A drive through Elkins Village looks entirely different these days, as the building known as the "Mesa building" was torn down last week. Although Mesa was its most recent tenant, the building was constructed for the Scythe Company founded in 1835 in Elkins, originally known as Scytheville. Elkins has a rich history that is well-documented in an out-of-print book available at Tracy Library called "Reflections in a Millpond: Stories of Scytheville-Elkins, 1835-1985."
Many people have asked me whether the Town was involved with the building’s removal. The short answer is "no," as the Town does not own the property. The owners voluntarily, and unhappily, demolished the building, which was beyond restoration by most accounts and was not attractive to prospective buyers. The long answer (a column’s worth) is that the Town was in a roundabout way connected to the demise of the building.
For years the Town has been working with the building’s owners and Elkins residents on a plan to restore Elkins to its historic charm. In 2005, citizens gathered for a public forum at the Masonic Lodge to discuss safety and aesthetic improvements for Elkins. That discussion led to the preparation of a Conceptual Land Use Plan by the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission (UVLSRPC). Repeatedly during the planning process, Elkins residents emphasized the need for sidewalks, traffic safety, and bicycle and pedestrian safety, as well as the beautification and preservation of the historical integrity of the village.
Following the 2005 planning session, voters at the 2006 Town Meeting approved a warrant article authorizing the Board of Selectmen to negotiate with the owners of the Scythe Co. building on the terms of a gift of the "dam and appurtenant property" to the Town for the purposes of conservation, fire protection, historic preservation and other public benefits. To be clear, the gift related to the Mill Pond Dam and not to the entire Scythe Co. property. The dam long ago received a Letter of Deficiency from the State of NH Department of Environmental Services (NHDES), and voters agreed with the Board of Selectmen that the Town is in the best position to undertake the design and repair of the dam.
There was one major complication, however; the dam structure was also part of the building foundation, so not only was it nearly impossible to identify subdivision boundaries, but the Town’s attorney advised us that we would be crazy to accept responsibility for a dam with a building sitting on top of it. Thus began the owners’ journey to separate the building from the dam so that neither party would be liable to the other.
In the meantime, the Town conducted a second public forum in 2008, this one led by a landscape architect and urban planner who prepared a number of artistic renderings of a future Elkins. Again, the recurring themes were safety, beautification, and historic preservation.
These two public planning processes led to, and were instrumental in, the Town’s application for a Transportation Enhancement grant offered by the Federal Highway Administration and administered by the State Department of Transportation. (This is the same grant that the Town received in 2003 and in 2008 to build sidewalks and the roundabout on Newport Road.)
In the Town’s original grant submission -- ranked #1 in the region by the Transportation Advisory Committee of the UVLSRPC -- the Town included a proposition to purchase the Scythe Co. building for half of its then-asking price (the property owners agreed to donate half of the value towards the restoration of Elkins). Later, in response to concerns from some citizens and members of the Budget Committee and the possibility that the inclusion of the building might weaken the Town’s prospects of receiving the grant, that segment of the grant application was removed.
In the end, the Town submitted a grant application for nearly $800,000 to build sidewalks, redesign the Elkins/Wilmot Center Road intersection, and install safety features near Elkins Beach and the boat launch. The Town would be responsible for 20% of the cost of the project, or just under $160,000, most of which is already saved in capital reserve funds.
On May 27, the Town received official notice that the grant application had been successful. Funds for the preliminary design and engineering will become available at the beginning of federal fiscal year 2012, which begins October 1, 2011, and construction funds will be available the following year. We are very excited about the possibilities that this grant brings to Elkins.
This brings us back to the Mill Pond Dam. Those involved with the Elkins planning process envisioned a restored and renewed Elkins with a full Mill Pond, sidewalks to the Wilmot town line, and benches placed so visitors can enjoy the area’s rich history. While it was disappointing to see a piece of history disappear last week, the silver lining is that now that the building has been removed, the Town and the Scythe Co. property owners can resume their conversation about the gift of the dam to the Town, and the Elkins renewal project can begin.
Going forward, the Town must conduct a thorough inspection of the dam and seek estimates for its restoration to bring to voters at the next Town Meeting. (The Town also must prepare estimates for work on the Pleasant Lake Dam that will be required by NHDES.) At the same time, voters can consider the matching funds needed to bring the Elkins grant project to fruition. These grant funds will not, unfortunately, cover any of the necessary work on either dam.
As for the Scythe Co. property, the owners secured approval from the Zoning Board of Adjustment to reduce the Streams Buffer to 10 feet, allowing future owners of the property to rebuild in the same general footprint of the removed building. The property is in the Commercial Zone in Elkins, with an operational septic system and parking. The Town hopes that the private development of that property will go hand-in-hand with the public investment.
It will surely be wonderful to see Elkins’ vitality restored to that which we now only see in postcards and history books.
Jessie Levine, Town
Top of this page
Front Page Great links Archives
Contact: ken.s+sunacom.com (replace "+" with "@")