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New Haven proposes a development review board

December 31, 2007

By CYRUS LEVESQUE

NEW HAVEN — The town of New Haven is thinking about simplifying the review process for new development proposals. A Jan. 8 meeting will let town residents talk about creating a development review board (DRB), which would take over all the responsibilities of New Haven’s Zoning Board of Adjustment as well as some of the Planning Commission.

“It more or less combines all the development review issues in one body,” said planning commission chairman Al Karnatz. “It streamlines some of the process.”

Currently, the ZBA handles most parts of an application for any significant new use or change in use of property in New Haven, including appeals of the zoning administrator’s decisions, applications for variances, and conditional use permits. However, approval of the planning commission is required for a number of uses of property. The planning commission’s main job is the town plan and zoning bylaws, but in addition to those responsibilities, it also gives subdivision approval and reviews site plans for commercial and industrial developments.

A DRB would replace the ZBA, and would also take over the planning commission’s approval and review functions. “Applicants who (now) need both planning commission approval, like for a subdivision, and zoning board approval, like for a septic tank, would only need to go before one board,” said John Evers, chairman of the ZBA.

According to Evers, the ZBA originally had almost all the review and approval responsibility, but as new cases arose functions closer to the planning commission’s job were shifted to them. “Over time, what happened is that there is more and more overlap.”

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December 27th

Game Time

DOROTHY ORVIS PLAYS a game of toy-car shuffleboard with second- and fourth-grade students from St. Mary’s School during a recent visit to Project Independence in Middlebury. The children are, from left, MaKayla Foster, Libby Marini, Sebastian Huber and Wyatt Norris. Watching in the back are fourth-grade teacher Megan Baker and parent Joe Cotroneo.
Photo by Terry Norris

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Middlebury and the Chocolate Bar

December 27, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College officials hope to reopen the former Eat Good Food space on Main Street by this coming February, using it for a “chocolate bar,” student night spot, small-scale retail venture and as a spot for town-gown activities.

Tim Spears, dean of students for the college, confirmed the news last week. It was back in August that the institution signed a short-term lease on the 2,700-square-foot space, seeing it as a good spot in which to open a venture that could boost student activity in downtown Middlebury while not competing with current businesses. The college has spent the past four months soliciting campus and public feedback on how to use the former restaurant space, along with sorting how the enterprise will be configured and managed.

Spears said that most of the outstanding issues have now been resolved.

“We’re trying to find a happy medium,” Spears said of the varied uses planned for the prominent Main Street spot. “I think this is definitely an experiment worth taking.”

College officials are currently getting the space ready for:

•  A “chocolate bar.” As its name implies, the bar would serve a wide variety of chocolates — both international and local. Spears anticipates the bar will also sell tea, coffee, biscuits and hot chocolate. He believes the chocolate bar could fill at least some of the void left by Calvi’s, an old-fashioned ice cream shop that was a Main Street fixture for decades.

Spears conceded there will be some overlap in products offered by the chocolate shop and Carol’s Hungry Mind Café, also located in the Battell Block.

“We hope that it is not going to step on their toes too much,” Spears said, adding the college will reach out to involve Carol’s in programming at the space.

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Mt. Abe's draft budget calls for 7 percent increase

December 27, 2007

By CYRUS LEVESQUE

BRISTOL — The Mount Abraham Union School Board is considering a first draft of a 2008-2009 budget plan that proposes a 7.03 percent increase in spending to $12,999,836, but officials say the actual impact on taxes would be much smaller.

Some of the proposed spending increase can be attributed to the fact that Addison Northeast Supervisory Union changed how it bills the cost of busing. In an “apples to apples” comparison, the increase is a little less than 4 percent, according to district business manager Greg Burdick.

Students in Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro ride the same buses whether in high school or the elementary schools of each town, and until now the costs of busing have appeared in the spending plans of the respective elementary schools. However, a new law requires school districts to distinguish between spending on elementary school and secondary school.

“Act 130’s basic thrust is to distinguish between K-6 education and 7-12 education,” Burdick said. So the transportation budget for the high school more than tripled, from $148,071 in the 2007-2008 budget to $499,114 in this draft of the 2008-09 spending plan. But nearly all of that increase had appeared in the elementary schools’ budgets in the past, and Burdick said that the transportation expenses for those schools will show corresponding decreases.

At a Dec. 18 meeting, school board members said they had given the supervisory union a goal of creating a budget with an increase of 3 percent or less at a previous meeting, so they asked Burdick to cut roughly another 1 percent, about $130,000, from the draft of the budget by the board’s next meeting, on Jan. 8, 2008.

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Opportunity knocks at the Vergennes Opera House

December 27, 2007

By ANDY KIRKALDY

VERGENNES — Sometimes the perfect opportunity does come along — just ask new Vergennes Opera House Executive Director Jackson Evans, who was hired in September by the Friends of the Vergennes Opera House, the organization that operates the city hall theater.

Evans, a 29-year-old Northfield native who started full-time in November, has a background that makes him virtually an ideal fit for the job: His résumé includes a fine arts degree in photography and film from Ithaca College in New York and a master’s in historic preservation from the University of Vermont.

And Evans and his wife, Katja, bought a home in Vergennes within walking distance of the opera house just this past spring, and he now can visit his seven-week-old twins, a son and daughter, during his lunch hour.

The couple had been living in Burlington and was seeking a smaller town with a greater sense of community before settling on Vergennes. Evans and a partner were operating a historic preservation consulting firm out of Montpelier, but Evans said when the position at the opera house opened this fall — former director Donna Lord left to pursue another opportunity — it was too good to pass up.

“When my wife and I moved to Vergennes we were drawn to the strong sense of community here anyway, and to be able to be part of that in the work environment was a big draw,” Evans said.

Evans already knew about the Vergennes Opera House and its role in the 1990s revival of downtown Vergennes from his studies at UVM. The Little City is considered a big hit in downtown revitalization, with the opera house getting plenty of credit, he said.

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December 20th

Cat missing three years comes home for the holidays

SHIRLEY GIARD OF Bridport gives a hug to her cat, Trucker, who returned home recently after going missing three years ago when the Giards’ former home burned down. Trucker was one of five cats that disappeared after the fire.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell


December 20, 2007

By MEGAN JAMES

BRIDPORT — There was a part of Shirley Giard that never gave up hope she might find her yellow cat, Trucker.

After a fire destroyed her Bridport home three years ago, Giard and her husband, Harold, assumed their five cats and yellow Amazon parrot were dead. They moved into another house on their farm property and thanked their lucky stars the fire hadn’t done more damage. After all, neither of them had been hurt and their two dogs made it out alive.

But even after settling into their new home, Shirley couldn’t stop thinking about Trucker.

Earlier this month, three years and one week after the fire, Giard saw something yellow darting off her front porch. The next day, her daughter caught a glimpse of the same thing, and went out to see what it was. It was Trucker. He had come home, just in time for Christmas.

“This is the greatest gift I could have gotten,” Giard said. “It’s a Christmas miracle.”

The yellow cat looked healthy, well-fed and a little older. Giard recognized him by the way he nuzzled his head under her chin when she picked him up. Giard’s dog, Lexi, also perked up when he saw his old pal.   

“He must have found someone like us who feeds stray cats,” she said.

In the early days after the fire, Giard would wander over to the site of the old house and call the cats’ names. None ever responded. Each summer she would mow the lawn by the old homestead, keeping her eyes peeled for cats, especially Trucker.

full story

Middlebury selectmen seek feedback on new tax to build bridge

December 20, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury residents on Jan. 31 will be asked for their feedback on the notion of slightly raising one or more of the town’s sales and use, meals, rooms or alcohol taxes as a means of generating revenues to help pay for a new in-town bridge.

Selectmen on Tuesday voted unanimously to call for the Jan. 31 public hearing, which will focus on the concept of Middlebury adopting “local option taxes.”

Residents would then get a chance on Town Meeting Day to vote for or against a plan to lobby the Legislature for a change in the town charter that would allow Middlebury to boost, by 1 percent, one (or a combination of several) of its sales and use, meals, rooms or alcohol taxes.

If the Legislature were to approve a charter change, selectmen would then have the authority to call a townwide vote to ask residents to endorse one or more local option taxes. The resulting revenues would flow into Middlebury’s general fund and be put toward paying off the proposed $16 million in-town bridge project. Middlebury College has already promised $9 million in financing for the project, the centerpiece of which would be a new bridge that would connect Main Street with Court Street across the Otter Creek, via Cross Street. That leaves a $7 million gap that selectmen are trying to creatively fill without hammering locals with a property tax increase.

“Certainly, (local options taxes) are an option that would allow us to get to our goal of financing the remaining $7 million for the bridge without having a significant impact on the property tax, which we are all very concerned about going through this budget,” said Selectman Dean George, who is chairman of the town’s bridge committee.

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'Massive' arts festival, 'Best Night' to ring in the new year in Bristol

December 20, 2007

By CYRUS LEVESQUE

BRISTOL — The Five Town Massive, an annual arts and entertainment extravaganza staged in Bristol during the last week in December, will be shorter this year than it was last — only four nights instead of five — but organizers expect it to be even bigger.

“We’re trying to do the biggest show we’ve done,” said Josef Shafer, one organizer of the events and one of the original founders.

The upcoming Five Town Massive, which will be staged from Dec. 26 to 29 mostly at Holley Hall, will be the ninth. Shafer and several friends, now working as 9:37 Productions, founded it as a way to both help local artists find an audience and to bring art and culture created by independent artists from the wide world to Bristol and the other towns in northeastern Addison County. Shafer said that this year, he and the other organizers feel they have struck a good balance.

“We’ve always struggled to have enough content from Vermont and (the rest of) the world, and this year we’ve nailed it,” he said.

In previous years the Massive was a number of different events all on one night, until in 2006 Shafer and crew spread them out so each could have room to breathe as it were. The shortened schedule of this year’s Five Town Massive is simply because Christmas this year falls on a Tuesday, Shafer said. A full five-day schedule would have taken it into a Sunday performance, which they wanted to avoid.

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