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Flooring business eyeing MVAA building

MIDDLEBURY — A local businessman is seeking permission to acquire the soon-to-be-former Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association (MVAA) headquarters at 19 Elm St. and convert it into a floor covering store and carpet-cleaning business.
The Middlebury Development Review Board on March 8 will formally hear David Babcock’s business plan for the property, which includes a 2,100-square-foot main building and a cupola-adorned carriage barn.
The MVAA will soon vacate the property in order to move into a new, 11,860-square-foot headquarters under construction on a 1-acre plot just north of Porter Medical Center. The organization recently put the 19 Elm St. property on the market, with plans to apply the sales proceeds toward debt on its new, $2.4 million project. The MVAA fielded several inquiries about the property, and ultimately warmed to Babcock’s proposal.
Babcock has been involved in the flooring/carpeting business in Addison County for around two decades, initially with Bub’s Barn in Vergennes and then as manager of the floor covering business at Phinney’s Paint and Decorating in Middlebury.
He established his own business, Vermont Carpet Gallery, at 101 Exchange St. around five years ago, which he then moved to 610 Route 7 south this past January.
“We have been looking to purchase (a permanent home) for the past five years, but everything has been over our head,” Babcock said of downtown real estate costs and the current state of the economy.
His prospects looked brighter when the MVAA property came on the market last year. Babcock saw great potential in the main house and in the accompanying carriage barn, which now serves as a spacious two-bay garage. He would like to eventually convert the attic area of the main house into living space for his family. The Babcocks currently live in Orwell.
From a business perspective, Babcock would use the two buildings to accommodate a combination of retail, show room, warehouse space and carpet-cleaning operation.
“It’s all happening pretty fast,” Babcock said, adding, “It has a great amount of potential.”
He likes the Elm Street site and believes his business would have little impact on the surrounding neighborhood. The DRB will need to give Babcock’s plan permission as an nonconforming use (retail) in what is currently zoned as a high-density residential area.
But Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington said he doesn’t anticipate major problems with the application, given the proposed new business is not expected to be any more intensive than the MVAA operation — which is itself a pre-existing, nonconforming use in the district.
“I’m not aware of any neighborhood issues,” Dunnington said of the Babcock proposal.
Babcock anticipates making some improvements to the property, in particular to the roof of the main building.
“The location is awesome,” Babcock said. “I believe we’ll get lots of exposure there.”
John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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