Lazarus Park proposal advances
MIDDLEBURY — An effort to name a new downtown Middlebury park after a prominent local family has moved a step closer to bearing fruit.
The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday unanimously agreed to hold a public hearing on a proposal to name a new park at 20 Main St. in honor of the late Stan Lazarus and his family. The future park site — currently being outfitted with a drainage system as part of the downtown Middlebury rail bridges project — once hosted the Lazarus Department Store. Residents Michael and Judy Olinick, among others, believe it would be fitting for the park to bear the Lazarus family name in recognition of their legacy of philanthropy and public service.
“It would really bring people together with a very good town memory,” Judy Olinick told the board on Tuesday.
Olinick presented town officials with a petition signed by 45 residents who agree with the plan for a Lazarus Park. Supporters gathered those names with little effort, according to Olinick, who believes “many hundreds” of Middlebury-area residents support the proposed park name.
Stan Lazarus and his family ran their department store for decades until its closing during the early 1990s. Lazarus through the years gave clothing, shoes and money to local families of limited means. Following his death in 1998, the Lazarus family donated its former homestead at 56 North Pleasant St. to the local Jewish community to use as a gathering place. It is now known as Havurah House.
Lazarus, a Democrat, was elected to the Vermont House in 1960 and 1962, at a time when Middlebury was a Republican stronghold. Then-Gov. Philip Hoff appointed Lazarus his executive clerk.
Stan Lazarus’ brother Gene served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in Italy during World War II, then returned to Middlebury, where he owned the United 5-Cent to $1 Store and helped operate the department store. While Stan served on the Middlebury Planning Commission, Gene was a longtime member of the town’s Board of Civil Authority and served as a Justice of the Peace.
Stan and Gene Lazarus both graduated from Middlebury High School.
Selectman Victor Nuovo knew Stan Lazarus, a man he called one of the kindest people he’d ever met.
“He was a benefactor to so many people,” Nuovo said. “People would come in and buy shoes who couldn’t afford it, and Stan would charge it and somehow ‘lose’ (the bill). He really did provide welfare in the richest way.”
The selectboard voted unanimously to hold a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 27, to hear people’s views on the proposed park naming. Barring opposition at the hearing, the selectboard can move to make “Lazarus Park” official.
Nuovo believes it would be a fitting tribute.
“I think we have a tendency in this town to forget the past, and I think this is part of the past worth remembering,” Nuovo said.
In other action on Tuesday, the Middlebury selectboard toured Creek Road to survey the damage in an effort to reach a consensus on how much money the community should spend in fixing the flood-plagued road. A consultant has suggested the town could spend upwards of $1.3 million in slightly relocating a portion of the road away from the Otter Creek, in order to better protect it against future flooding. Town officials closed the road to through-traffic in 2015; it’s currently gated at a location south of Route 7 on the way to Three Mile Bridge Road.
Some board members aren’t keen on investing more than $1 million into making repairs to a local road that could become undone by Mother Nature within a few decades. So the board has been considering such options as making minimal repairs, discontinuing the road, or converting it to a legal trail. The board has also being looking into how their maintenance obligations might change if its changed Creek Road’s rating from its current Class 3, to Class 4.
After a 30-minute discussion on Tuesday, board members decided they needed more information about the costs and legal implications of potentially reducing their commitment to Creek Road.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.