Signs, professional signs are important in town to let visitors and potential residents and business owners what South Paris has to offer.

Swett was unsure of where the walking trails were in town until Paris Police Sgt. Hartley “Skip” Mowatt showed her the one behind the high school, which she said wasn’t hard to get to.

“Where do you see when you come into Paris anything about the walking trails?” Swett asked, adding the town has never capitalized on its natural resources. “That’s Paris’s best kept secret.”

She’s looking at getting a boat launch in town and a public beach was suggested on the Little Androscoggin River. Bernard said she would look into whether or not the easements along the river were secured by the town. If so, the town might extend the walking trails along the body of water. She added that the Androscoggin Land Trust and Little Androscoggin Watershed District could be valuable sources for the town to tap into.

Bernard shared an idea a resident submitted to her, which said South Paris should capitalize on its history and colonialism in Market Square. The resident also posited McLaughlin Garden and said the building next door should be included in the strategic plan. Bernard added to that, suggesting the town emphasize all of its manufacturing history, and highlight the beautiful architecture of the old buildings in Market Square.

As far as family focus and events in town, Paris Selectmen Chairman Ryan Lorrain said there’s events that cater to the older generation and people in between, but nothing that focuses on specifically children. Bernard said the town could build off the Moore Park Art Show and look into hosting movies in the park like other towns do. Wessels said something should be done with the town-owned space by the old fire station, behind Market Square Restaurant, and where Swett’s business is.

“I’d love to see something there,” he said, suggesting an amphitheater.

Swett said she met with Ben Conant, curator of the Paris Cape Historical Society, who told her that there once was an amphitheater in that exact spot.

Near the end of the session, Swett touched on a subject that hadn’t been brought up, which is the traffic pattern in Market Square. Bernard told the crowd that the town reached out to the Department of Transportation to see if the state would foot the bill for a traffic study, saying it was “prudent” of the town to do so since it’s a state-owned road. She added that South Paris is still on a high-accident list with the state because of the traffic in Market Square.

The town will host a second brainstorming session for the strategic plan before Swett releases the final document on Oct. 26. The date hasn’t been set yet.

For those wishing to contribute their comments and ideas for the plan, or join the Revitalization Committee, contact Swett at sandyswett@gmail.com or 647-3384.