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Wetland Functions: Education, Erosion, and Water Quality

We’re rounding up our Wetlands series with the final four functions of a wetland. It’s important to Wetland 4remember that wetlands affect all development projects, not just rural development. Wetland areas exist in downtowns, too, or adjacent to them. They also protect our downtowns from damage during storm and flood events.

Exemplary Natural Community: Essentially, this is a category for super-special wetlands that contain rare habitats or species. Dwarf shrub bogs, alpine peatland, and red maple-black gum swamp are some types of these exemplary wetlands. Their function is preservation of species and wetland ecology.

Education and Research: Wetlands are amazing places to Wetland 3learn about and study ecological systems, in part because they are discrete systems with boundaries. Unlike forests, which can range for hundreds or thousands of miles and share fuzzy borders with other ecosystems, wetland species cannot survive outside the specific conditions of a wetland. So scientists can learn a lot about ecosystem interconnectivity.

Erosion Control: Wetlands along streams, rivers, lakes, and ocean shorelines help prevent the loss of soil to erosion during storms and floods. This, in turn, helps prevent damage to human settlements
during those same events. DuriWetland 2ng a hurricane, for example, the roots of wetland plants will hold on to soil even as fast-moving water rushes over it, preventing loss of land and silt damage farther downstream.

Surface and Ground Water Protection: Wetlands act as gigantic sponges for pollutants, soaking them up and detoxifying our water supplies. This is true for sediments, chemicals, and excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous). This keeps our water clean and prevents problems elsewhere in the ecosystem.

Photos: Vermont Wetlands Program

Wetland Services: Aesthetics, Floods, and Endangered Species

 800px-Northern_Map_Turtle,_closeupWe’ve been talking about wetlands for the last couple of weeks, and continue this week with the next three functions and values defined by the Vermont Wetlands Program

Open Space and Aesthetics: In Vermont, we very much appreciate the value beautiful, open spaces bring to the state. They are a major tourist draw, and tourism is a major element of the Vermont economy. Total tourist spending in the state totals $2.2 billion and generates 23% of employment in the state. In parts of the state with more development, the open space provided by wetlands is more valuable.

Storm and Flood Water Storage: In the wake of Hurricane Irene, we may consider the flood-mitigating effects of wetlands to be their most important asset. During snow melt, rain storms, or hurricanes, wetlands can temporarily store excess water, keeping it from wl_flood3bflooding developed land or lessening the severity of a flood. After the storm, the wetlands slowly release the stored water, lessening the likelihood of downstream flooding.

Endangered and Rare Species: According to the Vermont Wetlands Program, up to 43% of the nation’s endangered and threatened species rely on wetlands in some way for survival. These species are dwindling, largely because of human development. Without fully understanding how these species interact with each other and what they contribute to the ecology of a place, we cannot understand what might be lost with their extinction.

 

Photos:

Top: Map Turtle, Wikimedia Commons User Dger, CC license

Bottom: Wetland during/after a rain event, Vermont Wetlands Program

The Retreat Farm: Playing With Conceptual Design

When the Windham Foundation approached Stevens & Associates about coming up with concepts for redeveloping the Retreat Farm property out on Route 30, we knew if would be a fun project. At this stage of design, which you could call the “dream” stage, there are few limits to what you can explore. We keep budgets in mind, but we also encourage our clients to dream big. Sometimes, a design that seems impossibly expensive will come to fruition through creativity and innovation.

On to the details: for the Windham Foundation, we looked at repurposing existing farm buildings to create a retail and manufacturing cluster to add to Grafton Village Cheese’s existing facility. We looked at adding parking to the site and making it easier for pedestrians to enter and explore the site and access the Retreat Trails toward the back of the property.

Most exciting for us is the possibility of turning Route 30 into a boulevard, with a bike and walking path separated from the road by a planted strip. A planted strip would also separate the traffic lanes. Both of these things lead to better pedestrian and cyclist safety, since they visually cue drivers to slow down and watch for traffic. Such a boulevard could become a grand entrance to Brattleboro from Route 30.

It’s important to note that this is just a first pass at a conceptual design, and there is a lot of hard work before any of it would become reality. Further study will tell us where the wetlands are on the property and what effect development would have on them. It will also tell us if there are archaeological resources that need to be protected, and how best to control stormwater. We will look more closely at the buildings and what it would take to renovate them and adapt them to new uses. And then we will look at how much all of these ideas will cost.

 

 

 

Pedestrian Safety is Good for Business

Smart Growth American and the National Complete Streets Coalition have issued a report, entitled “Dangerous By Design 2014,” looking at the causes and frequency of pedestrian deaths and injuries on the nation’s roadways. It’s worth a look, especially in light of recent pedestrian accidents in the Brattleboro area.

Many of the hallmarks of “dangerous design” are present in our region, including state highways and thoroughfares with pedestrians and cyclists sharing roads designed for high vehicle speeds. (Think Route 9 between Marlboro and Brattleboro, or Route 30 coming into town.)

There’s a ton of data in the report, but what struck us was a small case study about West Jefferson, North Carolina. Apparently, the main street of the town is also a state highway, which had been designed for large trucks and high vehicle speeds.

Working with the state, the town eliminated traffic signals and replaced them with four-way stop signs, painted high-visibility crosswalks, increased on-street parking, and extending curbs to lessen the length of pedestrian crossings. Traffic slowed and people started walking again.

Within a few years, new stores opened up in previously vacant storefronts (dropping vacancies from 33 to 5). The downtown renewal prompted $500,000 in renovations and investment, the opening of 10 new businesses , creation of 55 new jobs, and a 19% increase in tourist visits.

The point is this: pedestrian safety is good for business, good for downtowns, good for the grand list, good for just about everyone and everything. There are several plans for the Brattleboro area that incorporate these measures; let’s work to get them built.

 

(Photos from visitwestjefferson.org)

 

 

Welcoming Ham Hodgman

We’d like to welcome Ham Hodgman to the team here at Stevens & Associates. Ham worked for us quite some time ago, and then moved away down South. But now he’s back, bringing his civil engineering expertise with him.

To quote his resume:

“Hamilton (Ham) Hodgman has worked as a civil engineer in Vermont, North Carolina, and South Carolina for over a decade. His work has included schematic design, design development, state and local permitting, and construction phases for residential and commercial construction. He is well-versed in public presentations and client relations.

In addition to his civil engineering and design work, Ham has extensive experience providing construction services, including technical review, geotechnical engineering, inspections, and materials testing on projects for industrial, institutional, and commercial facilities clients.”

 

 

 

What We’re Reading, May Edition

Want to read what we’ve been reading? Read on…

“In Cape Town, Urban Design Reduces Violence”

From the American Society of Landscape Architects comes a blog entry about an urban design project in Cape Town, South Africa, that has reduced murders (an insight into overall violence) in one of the city’s townships by 22% overall. How? A group of planners, landscape architects, and architects created four “safe nodes” throughout the township. These nodes provide well-lit pedestrian malls, wide walkways, and other elements that promote safe walking routes. New public facilities, including community buildings, parks, and a sports complex provide spaces for community events, get-togethers, and play.

“Search for Ash Borers Turns Up Termites in Vermont”

Termites in Vermont? Well, maybe. WCAX reports that traps set for invasive ash borers have found one infestation of subterranean termites near the town of Wells.

“Do We Need Affordable Housing or Affordable Living?”

Housing is getting more expensive, here in Brattleboro and everywhere else. Blogger Dan Zack at Better! Cities and Town offers the opinion that housing itself is only part of the problem, and argues that we should be focused not on affordable housing alone, but on affordable living. He breaks the issue down into two parts, talking first about the combined cost of housing and transportation, which is approaching roughly 50% of average household income. This is largely because to get to cheaper housing, you need to go further away from the city, where the jobs are, making commutes longer and transportation costs higher.
There’s a tool from the Center for Neighborhood Technology called the Housing + Transportation Affordability Index. There’s not enough data for Brattleboro specifically, but the surrounding towns all hit that 50% mark or higher for costs. We live in a rural area, and most people drive for work, groceries, and other things.
The second part of Zack’s article talks about the size of living spaces. He points out that smaller living spaces cost less, and that an investment in public spaces would make smaller private spaces more palatable.

(Capetown Photos found here.)

 

Introducing Bob Speck, P.E.

We’d like to introduce you to the newest member of our team, Bob Speck, PE. We are very excited to have him on board, because he brings with him years of structural engineering and design experience as well as a passion for and deep commitment to sustainable design.

Over the past ten years, Bob has pursued several passions, among them the design of custom, efficient, timber-framed homes and barns for builders throughout New England and upstate New York. Clients included The Wadsworth Company, Vermont Timber Frames, and Vermont Barns. During this time he also consulted with Engineering Ventures on timber frame engineering, building sciences, and sustainable design. He is known for his ability to develop design solutions that integrate efficient structural design with sustainable, time-tested building practices and architectural goals.

Bob began his career with 18 years at Ryan-Biggs Associates, where he began as a project engineer and became a business partner with leadership roles in hiring, staff development, and quality improvement. His engineering work while there included hospitals, parking structures, schools and colleges, historic buildings, restaurants, office buildings, residences, and specialty structures. His leadership work while there included serving as president of the Mohawk-Hudson section of the American Society of Civil Engineers. His research work on drifted snow loads on buildings, performed while completing his master’s degree at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is still referenced in building codes.

In addition to his work in engineering, Bob has 40 years of experience in the snow sports industry, having served as a program manager of the Mountain Sports School at Stratton Mountain and as a training coordinator at the Adaptive Sports Foundation. He continues to enjoy promoting the health and wellness benefits of fitness, yoga, and outdoor adventure. He lives in Manchester, Vermont, with his wife Jo Kirsch, co-owner of Heart of the Village Yoga Studio.

 

(From top: Bob Speck; Barn Frame, Vermont Barns; Home Addition, The Wadsworth Company)

 

Stevens & Associates Expands Architectural Services

Brattleboro-based firm Stevens & Associates, known for its structural and civil engineering and landscape architecture and planning services, has merged with Alan Berry Architect to expand its architectural offerings. The architecture department, headed by architect Alan Lindsay Berry, adds four employees to the Stevens team: Berry, Frank Balla, Timberly Hund, and Stephen Jarosak.  Denny Frehsee, formerly of Williams & Frehsee, has joined the team as a consultant to help with business development, design, and construction oversight.

The architecture team will focus on environmentally sustainable and traditionally inspired design. As members of the Congress for New Urbanism and the U.S. Green Building Council, Stevens & Associates has always valued smart growth and traditional neighborhood design that fits into the historic context of New England’s towns and villages. The firm now brings those values to the architectural realm. “Traditional designs are all around us, and have stood the test of time,” said Bob Stevens, founder of Stevens & Associates. “Most of our clients want buildings that pay homage to the historical context in which they will sit.”

Alan Berry brings over thirty years of experience to Stevens & Associates. His previously Rhode Island based firm, Alan Berry Architect, was known for its emphasis on historic preservation and adaptive reuse as well as the use of energy-efficient technologies. His projects have varied, ranging from civic and liturgical designs to hospitality, recreation, and museum quality restorations. “Regional vernacular and traditional architecture is based on local traditions, needs, and materials,” says Berry. “We are building on the knowledge base of the generations who came before us.”

Offering a full suite of design services will allow Stevens & Associates to give clients a more comprehensive package, according to Stevens. “With everyone under one roof, we can offer better value for the design dollar,” he said.

Stevens & Associates has several architectural projects already underway, including the Brooks House redevelopment in Brattleboro, the Dot’s Restaurant redevelopment in Wilmington, and an art barn renovation and addition for Hilltop Montessori School in Brattleboro.

 

 

Algiers Housing Nears Completion

The 17-unit Algiers Village Housing project in Guiford is nearing completion, with construction set to finish this summer. Owned and developed by Windham & Windsor Housing Trustthe new construction will house income eligible tenants. Stevens & Associates worked with Duncan Wisniewski Architecture, providing civil and structural engineering for the project.

The project site was originally classified as a brownfield due to a small amount of contamination from previous uses. The nonprofit group Friends of Algiers, which owns and is renovating the Guilford General Store, held the property and restored it to health before selling it to WWHT for development.

Stevens & Associates’ involvement in this project coincided with our work on the Algiers waterline project, which extended a waterline from Brattleboro to the Algiers village area. The new housing would not have been possible without the added waterline.