Ferrisburgh heading to court over Rt. 7 project
FERRISBURGH — As many on both sides of the issue have said they expected, South Burlington firm Champlain Oil Co.’s controversial Ferrisburgh proposal for a Route 7 gas station, convenience store and fast food restaurant is headed to court.
Champlain Oil (COCO) and Friends of Ferrisburgh for Responsible Growth have both appealed to Environmental Court the Ferrisburgh’s Zoning Board of Adjustment’s Sept. 16 conditional approval of COCO’s planned 9-acre development at the former site of the Ferrisburgh Roadhouse.
The ZBA attached a number of conditions to that approval, including that COCO could not sell diesel fuel, could only operate between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m., and could not allow a restaurant tenant to operate a drive-through window.
COCO president Tony Cairns said those three conditions were the key issues, although the appeal letter filed by attorney Liam Murphy on COCO’s behalf objected to nine of the 14 conditions imposed by the ZBA.
“There are a lot of things in that approval we can live with,” Cairns said. “There are just a few we cannot.”
Cairns said the ban on selling diesel fuel is “obviously the biggest” problem COCO has with the ZBA decision. He said that not only truckers use diesel, but also many pickup trucks, automobiles and off-road vehicles.
“That’s a prominent product that everyone is selling now … A lot of cars are switching to diesel,” he said. “It’s a product we’ve got to have at all locations.”
Cairns also said studies show some fast-food restaurants do as much as 65 percent of their business from drive-through windows, which he also described as a convenience for families driving with children.
“We’d like the drive-through … Whoever we share the development with, they require the drive-through,” he said.
As far as the hours of operation, Cairns said he believes it is unreasonable for Ferrisburgh to require just one business to close down early when others are not required to do so.
“I don’t think that’s fair,” he said. “That’s a no-go.”
Cairns said the ZBA’s lighting limits are also too low, and the appeal also challenges ZBA limits on the size and location on signs.
In response to COCO’s appeal, Friends of Ferrisburgh for Responsible Growth (FFRG) filed an appeal of the entire ZBA approval.
A statement released by group member Nick Patch said FFRG’s position is that the scale of the project — a 4,800-square-foot building with a Jiffy Mart and a 34-seat restaurant, canopied pumps, and extensive parking and lighting on the east side of Route 7 about 1.5 miles north of Vergennes — does not conform with town law regardless of the ZBA conditions.
“The Friends of Ferrisburgh for Responsible Growth has filed a cross appeal with the Vermont State Environmental Court … because we strongly believe that with or without the conditions set by the Ferrisburgh zoning board the proposal violates the Ferrisburgh zoning regulations and town plan and is way out of scale with the surrounding area,” the statement read.
For example, Ferrisburgh’s town plan calls for “small-scale commercial enterprise” in the area that includes the parcel in question.
Patch said FFRG respects the efforts of the zoning board members in the difficult case.
“(The appeal) does not mean we don’t appreciate the hard work the zoning board did. I want to be clear we do,” he said.
All parties, including Ferrisburgh selectmen, will now wait while Murphy prepares on COCO’s behalf a the next more detailed court document for a project proposed on a site near a village that includes town offices and the Ferrisburgh Central School.
Ferrisburgh selectboard chairwoman Loretta Lawrence said selectmen back their colleagues on the zoning board.
“The selectboard will be supporting the zoning board decision, of course,” Lawrence said.
But Lawrence also said it was difficult to say now how or when that support would translate into action or spending.
“Right now, we’re monitoring the appeal … There’s nothing we can do at this point,” she said. “It’s just too early to weigh in on it now.”
Environmental Court processes typically take many months or even a year or more. Patch said FFRG expects to spend between $10,000 and $15,000 on the court case. He said the group spent $10,000 on legal fees and expert testimony in fighting the proposal before the zoning board, with support from residents, and that FFRG members believe enough backing will again be forthcoming.
The FFRG statement read, “We are definitely up against a large corporation with deep financial pockets and a history of persistence in getting what it wants. We expect the appeal process will be time consuming and costly. Ferrisburgh’s citizens have been incredibly supportive of this community effort so far and we believe that there is enough support, both financial and hands-on, to make our appeal to the Environmental Court thoughtful, professional and effective.”
Patch said that FFRG wants to emphasize that it does not oppose business growth in Ferrisburgh.
“We’d like to encourage development that is in scale with the town,” Patch said. “We just want to encourage appropriate development for the town of Ferrisburgh.”
He said FFRG members believe that even with the ZBA conditions COCO’s plans would not fit that category.
“It’s still huge,” Patch said. “Our position is that it is out of scale with the neighborhood either way.”
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