Champlain Oil seeks Rt. 7 spot

 

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment will soon gather to rule on another Champlain Oil Co. application for a Route 7 gas station, convenience store and fast-food restaurant, but both town and company officials expect that decision simply to set up a return to state Environmental Court.

On May 4 the zoning board held a brief hearing on a revised site plan from Champlain Oil (COCO), a South Burlington firm that runs a string of similar facilities in Vermont, including one at the junction of Routes 7 and 17 in New Haven.

The Ferrisburgh site is on Route 7’s east side about 1.5 miles north of Vergennes and once housed the Ferrisburgh Roadhouse. COCO hopes to build there a 4,800-square-foot structure shared by a Jiffy Mart and a 34-seat restaurant, and add canopied pumps and extensive parking and lighting.

COCO’s new application for the 9.7-acre site is intended to address two issues that were remanded, or sent back, to the town zoning board in 2010 when the Environmental Court issued a split decision on the COCO case.

Judge Thomas Durkin ruled last July that the retail store and drive-through window proposed for the fast-food outlet were legal, but that the site COCO proposed was not legal because it did not conform to minimum lot-size requirements, specifically that of the Conservation Zone some of the project was to be built on.

Durkin further ruled in September that the zoning board had to decide whether it would allow any “commercial wastewater and stormwater facilities in the Conservation Zoning District.” 

COCO planning, development and construction manager Paul Wamsganz and Trudell Consulting Engineers vice president John Pitrowiski — who is responsible for project engineering — said the company’s new proposal is intended to address both those issues.

All the project’s septic and water runoff treatment will now be done on the site, they said, all of which lies in Ferrisburgh’s Highway Commercial and Residential Agricultural zones, which have 2- and 5-acre lot-size minimums, respectively. There will be no development in the Conservation District, which has a 25-acre minimum, they said.

Further, Wamsganz and Pitrowiski said COCO plans to donate roughly 17 additional acres of conservation land it will purchase from Greg and Susan Burdick to the neighboring Allandra Farm, meaning no nonconforming lot of fewer than 25 acres will be created.

Zoning board chairwoman Charlene Stavenow said she hoped to gather the board sometime before its regular June 1 meeting to make a ruling on the land issues, but the board would probably issue a decision on June 1 if that proved difficult. Technically, the board has 45 days from the May 4 closure of the public hearing to act.

“We’ve got to get everyone together in the next week or so and get the findings of fact and conclusions out,” Stavenow said late last week. “We have to discuss it and look at the map again and make sure we’re clear on things.”

That decision, one way or another, will not resolve other project issues. Wamsganz and Pitrowiski specifically cited three points on which the zoning board denied COCO that the company intends to contest in court: a ban on selling diesel fuel on the site, a limit on hours of operations from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., and a disagreement on the lighting plan.

COCO originally appealed nine of 14 conditions of approval. 

“There are a few things that still need to be debated in Environmental Court,” Pitrowiski said.

Stavenow, too, expects the Environmental Court case to be revived, and an attorney for a group opposing the development, Friends of Ferrisburgh for Responsible Growth, filed a lengthy letter of opposition on May 4. Several members of that group, which like COCO appealed the zoning board’s 2009 partial approval of COCO’s proposal, also attended the May 4 hearing.

“(COCO) is going to continue with the appeal process is my understanding,” Stavenow said.

 One issue COCO addressed in its new design and at the hearing was runoff from the project. Pitrowiski said COCO authorized him to go above and beyond the minimum required by law to protect the nearby Little Otter Creek.

“It’s a good design. I feel really proud of it,” he said. “COCO has done a phenomenal amount to address environmental concerns.”

Provisions include a retention pond on the 9.7 acres to catch run-off and slow its progress across the adjacent Conservation land toward the river, plus non-required “oil-water separators,” to catch gas drippings around the pumps.

Pitrowiski said although there will be more surface runoff at the COCO project than there was on the former Ferrisburgh Roadhouse on the site, that the provisions COCO will put in place will mean a lesser impact.   

“There will be less, actually, because the Roadhouse had no retention pond,” he said.

Ferrisburgh Conservation Commission chairman Craig Heindel said in an email that in the commission’s opinion COCO had made at the very least a reasonable effort to address the runoff issue.

“The COCO proposal will have larger volumes of stormwater impacts on (Little Otter Creek) than the previous use, but those impacts will be substantially reduced by the proposed stormwater treatment system (grit-oil-and-water separators, grassy swales, and extra-large retention basin),” Heindel wrote.

When the legal dust settles, COCO hopes to establish a business with both gas and diesel fuel and parking large enough to handle truck traffic. The proposal first surfaced in late 2008. The company first amended its plans in May 2009 after a series of at-times contentious public hearings drew up to 100 residents. Most at those meetings said they opposed the size, scale and appearance of the project — or the possibility the restaurant might have golden arches.

At the same time, opinions are mixed. Other residents have quietly said they have no objection, and some at the meetings said they didn’t want the town to restrict business along Route 7.

Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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