Middlebury parcel comes into focus

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College and town officials are working on plans to create a legal entity able to field development offers for a 1.5-acre piece of property behind the Ilsley Library in downtown Middlebury.
The land in question is jointly owned by the town and college and has been identified as a logical spot for a mixed-use project that could draw more businesses and shoppers to the downtown area. A special committee was formed last year to oversee planning for the so-called Economic Development Initiative, also known as EDI.
The committee last January held a public forum to show conceptual drawings of how a multi-floor building — featuring retail, commercial, office and even residential uses — could be built on the site in a scale roughly compatible with surrounding structures. Officials also presented photo simulations to show views of a potential new building from the Otter Creek riverfront, Main Street and other angles. Additional diagrams showed underground parking schemes to replace current spots that now lie within the building footprint.
Selectboard Chairman and EDI Committee member John Tenny explained the planning process has come to a point where the town and college would like to listen to some pitches from prospective developers. That, in turn, requires that the property be placed into a limited liability corporation to allow for a single entity to field proposals for the real estate on behalf of the town and college.
Creation of such an entity will require approval by Middlebury College trustees and by Middlebury voters through a referendum as soon as this fall, according to Tenny.
“This is a tall order, with a lot of work to accomplish,” Tenny said.
Part of that tall order will be coming up with enough parking to adequately feed a major new development in a downtown where parking spaces are already at a premium. To that end, committee members are looking at several different alternatives — including a multi-level parking facility at the site of the municipal lot on Mill Street. That parking lot feeds businesses on College and Main streets and is built into a hillside — an advantage in this case, according to Tenny, who is a builder by trade.
“The topography lends itself to a golden opportunity for a garage site,” Tenny said, noting the potential for grade-level exits on College and/or Weybridge streets.
Such a garage would require creative financing, committee members acknowledged, as development of the EDI property would likely not cover those costs.
Tenny hopes the EDI plan and a parking garage could proceed on parallel tracks, as both projects would complement each other.
“It would be great for the energy and vibrancy of the town as a whole,” he said.
Tenny said it will be tricky, at the outset, to move the planning along.
“We also had some discussion about how we can keep the public informed and at the same time be recognizing the fact that we will need to have negotiations and discussions with developers and different interested parties that can’t particularly be a part of the public dialogue just yet,” Tenny said. “We agreed we will have a public record and report of each meeting and try to minimize those executive session needs on negotiations and discussions with interested parties, but there will be some of that, as required.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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