Bristol Works earns permit to open doors

BRISTOL — After two months of heated public debate and careful consideration, the Bristol Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) has voted 7-0 in favor of issuing the Bristol Works business campus “a comprehensive conditional use permit” for the 5.5-acre space previously occupied by cosmetics manufacturer Autumn Harp.
The four Bristol Works partners say they have already poured millions into the business park at the corner of Bristol’s Munsill Avenue and Pine Street. Different from the property’s previous single-use nature, the partners plan to use the space for a range of uses, including office space for the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union (ANeSU), a prospective health center, and manufacturing space for energy technology and value-added food products.
The partners are Kevin Harper, owner of Bristol Bakery and Café and founder of Autumn Harp, a personal care products manufacturer; David Blittersdorf, president and CEO of Williston’s AllEarth Renewables; Kim Smith, owner of Middlebury’s Marble Works; and Robert Fuller, founder of Leunig’s Bistro in Burlington.
While applying for a zoning permit, the partners hit two main obstacles: a ZBA that struggled to define and assess the property’s prospective range of uses, and public opposition — most notably an anonymous letter sent out to Bristol residents in August and urging them to denounce the project before it was permitted.
Town Administrator Bill Bryant explained that this permit was tough for the ZBA because the board wasn’t accustomed to writing a permit for such a diverse property, which needed to account for so many unknowns. 
“The board had a difficult chore with the application,” he said. “The application did have some opposition, and (the board) tried to work carefully with it in a way that they did not have a lot of experience — crafting a permit that could not spell out all of the specifics of the space and exactly how it would be used.”
But the overwhelming sentiment expressed by the public at the board’s hearings in August and September was that townspeople wanted Bristol Works up and running as soon as possible because they want jobs closer to home. One of the overarching aims of Bristol Works, said Harper, is to bring jobs into the community. 
“It’s a win for Bristol as much as it’s a win for the Bristol partnership,” he said of the comprehensive permit. “It’s the logical place to recover the jobs that left when Autumn Harp left (after its sale) more than a year ago. So it’s a chance to (restore) some of those jobs with high quality, good paying jobs for the five-town area and its residents.”
In a letter dated Oct. 17, ZBA Chairman Kevin Brown told Harper the board was rescinding its previously issued conditional use permits placed on two of the facility’s six buildings and was replacing them with a comprehensive permit for the entire property.
As for the partners’ proposed range of uses, Brown wrote, “None of the uses of the buildings will be changing from the historic and previously permitted uses of the site — manufacturing, warehousing, offices, retail, wellness and recreation.”
The board noted that while these uses previously occurred independently of one another, they might now occur simultaneously.
Harper told the Independent that the permit reflects a business park that’s much lighter than Autumn Harp was when it outgrew the Bristol facility. The permit states, “The property shall generate no more than 10 large trucks (tractor-trailer trucks) per day … and such trucks shall not be permitted to enter or exit the property between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.”
During the hearings in August and September, board members and residents expressed concern that certain buildings didn’t meet zoning specifications. The permit explains that those buildings of concern were grandfathered into zoning regulations.
With ANeSU administrators moving into Bristol Works’ newly renovated office space this week, the partners are searching for tenants to fill the business park’s manufacturing space.
“It’s a difficult and risky venture to take on,” said Harper. “But we can now honestly and openly say Bristol is open for business.”
The Bristol Works permit issued by the ZBA is available here. Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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