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Gravel pits, school mergers, craft center also made news

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There was so much going on in Addison County that it seemed absurd to limit ourselves to only 10 big stories for 2009. Here are a couple others — in no particular order — that also caught our attention.

• The Vermont State Craft Center at Frog Hollow closed its doors after more than three decades showing the excellent work of top-notch artists from Addison County and from around the state. Despite this, the local art scene was hardly dead, with a group quickly forming after the closure of Frog Hollow to offer art classes, Bristol continuing and invigorating a series of art walks that began in 2008, Middlebury hosting its first season of arts walks that brought people downtown one Friday evening a month, a new gallery in Vergennes, and the blossoming of the Art House in Middlebury’s Marble Works. Plus, late in the year a sharp-looking new art spot, the Edgewater Gallery, opened in the former Frog Hollow space.

• A group in Ferrisburgh mounted a campaign to stop a plan by the Champlain Oil Co., or COCO, to build a gas station, convenience store and fast-food restaurant on the site of the former Roadhouse restaurant on Route 7. The opponents said it wasn’t in keeping with the town’s rural character, and COCO didn’t like the conditions laid out by town authorities when they gave qualified approval. The whole thing is heading to Environmental Court.

• Vergennes wrapped up a multi-year process of rewriting its city plan, and it includes language that specifically restricts the architecture of franchise businesses that want to open up shop in the city.

• Office supply retailer Staples got a conditional use permit to build in Middlebury’s Centre Shopping Plaza despite loud opposition, but the developers decide they didn’t like the conditions and pulled the application in the spring of 2009.

• The local food movement got several shots in the arm through legislation that took a few steps toward encouraging local production of animal and vegetables foods.

• A project to upgrade Route 7 in Brandon south of the fire station got under way after years of planning.

• Gravel pits seem to be a perennial issue of contention in Addison County. In Bristol the future of a proposed pit near the village is unclear, a new town plan that will be voted on in coming months includes wording that does or does not (depending on your point of view) solve vexing questions about future pit proposals, and a proposed zoning ordinance on the subject takes another shot at clarifying the issue. Meanwhile, in Middlebury, the Carraras worked out a deal with East Middlebury neighbors of a pit that will be expanding, and the Fenns face stiff opposition to their proposed pit near the Lindale trailer park off Route 116.

• The continued shrinking of Vermont’s student-age population became an issue in several towns. Leicester continued its search for a neighboring town with which to partner in a school consolidation of some sort. Early in 2009 Sudbury voters scuttled a plan to united elementary schools in Leicester, Sudbury and Whiting. Later in the year Leicester and Salisbury opened talks on a consolidation, but the Salisbury school board closed the door on that one.

Two of the smallest schools in the county — the Hancock/Granville village schools — had operated under a joint school agreement for five years, but voters in both towns said that with fewer than three dozen students between the two buildings it made sense to shut down the enterprise and tuition their youngsters to schools in other towns. Hancock and Granville schools had both operated for more than 150 years.

The Addison Northwest Supervisory Union saw a consolidation of the Vergennes Union Elementary School boards from three bodies into one, and officials are re-opening discussion of consolidation of all the boards in the five-town district. Look for more news here in 2010.

• All of the Addison County school budgets passed on the first try in 2009 except Bridport (it took three tries) and Hancock and Granville (for the reasons mentioned above).

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