January 24, 2008
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury selectmen on Tuesday endorsed a contract that would allow the town to buy Steele’s Service Center at 83 Main St. for $820,000, with the intent of eventually removing the business to make way for the proposed Cross Street Bridge.
The potential deal — which must be approved by Middlebury voters on Town Meeting Day — would allow Paul and Jane Steele to maintain their operation until the structure needs to be removed as part of the $16 million bridge project. The new span would link Main Street with Court Street across the Otter Creek, via Cross Street.
“It’s a tremendously important piece for us in moving ahead with the bridge project,” Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny said of the Steeles’ property.
The tentative accord with the Steeles leaves three other, less high-profile properties the town must acquire within the right-of-way of the proposed bridge. Selectmen are optimistic they will be able to strike deals with those landowners, too.
The potential sale and destruction of the service center would represent the end of a long, successful era for the Steele family. Paul Steele began working at the business in 1968, before acquiring it in 1982.
“We are pleased to have arrived at a mutually satisfactory agreement with the town,” said Jane Steele, Paul’s wife, who also works at the business.
“We will still be here during all the planning stages,” she stressed, “and we will still operate a towing service no matter where we are located.”
The couple already has the flexibility to relocate the business to the Frog Hollow area. The town several years ago granted the Steeles permission to perform auto repair services on their Mill Street property. The property comprises the garage and two homes at the base of Mill Street.
Pending a townwide vote, Middlebury would pay the Steeles $820,000 for the service center located on four-tenths of an acre at the corner of Main and Cross streets. The property is currently assessed at $251,900, according to Town Clerk Ann Webster.
Tenny acknowledged the community would be paying a premium.
“It is a premier commercial property in the heart of downtown, and the purchase price reflects that reality,” Tenny said.