COCO wins Ferrisburgh site plan approval

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh Board of Zoning approval on June 1 approved a revised site plan submitted by Champlain Oil Co. of South Burlington, a move that removes one hurdle for COCO’s plan for a multi-use Route 7 development but still leaves other issues to be resolved by the state’s Environmental Court.
COCO’s revised plan for a gas station and a building that would be shared by a Jiffy Mart and a fast-food restaurant called for all of its septic and wastewater treatment elements to be contained on a 9.7-acre site.
Critically, none of the site would lie in the town’s conservation zoning district, as had been the case in the past. 
COCO is proposing to buy a smaller parcel of land that once housed the Ferrisburgh Roadhouse, about 1.5 miles north of Vergennes, plus a larger parcel next to it. That larger parcel does include conservation-zone land, which requires a minimum lot size of 25 acres, but COCO will deed about 17 acres to the adjacent Allandra Farm and use none of it for its project.
Town zoning officials and the Ferrisburgh Conservation Commission both also acknowledged the company had upgraded its proposed septic system and its plan for treating water that would run downhill from the site southward toward Little Otter Creek.
The zoning board’s half-page approval — containing seven “Findings of Fact” and a conclusion that gave conditional use approval to COCO — stated, “Waste water treatment has been improved by the inclusion of advanced treatment, improvements to the design of the grease tank, and the addition of two grit, oil and water separators will improve storm water treatment.”
In a 2010 decision the Environmental Court had asked Ferrisburgh to clarify whether it would allow wastewater and septic treatment elements in its conservation zone, and also said that COCO’s plan did not conform to zoning because it did not have enough land to meet that zone’s 25-acre minimum.
COCO officials said they submitted the new site plan that earned approval last Wednesday to answer both of those concerns.
The zoning board’s June 1 decision left unchanged other elements of its 2009 conditional approval of COCO’s plan, a decision that both COCO and opponents of COCO’s proposal appealed to Environmental Court.
The board’s 2009 OK denied COCO the right to sell diesel gas and put limits on hours of operation and lighting. The board also denied the restaurant a drive-through window, but the Environmental Court overturned that portion of the ruling and allowed the window.
Two COCO officials and a Trudell Associates vice president who prepared the company’s application did not reply to email requests for comment late last week. All are on record as saying they will continue to pursue the outstanding issues in court.
Judy Chaves, a member of the group that has opposed COCO’s plans, Friends of Ferrisburgh for Responsible Growth, said neither the new site plan nor last week’s zoning board decision changes the group’s opinion.
Chaves said the Environmental Court has yet to weigh in on what the group believes are the central questions.
“Those of us who appealed the original decision made by the ZBA, granting Champlain Oil a conditional use permit, will continue with the appeal,” Chaves said. “Our major concerns about the project still exist, mainly that the size and character of the proposed gas station, fast food restaurant, and convenience store are inappropriate for the village of Ferrisburgh. These and other issues haven’t even been addressed yet at the Environmental Court level.”
The zoning board’s June decision was written to make it clear that it does not affect other elements of the board’s 2009 ruling.
“The zoning board of adjustment renders its decision WITHOUT PREJUDICE to the conditions originally imposed and which are subject to present litigation before the Environmental Court,” it stated.
Board chairwoman Charlene Stavenow said the facts that COCO removed the treatment systems out of conservation zone and improved those systems answered the specific, narrow questions before the board in dealing with the site plan.
Like everyone else involved, zoning board members expect the next moves to be made in court.
“We approved the lot adjustment and sent it on its way back to the judge,” Stavenow said, adding, “We’ll wait to see what happens next.”
COCO owns a string of similar facilities in Vermont, including one at the junction of Routes 7 and 17 in New Haven.
When the legal dust settles, COCO hopes to build a 4,800-square-foot structure in Ferrisburgh to be shared by the Jiffy Mart and a 34-seat restaurant, and to have canopied pumps for both gas and diesel fuel and parking large enough to handle truck traffic.
The proposal first surfaced in late 2008. The company first amended its plans in May 2009 after a series of at-times contentious public hearings drew up to 100 residents. Most at those meetings said they opposed the size, scale and appearance of the project — or the possibility the restaurant might have golden arches.
At the same time, opinions are mixed. Other residents have quietly said they have no objection, and some at the meetings said they didn’t want the town to restrict business along Route 7.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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