Bristol Works permit stalls on ZBA debate

BRISTOL — After two lengthy Bristol Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) meetings, the future permitting of the mixed-use residential park deemed Bristol Works remains up in the air.
Owners of the property at the corner of Bristol’s Munsill Avenue and Pine Street plan to use the 5.5-acre site to host a range of uses, including office space for the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union, a prospective health center, and manufacturing space for energy technology and value-added food products.
So far, more than five hours of discussion between the facility’s owners — Kevin Harper, David Blittersdorf, Kim Smith and Robert Fuller — and the ZBA has led to no decisions. The ZBA determined at a meeting Tuesday that it will deliberate on the uses of buildings one and six of the business park even after the board publicly approved building six for office use at their last meeting. Building one will be considered for value-added food production.
Although Harper has repeatedly made the case that the use of the property, which was once occupied by cosmetics manufacturer Autumn Harp, isn’t fundamentally changing, he’s willing to work with the ZBA to design parameters that meet the needs of the town and neighbors. But what exactly those parameters are is something that the ZBA has had difficulty communicating to the owners of Bristol Works and the community.
The board is also split on how to deal with the complex.
ZBA member Bob Stetson at ZBA meetings Tuesday and last moth repeatedly tried to push the project forward, indicating that the current regulations surrounding the property are sufficient to ensure local safety and satisfaction.
“I personally propose in the deliberative session that we consider the entire permit application and not continue to carve this up piece-by-piece — meet every two weeks and have a deliberative session and then two more weeks,” said Stetson on Tuesday. “We got to get this guy (meaning Harper) going and get some jobs to Bristol.”
But not everyone on the board agreed with Stetson on Tuesday. Brenda Tillberg and Peter Grant, among others, said they were concerned about the possible sale of the property in the future — like when Harper sold the successful Autumn Harp a decade ago — and they want more specifics about potential uses. Board members, however, were unable to narrow down what those specifics would be. After more than a half-hour of digressions and interruptions between board members, Blittersdorf voiced his concerns for the first time.
“We want to do this here, but if you keep making this harder and dragging this on for months, maybe we should just tear the place down and build residential units,” he said.
The concern among many residents in attendance was that such an action would kill future job prospects — a sentiment and concern that numerous residents have voiced over the past two weeks.
Jim Jarvis, a Maple Street resident, said he was worried that such a prolonged permitting processes could strangle future business prospects for Bristol.
“It’s just a question of how long it takes to die, if you don’t set up a basis to encourage (business),” he said.
Harper and Blittersdorf told the ZBA that they would draw up specific parameters surrounding truck traffic, noise, working hours and items of that nature for the board to consider as conditions. They’ll also try to define value-added food production parameters and green technology parameters.
Essentially, the majority among the ZBA appeared to be asking the Bristol Works owners to create their own regulations and submit them to the board for approval.
In addition to ZBA permits, the facility may also require Act 250 approval. The building has been previously approved under Act 250 and Harper said that he is talking with the regional Act 250 commissioner to determine whether the current permits need to be amended.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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