Zoning Board of Adjustment plays to a large audience

Proposed Maplefields design at site on Route 7 and Church Hill Road. Photo contributed.

There was standing room only on January 24 in Town Hall as the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) interviewed representatives of the group proposing to build a Maplefields convenience store at the corner of Route 7 and Church Hill and Ferry roads. The property, owned by Charlotter Bid Spear, has remained vacant for several years.

Last September R. L. Vallee, owner of R. L. Vallee, Inc. and its Maplefields stores, appeared before the Planning Commission for a sketch plan review of the plan for building one of his stores there. A significantly large group of Charlotte residents later 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.

My Fresh Café, with overhead menus and touchscreen ordering stations. Staff photo.

The ZBA heard the developer’s 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 of various items, as local engineer Dave Marshall and individuals from the various firms involved described what had come forward following the sketch-plan hearing. Otto Hansen from R. L Vallee joined Marshall in presenting the company’s case to the board.

The developer’s representatives covered five general standards of conditional-use review. They talked about how they felt their design would not negatively impact the town or, in particular, 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 Cafè” Middlebury store was created out of an existing older 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.)

Hallway cafe seating area. Staff photo.

The impact on transportation and traffic was another factor. The designers felt that transportation along Route 7 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 area for cars dropping off bus passengers would remain as it is, with no added long-term parking. However, the developer has not yet received the results of a VTrans traffic study.

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 to have a design that uses renewable energy.

The variety, placement and impact of exterior lighting 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 24 hours and 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 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
Outside view of Maplefields in Johnson, with gas pump canopy. Staff photo.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment will meet on February 14 at which time it will have made arrangements to schedule a date for a continuance of the hearing in a venue that can accommodate a large audience.

The R. L. Vallee representatives plan to 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.