Edd Merritt, Contributing Editor
There was standing room only on January 24 in Town Hall as the Zoning Board interviewed members of the groups who are proposing to build a Maplefields convenience store at the corner of Route 7, Church Hill and Ferry Roads.
The property, owned by Charlotter Bid Spear, has remained vacant for several years, and the chain convenience store, Maplefields, last fall appeared with a sketch plan to build one of their stores there. A significantly large group of Charlotte residents responded with a letter outlining their concerns about what the plan (as presented) would do to the town character in what they believe to be an important area of our community. The letter stated that while they were not against commercial development, they did not want it to detract from the rest of Charlotte.
The Zoning Board heard the developers’ ideas for building a restaurant, gas station and produce market in a way the designers felt would maintain the existing character of the town. Board Chair Frank Tenney and others asked for clarification as local engineer, Dave Marshsall and individuals from the various firms involved in the development, described what had come forward following the sketch-plan hearing. R.L. Vallee is the lead developer behind the proposal, and Otto Hansen from that firm joined Marshall in presenting their case to the Zoning Board. The developers’ presentation covered five general standards of Conditional Use Review.
They talked about how they felt their design would not negatively impact the town and particularly the immediate surrounding neighborhood. They described the developer’s thoughts about tying the design into that which currently exists and pointed to stores in Middlebury and Johnson as examples of how they had done that elsewhere. The “My Fresh Coffee” Middlebury store was created out of a previous structure, and the Johnson Maplefields, they felt, fit into the surrounding community well (It is interesting that both those stores are in college towns, and quite likely maintaining the college tone influenced their design in some way – particularly Middlebury which draws students from around the world.).
The impact on transportation and traffic was another factor. The designers felt that transportation along Route 7 exists now and would stay at roughly the same level. The store would not add to it dramatically other than to be a delivery point for store items. The vehicle area for cars dropping off bus passengers would remain as it is, with no added long-term parking.
A fourth factor is designing the store to follow the Bylaws in effect to be in compliance with the Town Plan, and a fifth factor is a design that uses renewable energy.
The variety, placement and impact of light fixtures was discussed. A neighboring youth asked that the light from the store not disturb his sleep, and community members asked whether it might be wise not to keep the store open twenty-four hours and, thus, reduce the likelihood of disturbing the neighbors after a certain hour in the evening The developers said they would take that into consideration.
The meaning of the terms “local produce” received a good deal of discussion. Several in the audience said that it was used in Charlotte to mean produce that is grown strictly in town, whereas elsewhere it pointed to items grown in a wider radius. They wanted to see a market of hometown items if the store was to remain true to Charlotte.
The Land Use Regulations also require three specific standards:
- Conformance with the Town Plan
- Consideration of any additional restrictions
- Meeting performance standards
The Zoning Board hopes to continue the hearing on February 14, perhaps in a venue that accommodates a large audience.
The Maplefield’s developers will adapt their proposal in light of what they heard from the Zoning Board and suggestions from audience members at this first session of the Board’s review.