By Keith Morrill, Staff Writer

Rudolphe “Skip” Vallee, CEO and owner of R.L. Vallee, is optimistic that the project will be able to meet town sensibilities. “We believe that we’ve designed the project—and are going to include the town in a number of design issues—to mitigate any opposition.”

The lot at the corner of Route 7 and Church Hill Road, and the whitewashed buildings that stand there, are a bit of mystery for newcomers to town and for the countless commuters and tourists that drive past it daily. Seven Days even investigated the matter in its WTF column earlier this year. How can such a prime piece of real estate stand largely vacant and unused? For those waiting for something to happen with the space, their wait might soon be over.

R.L. Vallee, the Vermont company behind the Maplefields chain, has submitted sketch plans to the town for the construction a 5,200-square-foot structure to support a gas station, a snack bar or restaurant, retail space, and administrative offices. The plan also includes a visitor’s booth, parking for both trucks and commuters, and space for an outdoor farmer’s market.

Over the years, the lot has played host to a number of businesses—Spears’ Garage, Uncle Sam’s Dairy Bar and Steve’s Citgo to name a few. Now the garage stands empty, and only a single business, Vermont Optechs, a seller of refurbished microscopes, occupies part of the old dairy bar building. The R.L. Vallee project, if approved, would represent the first serious attempt at using the entire space in five or six years.

The property is owned by Helena and William Spear, the original owners and operators of the both Spears’ Garage and the Uncle Sam’s Dairy Bar. According to Helena, R.L. Vallee isn’t the only business eyeing the location. As she tells it, a number of other businesses have showed interest in developing the property, though she is not at liberty to discuss details.

Rudolphe “Skip” Vallee, CEO and owner of R.L. Vallee, is optimistic that the project will be able to meet town sensibilities. “We believe that we’ve designed the project—and are going to include the town in a number of design issues—to mitigate any opposition.”

But both Vallee and town officials say that the project is just in preliminary stages and that there are a number of hurdles to clear before its gets a green light. The first of those hurdles is the Sept. 21 Planning Commission meeting, where the sketch plan is scheduled for review at 7:30 p.m. Vallee says the review “is sort of a broad brush look at the project, to receive … feedback as we go into the next iterations.”

Based on that review, the committee will make recommendations for the project. All of this needs to happen before R.L. Vallee even applies for requisite town permits: a site plan review and a conditional use review. Vallee says his company has done enough of these projects around the state to know that, if even everything were to go smoothly, it would still be some time before the project could move forward. “A matter of some months for sure,” Vallee said.

It remains to be seen what kind of support the town as a whole has for the project, but some residents have already expressed optimism. Charlotte resident Nancy Wood says she is “strongly in favor of developing that corner and bringing a gas station back to town,” though she does note that “there are some in town who fear the impact on the local stores.”

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