Convenience store eyed for Court Street

MIDDLEBURY — The owners of the Vermont Energy Company (VEC) in Ferrisburgh have filed plans at Middlebury town offices to spin off another “alternative convenience store” with deli and gas pumps at the now-vacant Sunoco station at 48 Court St.
The Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB) on Monday, March 14, was slated to get its first look at VEC’s plans, which call for substantial interior renovations to the Sunoco building and an exterior paint job.
Inside, VEC would stick with the same business plan it has implemented for more than three years at its Ferrisburgh location at 2707 Route 7 (the former Little Otter General Store): Offering homemade and locally baked goods, as well as healthy, organic products to supplement the usual salty and sweet snacks one finds on the shelves at typical convenience stores.
“We are interested in giving people choices,” said VEC co-owner Brad Hartley. “While keeping prices competitive, we try to infuse quality in everything we offer.”
VEC’s plans for the property, which it would rent from owner Sandri Inc., include:
•  Maintaining the current fuel pumps and Sunoco brand.
•  Restoring and remodeling the more than 50-year-old building.
“We like the architecture,” Hartley said of the station. “It does have a certain period feel and style. We want to use the scale and size of the station in a retro way.”
Plans call for repainting the building from its current blue and yellow to a brick-red hue, with perhaps a stone knee-wall.
•  Paving and striping the parking areas
•  Landscaping the available green areas.
Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington anticipated Mary Hogan Elementary School officials will be keen observers of the VEC application, due to the Sunoco station’s close proximity to the school. Many young students walk in the neighborhood. He noted some Mary Hogan School workers have been parking in the Sunoco station lot during the months it has remained unused. Some parents dropping off and picking up children have also used the lot.
“There is a whole issue of traffic circulation and safety around here when you add a convenience store use; that will be a major part of the discussion,” Dunnington said.
Court Street is not zoned for new convenience stores or new gas stations. That means the VEC application will have to be considered in the context of a “pre-existing, non-conforming use,” according to Dunnington. The town’s zoning laws allow for a change in a non-conforming use “as long as it isn’t worse,” Dunnington noted. “The question is, is this worse?”
So the DRB will have to consider, among other things, whether the proposed convenience store and gas pump operation would have more of an impact on the neighborhood than the previous gas pump, service station and car wash use.
Hartley believes VEC would be a good fit for the space and a good fit for the neighborhood.
“I can’t believe that location is not already occupied by a thriving business,” Hartley said. “It seems to be a very nice location for this kind of business.”
The Middlebury DRB on Monday was also scheduled to review proposals for:
•  Desabrais Laundry to rent a portion of the former Durasol Systems Inc. headquarters at 1232 Exchange St. Company owners Steve and Lucy Noble are proposing to locate administrative offices and a public/commercial laundry service in one of the 1232 Exchange St. buildings, and drop-off and pick-up for dry cleaning service in another structure at the site. The company would also clean rugs on premises and on location, according to a project narrative. Plans do not call for any dry cleaning at the site.
Desabrais Laundry operated locally at 55 Middle Road until last October, when the property owners announced plans to sell the building. The Nobles established a temporary pickup spot at 18 Creek Road for laundry pickup while they searched for a new headquarters for Desabrais. They believe they have found such a spot at 1232 Exchange St.
The Nobles will have to get DRB permission to change the use of 1232 Exchange St. from light industry to retail laundry service. The DRB will have to determine, among other things, whether another retail use is compatible for an industrial park area.
•      Improvements, including lighting, for Middlebury College’s Kohn Field, a 240-foot-by-360 foot, all-weather surface. The field is used primarily by the college field hockey team, women’s lacrosse squad and the men’s lacrosse team.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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