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COCO’s plan sent back to ZBA

FERRISBURGH — In the wake of a new Environmental Court ruling, the Ferrisburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment will almost certainly handle this fall an amended Champlain Oil Co. (COCO) application for a Route 7 gas station, convenience store and fast-food restaurant.
On Sept. 8, Environmental Court Judge Thomas Durkin made a site visit and then issued a decision that COCO, a South Burlington firm that operates a string of similar facilities, must go back to the ZBA with its proposal to increase the acreage in its application.
In a July 30 court filing, COCO requested that Durkin approve a 26.77-acre lot big enough to conform to the 25-acre conservation zone in which some of proposed drainage and sewer lines will run. COCO had previously applied to build on a 9-acre lot, but had been denied by Durkin because the improvements in the conservation zone meant the lot size did not conform to the minimum acreage requirement required in Ferrisburgh zoning.
Durkin wrote in his Sept. 8 decision that Environmental Court could not consider the larger lot. He ruled that “such a significant change in the application, including a possible change in the notice to adjoining property owners,” would “prohibit the Court from hearing such an amended application.” Instead, the amended application must first be heard by the ZBA, he wrote.
In the other part of his one-page ruling, Durkin said that Ferrisburgh zoning did not “specifically prohibit the installation and maintenance of commercial wastewater and stormwater facilities in the Conservation Zoning District.” The attorney for project opponents Friends of Ferrisburgh for Responsible Growth had maintained those improvements were not legal.
Durkin said that COCO would, however, be required in an application to “show that such facilities, as part of its proposed commercial project, are entitled to conditional use approval (a highly fact-specific exercise).”
In an earlier ruling, the Environmental Court backed COCO’s proposed convenience store and fast-food restaurant, plus a drive-through window for the restaurant, while denying the overall project on the acreage issue.
Questions remaining unsettled to this point are whether COCO can sell diesel gas, which the ZBA had disallowed in its initial September 2009 approval of the COCO proposal, and what lighting will be permissible.
COCO planning, development and construction manager Paul Wamsganz said, “We still have some work to do,” on those questions, but that company officials were generally pleased that Durkin did not rule out improvements in the Conservation Zoning District.
“Let’s just say that we’re hopeful,” Wamsganz said.
He said COCO would probably submit a revised application for the site, which is on the east side of the highway about two miles north of Vergennes, sometime in October or November.
“We’re … looking forward to just keeping moving forward,” Wamsganz said. “We’re cautiously optimistic.”
Friends of Ferrisburgh member Nick Patch released a statement on behalf of the group that said they are pleased that the application will return to the town’s zoning board for consideration. It read:
“Should COCO decide to reapply for a conditional use permit, we fully appreciate that this would involve a lot of time and energy for a lot of people, but we believe it is in the town’s best interest that this revised proposal be fully warned and reviewed …
“FFRG is firmly committed to promoting the growth of businesses in Ferrisburgh that are in scale and character with the town. Participating in last week’s Environmental Court visit to the site of COCO’s proposed project vividly reinforced our belief that what COCO is proposing is vastly out of scale and character with the center of our village.”
The site in question is the former home of the Ferrisburgh Roadhouse and, before then, Burdick’s Country Kitchen. The 9.04-acre lot proposed for COCO’s business was to be created by combining 2.5 acres owned by the former operators of the Ferrisburgh Roadhouse, Claudia and Marcos Llona, and 6.54 acres of an adjacent 24.27-acre tract owned by Gregory and Susan Burdick, former owners of the Country Kitchen.
Now, COCO plans to buy all of the Burdicks’ land. The property lies in three zoning districts — a Highway Commercial zone with a 2-acre minimum and a Rural Agricultural zone with a 5-acre requirement, as well as the conservation zone.
COCO hopes to build a 4,800-square-foot building equally split between a convenience store and a fast-food restaurant, possibly, but not definitely, a McDonald’s. Gas and diesel pumps would have canopies, and COCO plans what company officials call extensive landscaping with picnic tables.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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