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December 1st

Bristol Elementary co-principals to bid adieu


BRISTOL — Bristol Elementary School will say goodbye to its team of top administrators come June, when Co-principals Anne Driscoll and Jill Mackler retire following their respective 10- and four-year stints at the school.

Both women have left their mark on the school they’ve teamed up to lead, Driscoll with her passion for literacy and Mackler with her expertise in “responsive classroom” training, an approach to elementary school education that emphasizes the well-rounded social, emotional and academic growth of students.

Though Mackler and Driscoll will both be stepping down in June, the two administrators came to their decisions to leave the elementary school at separate times, and for very different reasons.

Driscoll said that she is ending her tenure at the elementary school in large part because of health problems. Driscoll, who has multiple sclerosis, was finding that her work was taking a toll on her health, and so last April she told the staff at the elementary school at that this year would be her last.

“It was important to me that I would be the best that I could be as a principal,” said Driscoll, “and if I felt that I couldn’t do that, it wasn’t fair to the staff or the school or the town.”

Driscoll said that leaving the school would make for a tough good-bye, come June. After being hired in 1972, Driscoll spent her entire teaching career in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union, working as a teacher and literacy specialist at Monkton Central School and at Robinson Elementary School in Starksboro before coming to Bristol.

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$376,000 grant to help city build stairway to riverfront


VERGENNES — By way of a co-applicant, the Lake Champlain Byway Council, the city of Vergennes recently received a $376,300 grant to finish a key element that was originally the centerpiece of a project estimated at $203,000 in 2002 — a stairway down to Otter Creek from Main Street.

The federal National Scenic Byways grant was funneled to the city by the Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT). It will fund, along with a $42,500 local match, a $425,000 concrete stairway, including a viewing platform and railings, that will run from the east end of the Main Street bridge down to the Otter Creek basin.

The stairway will start downward at about the midway point of a large brick building known as the Benton Mill. It will provide canoe portage as well as a link with existing trails in the basin that stretch to the city docks and have been created largely by the Youth Conservation Corps. 

Eventually, another trail under construction — the so-called “Rail Trail” — will also link those paths and the docks with Kayhart Crossing, the rail station that will be moved there and the AOT commuter lot recently built there.

The improvements will not have a direct cost to city taxpayers. Aldermen in March approved the recommendation of former city manager Renny Perry to use a fund set aside for improving recreation in the basin area to provide the $42,500 local match for the project.

That fund was created in the 1990s. When Green Mountain Power applied for a new federal license to use Otter Creek to generate power in Vergennes, federal law required the firm to compensate the host community. Part of that compensation was to start a $166,000 fund to support recreation in the area, and new city manager Mel Hawley confirmed plenty remains in it to support the project.

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Shoreham to vote on revised zoning


SHOREHAM — Shoreham residents on Wednesday, Dec. 3, will cast ballots on a the first comprehensive rewrite of the community’s zoning regulations in two decades.

Shoreham Planning Commission member Glenn Symon said the new rules place the community in compliance with Chapter 117, the state law that governs Vermont’s planning and zoning enabling statutes. But the proposed rules also, according to Symon, give landowners more flexibility in developing property in the village area while promoting more clustering of homes and retention of agriculture land in the more rural sections of town.

“A lot of people have participated in the process,” Symon said of the work in revising the zoning regulations, which he noted has gone on for the better part of the last 10 years.

What the commission ended up with is a 70-page document that outlines priorities for community growth. Those priorities include “promoting the general health, safety and welfare of Shoreham’s residents”; “Encouraging Shoreham’s rural, agricultural character and quality of life”; “Respecting the property rights of individuals, within a framework that recognizes and balances the needs of the community at large“; “Managing change in such a way that the ability of the town to provide services to its residents will not be compromised”; and “Developing an environment for new job opportunities, such as agriculturally related businesses or cottage industries, which are compatible with the other goals of the plan.”

It’s a plan that divides the town into seven zoning districts: Agricultural, medium-density residential, lakeshore residential, village commercial, village residential, flood hazard area overlay, and conservation overlay.

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November 26th

CVPS considers new 46kV power line across Route 7


MIDDLEBURY — Central Vermont Public Service Corp. is considering introducing a new 5.4-mile, 46kV power transmission line that would extend from substations in New Haven and Weybridge, a project designed to enhance electricity delivery and reliability for around 4,400 customers — including businesses in Middlebury’s industrial park.

CVPS spokesman Steve Costello stressed plans are very conceptual at this point. Ultimately, the state’s largest utility would need to apply for permission from the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) to proceed with the $4 million project, which would not be subject to local review.

“We are trying now to get public input before we seek a permit,” Costello said. “We are probably a year away from filing an application with the PSB.”

The 4,400 customers that would be affected by the project are currently served by a dead-end radial line that extends from the Vermont Electric Power Co. (VELCO) substation in Middlebury to the CVPS substation in Weybridge. Costello explained that since the line is a dead-end, it is more vulnerable to interruptions of service in the event of a downed tree or some other natural disaster that could take down poles or other infrastructure.

“(The line) is not looped,” Costello said. “There is nowhere else to feed it.”

With that in mind, CVPS officials are considering a new 46kV line that would run along an existing electricity distribution right of way from the New Haven VELCO substation off Route 17, across Town Hill Road and through fields and cleared land before crossing Route 7. After crossing Route 7, it would travel across country, paralleling Campground Road and Twitchell Hill Road before tying into the existing 46kV line feeding the CVPS Weybridge substation, which is on Quaker Village Road.

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McDonald's plan, petition prompt Ferrisburgh to consider zoning change


FERRISBURGH — Dozens of Ferrisburgh residents and a Vergennes Union Middle School class crowded into town offices for a Nov. 19 planning commission hearing on a petitioned zoning change. The petition was sparked by a recent proposal for a combined McDonald’s Restaurant, gas station and convenience store on Route 7.

That proposal has generated more interest — and opposition — than any in recent Ferrisburgh memory, even more, said planning commission member Bob Beach, than a proposal for more than a hundred homes and shops on a parcel next to the school and town offices two summers ago.

With those strong feelings in mind, Beach said planners are likely to make some kind of recommendation to selectmen for a zoning change, he said, although the issues are complicated. 

“It’s important to note that it’s the biggest turnout ... I’ve ever seen come forward on a planning commission issue,” Beach said.

The petition in question asked for a zoning change for “commercially zoned areas” along Route 7 “to allow for no more than one gas station, convenience store, and/or fast food restaurant within each of our three commercial zones.”

It offered as a rationale that the areas are “too small in road distances (one-half mile or less in each designated area) to allow for safe ingress and egress of more than one of these businesses in each zone,” and requested the change “to ensure the safety of all motorized vehicles and passengers” traveling along Route 7 in Ferrisburgh.

Town Clerk Chet Hawkins assessed the mood of the crowd, estimated at roughly 75, without himself taking a position.

“It was predominantly in support of the bylaw to not permit the high-volume use of Route 7,” Hawkins said.

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Town Hall Theater to host Middlebury town meeting


MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury’s newly renovated Town Hall Theater (THT) on March 2 will take a brief holiday as an entertainment venue in order to return to its roots as the hub of municipal government.

Selectmen and THT officials have confirmed Middlebury’s annual town meeting will return to the theater building after a more than 50-year hiatus.

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity,” Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny said of town meeting’s impending relocation to the THT. “We are hoping for a very strong showing (from townspeople).”

The venerable building at 68 South Pleasant St. was erected in 1884 as Middlebury’s first town hall. The structure featured a 600-seat theater that hosted — along with Middlebury’s annual meeting — a variety of plays, concerts, dances, speeches and eventually, movies.

But the building’s run as town hall ended during the 1950s, when local leaders moved Middlebury’s municipal offices to their current location: The former Middlebury High School complex off College Street. Meanwhile, the former town hall was sold to private owners, who over the years used it as an eatery and for other commercial purposes.

It was around a decade ago that a group of drama enthusiasts and community members organized an effort to purchase the building from the Middlebury Knights of Columbus, and transform it into a performing arts center. Organizers were able to take their bow this past summer, when they opened the THT after having raised more than $5 million to acquire and completely renovate the landmark property.

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November 24th

Thanksgiving, minus turkey, still holds holiday cheer


ADDISON COUNTY — For years, Lincoln resident Christian Schider traveled all the way to New York City for his Thanksgiving meal, sitting down for what could be the year’s most-talked-about meal not with family, but with strangers from all over the world.

Schider was in his late teens when he struck up this nontraditional tradition, making the trek to sit at a community table at the well-known vegan restaurant Angelica Kitchen. At the time, he said, he was a fairly militant vegan, someone who has chosen to eat no foods containing animal products.

After his animal-free Thanksgiving meal he’d travel to Long Island to visit with tryptophan-drugged family, but his sit-down supper with strangers was a longtime holiday highlight.

Schider gave up his vegan diet recently, during his wife’s pregnancy, and this year, the produce buyer at Bristol’s Mountain Greens Market and Deli plans to stay a bit closer to home for the holiday.

But what Schider’s memories of Thanksgivings in New York suggest is that “Turkey Day” for vegans and vegetarians is about everything but the turkey.

Take one of Schider’s co-workers at Mountain Greens, 24-year-old Courtney Lucia. Lucia is planning for her seventh vegetarian Thanksgiving. Leaning over the deli counter, where Lucia works, she said that her family doesn’t do any of the “fake stuff” — “tofurkeys,” for instance, or “smart bacon,” both vegetable-based products designed to mimic meat dishes.

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty at her family’s table she can happily gobble up.

“I always bring something that I’ve made that I know I can eat,” she said. It’s hard, sometimes, to turn down dishes that she knows her family has worked hard to make. But does politely declining a serving of white meat change the holiday for her?

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Hawley returns as Vergennes city manager


VERGENNES — Late last week Vergennes interim city manager Mel Hawley had one word removed from his title — interim.

Mayor Michael Daniels said Hawley, 55, who previously served from 1981 to 1998 as the city’s manager, was the unanimous pick as the city’s new manager by a hiring committee that included Vergennes aldermen, City Clerk Joan Devine, planning commission chairman Neil Curtis, and city resident and American Legion Post 14 official Henry Broughton.

Aldermen accepted the committee’s recommendation at a Nov. 18 executive session, and Daniels made the choice of Hawley official on Thursday, after Hawley’s employer since he left the city’s employ in 1998 — Vergennes outdoor equipment manufacturer Country Home Products — had been notified.

Daniels said there were several strong candidates for the post, including one other finalist besides Hawley. Hawley’s familiarity with the city’s operations and his track record made him stand out, the mayor said.

“With Mel’s knowledge of the city’s working operations as it is, he was the better fit of the two,” he said. “We feel that the transition ... will be smoother and a lot faster because he is so near to the pulse of our city.”

Daniels said the committee was also impressed with Hawley’s responses to a series of questions that were formulated not only by committee members, but also by the city’s department heads.

Specifically, the mayor said, committee members believed Hawley would give city employees latitude to perform their jobs, while still insisting they get their work done right.

“He’s going to hold department heads accountable ... but yet with a little bit of free rein,” Daniels said.

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