Keith Morrill, Staff Writer

The September 21 Planning Commission meeting marked the first public discussion on a proposal to build a Maplefields at the corner of Route 7 and Church Hill Road. The intent of the meeting was to review the sketch plan submitted by R.L. Vallee, the Vermont company behind the convenience-store chain, but after the committee turned the discussion over to public comment, it turned into a debate which was at times contentious and emotionally charged.

The proposed project would bring a 5,200-square-foot Maplefields with gas and diesel pumps, parking for cars and trucks, a restaurant, and outdoor space for a farmers’ market. At the outset of the discussion at 7:30, members of the Planning Commission advised that the purpose of the meeting was only the first in a three-step process the project must go through in order to get a green light. The purpose of the sketch plan review was to provide critical feedback to the sketch plan—or as town planner Daryl Benoit advised, it “should be treated as a brainstorming session.” R.L. Vallee owner and CEO Rudolphe “Skip” Vallee was in attendance, and stressed that his company was interested in ensuring that the project fit the town’s aesthetics and practical sensibilities.

But, once the discussion opened to public comment, it seemed largely monopolized by citizens who had come to express their concerns about the proposal and share their hopes and ideas for what the lot could be.

Those ideas ran the gamut from suggesting alternate business models to Vallee to offering alternate businesses entirely. Some attendees were concerned proposal was too commercialized or provided services that were redundant with other businesses in town like Old Brick Store and Spear’s Corner Store. Others criticized the proposal’s auxiliary features, questioning whether a gas station was the ideal place for either a restaurant or a farmers’ market. Others still were concerned that the station’s presence would disrupt the flow of traffic, making an already dangerous intersection even more so, or that a 24-hour operation would create potential security issues.

Yet not all were in opposition. A number of attendees came out in support of the model, saying that bringing gas pumps back to the lot was a long overdue.

Peter Carrerio, owner of Rise ’n Shine, says he gets a daily view of the lot and pointed out that the lot already serves as long-term parking for trucks and transients on an unofficial basis, and that having a 24-hour operation would curb the sort of activity that residents are concerned about.

Some attendees lamented that the property owners, William and Helena Spear, have been stuck with the property and the accompanying tax burden for years, with the town stymieing their efforts to sell or develop. This project, they said, would represent their best chance to see a return on their investment.

Regardless of their position on the project, attendees were unified on one issues: that they’d like to see the space developed and put to good use. But exactly what that should look like was a bit trickier to pin down.

Eric, owner of Old Brick Store and Charlotte resident, said the process felt rushed. “We were talking about all these details and siding and trees and plants, but we don’t even know if something this size and nature that’s 24-hours a day with lights going … can even go there.” While he feels for the Spears’ situation, he acknowledges that

He acknowledged that something needed to be done with the space and that there has been a lack of serious attempts to do follow through. “A lot of people had great ideas, but nobody stepped up to the plate with the money to do it.”

Rebecca Foster also voiced her dissatisfaction with the project both during and after the meeting. “I am not in favor of this project in Charlotte,” said Foster. “I believe that the character of this town is unique and that optimally we would have town-run, town-owned businesses, so I would support that.”

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