Mister Ups, town can’t OK plan for Bakery Lane
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury selectmen and the owners of Mister Ups Restaurant have failed to agree on an easement deal that would have allowed for two-way traffic on Bakery Lane as part of the Cross Street Bridge project.
Selectmen have, for several months, been negotiating with Mister Ups owners to acquire an easement for the northwestern corner of the restaurant lot at the base of Bakery Lane. This would have displaced some parking places from in front of the eatery, but would have given the town — in conjunction with some already secured easements — enough clearance to assure two-way traffic through Bakery Lane en route to connections to the new Cross Street Bridge and the new traffic rotary to be built next spring in downtown Middlebury (see graphic).
Town officials said they offered Mister Ups $22,600 in compensation for the easement, along with creation of seven new parking spots on the property and infrastructure improvements, including a new sidewalk in front of the restaurant. The town also offered to do some sloping work on a portion of the Mister Ups property to create more attractive frontage.
But in the end, Mister Ups owners and town officials could not strike a deal.
“We have reached an impasse,” Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny said.
That said, officials are now focusing on a “plan B” traffic circulation scheme, one that provides for one-way traffic under the bridge, instead of two-way.
“That is going to restrict us to a one-lane roadway, which would become a one-way really, through there, and no changes to the (Mister Ups) property,” Tenny said. “This would pretty much be the pattern that you see today.”
Tim O’Neil, co-owner of Mister Ups, explained the town’s offer was not adequate given the amount of trade the restaurant has lost since bridge construction began, and because the business continues to struggle. The Cross Street Bridge project is expected to be completed next fall.
“With what’s transpired to the business, I don’t think (the town’s offer) is fair at all,” O’Neil, a Virginia resident, said during a telephone interview. “I think surviving the project is going to be tremendously difficult.”
O’Neil explained that Vermont restaurants like Mister Ups count on doing the bulk of their business during the summer and fall, in order to weather the leaner winter and early spring months.
But construction work has clogged the Bakery Lane area, O’Neil said, to the point where prospective customers either wrongly assume the eatery is closed or simply don’t want to deal with parking challenges.
“For the past two months, we have been doing winter sales,” O’Neil said. “We have survived so far, but it’s been brutal. We are trying to make things work.”
Mister Ups owners several months ago offered to sell the entire property to the town, sources confirmed. But the asking price — coupled with the fact that the restaurant property is not within the direct path of the bridge — precluded a deal from being made, according to town officials.
Business at Mister Ups is down roughly 30 percent since the bridge project started, according to O’Neil. He said he wants to work with the town and says, “I’m not trying to be difficult.” But he added that he is not sold on town officials’ contentions that things will get better once the bridge project is completed.
“There is no guarantee,” O’Neil said.
Mister Ups has been operating for 30 years and employs 30-40 full- and part-time workers, according to O’Neil.
Selectman Dean George recently contacted O’Neil to make a one-on-one pitch for the easement and new Bakery Lane traffic circulation scheme. George said he is disappointed the talks have not resulted in an accord.
“In the end, (O’Neil) said they just couldn’t do it,” George said.
He added that while the fallback plan will allow people to find their way through Bakery Lane, “They won’t be able to do it as easily as it would be with two-way traffic.”
Tenny said the lines of communication will remain open with Mister Ups ownership.
“We hope there may be a change of heart there, and that we would have an opportunity to implement the whole plan,” he said.