September 29th, 2008
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — People who shop and dine in Middlebury will notice a slight jump in their bills beginning this Wednesday, Oct. 1. That’s the date on which a 1-percent local option tax on sales, rooms, meals and alcohol will take effect in Addison County’s shire town.
The transition should be fairly seamless for most Middlebury merchants and lodgers, who will have to go through the time and expense of reprogramming their cash registers.
The state will collect the new tariff along with the existing state taxes. The Vermont Department of Taxes will then return 70 percent of the local option taxes it collects back to the town of Middlebury. The community will use the funds to help pay for the new Cross Street Bridge.
Backers of the new bridge are hopeful the new taxes will be painless for those who routinely shop and dine in Middlebury.
“I think during the course of people’s regular transactions, they aren’t going to notice it,” said Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny.
Townspeople last May voted 305 to 102 in favor of implementing the local option taxes, projected to raise $7 million over the next 30 years. That money will be combined with another $9 million that Middlebury College has agreed to contribute to the $16 million bridge project.
A 1-percent local option tax on sales, meals, rooms and alcohol would’ve netted Middlebury a combined total of $725,319 in 2007, according to the Department of Taxes.
The new bridge, slated for completion in 2010, will link Main Street with Court Street over the Otter Creek, via Cross Street. The project, which will include a roundabout intersection at Cross/College/Main streets, is designed to move traffic more smoothly through, and around, downtown Middlebury.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB) on Monday gave its final, conditional approval to a proposed Staples store in The Centre/Hannaford shopping plaza off Route 7 South.
Developers, however, will have much work to do if they are to proceed with their plans for the 14,737-square-foot office supplies store. The 24-page page decision calls for Middlebury Associates LLC, to, among other things:
• Submit a final planned unit development master plan showing that The Centre/Hannaford plaza will “be deemed fully built out with the Staples, based on the zoning limitations of traffic capacity, parking and town plan conformance.”
That limitation, according to the final decision, encompasses the former Middlebury Car Wash property at the southern end of The Centre, a site recently acquired by Middlebury Associates, LLC (aka Myron Hunt Inc.) and previously slated for a Starbucks. Starbucks withdrew its Middlebury plans earlier this year, amid a company-wide reorganization.
The DRB decision states that the former “car wash site asphalt must be reduced to accommodate only an egress drive for one-way exiting southbound traffic, while the remainder of the car wash site shall be restored to green space with grass, shrubs and tree plantings.”
• Build access connections between The Centre and the neighboring Middlebury Short Stop and former Dollar Market. The decision notes that developers agreed to those connections — designed to improve traffic flow and circulation into, and out of, the shopping plaza — on April 27, 2004, as part of the approval for the new National Bank of Middlebury building. Those connections have not been built.
• Carry out a series of sidewalk connections, entrance upgrades, crosswalks improvements and landscape additions to enhance pedestrian safety and aesthetics within the plaza.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
BRISTOL — The Bristol Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) voted last Thursday to reject the contentious proposal from the Lathrop Limited Partnership to construct and operate a 39-acre gravel pit on its property at South Street and Rounds Road in Bristol.
The board’s decision, however, which comes nearly two months after the board wrapped up evidentiary hearings on the issue, falls short of closure for Bristol’s heated five-year debate on the project. Earlier this week, Jim Lathrop’s lawyer, Mark Hall, indicated that the Lathrops intend to file an appeal to the decision before the 30-day window for an appeal closes.
The ZBA voted 5 to 2 to deny the Lathrop application. Acting Chair Kevin Brown and board members Carol Clauss, Peter Grant, Paul Jackman and Brenda Tillberg voted to reject the project, with Bob Stetson and Ron Kowalski dissenting.
The ZBA found that the Lathrop application for conditional use did not fulfill a subsection in the town’s zoning bylaws that prohibits the creation of a gravel pit, “unless provision is made to refill such pit.”
The section in question — section 526 — deals specifically with commercial sand and gravel operations, outlining 10 requirements for these operations in Bristol. The board found that the Lathrop proposal met the majority of these requirements, and indeed was a stronger application than the original proposal submitted to the ZBA in 2003.
According to the ZBA’s decision, the second of these 10 requirements, which calls for any pit created to be refilled, is designed to favor small projects that can be refilled economically or the opening of a hillside where slopes and contours can be smoothed into the surrounding landscape.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — While other Addison County residents opened presents last Christmas, Jinny Duncan and her family were simply thankful to be spending the day in a warm house.
And the way fuel costs are going, Duncan isn’t optimistic there will be many gifts to open this Christmas, either.
“Higher fuel costs means the difference between having the money to pay for things you need every day, and having enough heat to keep the kids warm,” Duncan, a Bristol resident, said.
“It’s a very scary time to be a Vermonter.”
Many other area families are now sharing that same view on the cusp of a Vermont winter that will dawn with the national economy in a dive and heating fuel prices — already above an average of $3.50 per gallon — poised to rise further with demand.
“Everyone is really concerned this year,” said Karen Haury, executive director of Addison Community Action/Central Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity (ACA/CVOEO). “(Fuel prices) are on everybody’s mind almost everywhere you go. That’s what they are talking about.”
Haury on Monday conducted a survey of six Addison County heating fuel dealers and found prices for No. 2 heating oil ranging from $3.59 per gallon to $4.26 per gallon.
And that’s not where prices will stay, if recent history is any indication, according to Haury.
“Within a week, I expect to see a big spike up,” she said.
And when those prices spike as demand rises and the nights get colder, needy households — a broadening segment of the population in today’s economy — will seek assistance from ACA/CVOEO, other human services organizations and area citizen/church groups.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
CORNWALL — Klara Calitri is exactly the sort of woman you will, upon meeting, immediately wish were your own grandmother, or your own standing date for Sunday coffee and cake.
The 86-year-old Cornwall artist is compact and ebullient — and as full of stories as her house, which is packed to the gills with the results of her “painting and potting.” In places, the paintings are stacked three or four deep, leaning precariously against tables piled high with half-finished pots and brightly decorated fountains.
It’s something of a rotating collection — pieces of art are forever jumping in and out of the house for display. Calitri’s work is on display at the Brandon Artists’ Gallery, the Southern Vermont Arts Center and as far a field as California — and most recently, several of her paintings went up in the gallery space at the Bristol Dental Group on Exchange Street in Middlebury.
“I like to have people enjoy my pictures. I am not of the Ashcan School,” Calitri said, referring to artists creating work in the early 20th century that was serious and often dark in tone. “That’s not me. I want people to feel uplifted by what I’ve done.”
Remarkably enough, she’s produced the majority of this art in the 30 years since her retirement. She’s always been interested in art, Calitri said — but she certainly hasn’t always been an artist.
She emigrated from Austria in 1939 — “Hitler time,” Calitri notes. Her father was Jewish, her mother Catholic, and by 1939 she said it was “high time” for her family to leave. The affidavit — the $3,000 document required for emigration — came by way of a distant cousin the family had never known, who Calitri’s grandfather had helped during the First World War.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
MIDDLEBURY — Faced with the most serious global economic slowdown in recent years, Middlebury College is tightening its belt and searching out ways to cut operating costs.
In a memo e-mailed to faculty and staff earlier this month, Middlebury College President Ronald D. Liebowitz expressed the need to prepare for “what appears will be a prolonged period of low or no growth” with plans that will “extend beyond the current fiscal year.”
The memo initiated the first community-wide discussion of plans to trim operating costs, though according to Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer Patrick Norton, college officials have been having internal discussions about financial challenges for “about six months, ever since we saw the downtown in the market.”
“This is going to be a very transparent and open process,” Norton said. “The president’s memo set the tone for that.”
These conversations took on additional urgency last week, when major financial institutions like Lehman Brothers and AIG stumbled on Wall Street. (Richard Fuld, who heads Lehman Brothers, a 157-year-old investment bank that declared bankruptcy on Sept. 15, also sits on the college’s board of trustees.)
Norton said that the college’s endowment had very little exposure to either institution, but that Lehman’s bankruptcy and the federal government’s bailout of AIG “really validate what our path needs to be.”
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury leaders are pitching some modest changes they hope will have a big impact on the look of Main Street in front of the post office and on the safety of an increasingly used Merchants Row.
Middlebury officials originally drew up the Post Office plaza makeover last year, in concert with the repaving of Main Street and installation of some new downtown light fixtures.
Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington said the makeover is designed to address some of the current deficiencies within post office plaza.
“One of the trees (in the plaza) has died entirely; the other was in terrible shape,” Dunnington said. “The pattern of the pavement in front is flawed, and there is grass growing through portions of it and there are puddles in it. We thought we could improve it with a new surface, of the type that was done at the Town Hall Theater plaza and Middlebury Natural Food Co-op.”
The plan calls for, among other things:
• Installation of new surfacing for the area fronting the post office building. That surface will include a small amount of granite leading up to the post office steps. Those steps are currently also made of granite. Dark-gray tinted concrete paving, with saw-cut score joints, will provide a pedestrian-friendly surface leading from the Main Street curb to the granite walkway/steps. An exposed aggregate concrete paving will round out the balance of the plaza.
• Placement of three, six-foot-long benches along two separate strips of perennial plantings in front of the post office building. Along with those perennial patches, the plaza will feature three trees — two honey locusts and a Japanese lilac.
• Relocation, to the border of the new perennial garden strips, of the outdoor mailboxes.
• Reservation of a spot, within the plaza, for the display of public art.
By JOHN FLOWERS
SHOREHAM — This summer’s wet weather may have been tough on corn and hay fields, but it has helped produce a bumper crop of apples at local orchards.
“Most people are looking at a good crop,” said Steve Justis, marketing specialist for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. “If we can get through the next few days of wind, I think we’ll be looking at a good year.”
Vermont orchards yielded approximately 800,000 bushels of apples last year, according to Justis. This year could be substantially better.
“I think the numbers could be up 10 percent for this season, if we can avoid complications from hurricane winds,” Justis said on Monday, alluding to the remnants of Hurricane Ike that had battered portions of Texas over the weekend. Thankfully, the forecast for Vermont for the balance of this week was for sun and mild temperatures. And another big plus: Most Vermont orchards averted hailstorms this past spring that did significant damage to fruit crops in New York state.
Addison County continues to be the largest apple producing region in the state, according to Justis. Economic pressure, brought on primarily by competition from abroad, has whittled down the state’s major commercial apple producers to a solid core of around 25, according to Vermont agriculture officials.
Bill Suhr of Shoreham-based Champlain Orchards anticipates his operation will exceed the 27,000 bushels of apples it produced last year. Not only is there a greater abundance of fruit, but the individual apples are larger and more colorful than last year.
Suhr explained that a dry May helped create good pollination conditions for the crop. The rain nourished the apples, with key periods of recent sunshine helping to give the fruit a particularly vibrant rosy hue.
“We had an ideal growing season,” Suhr said.