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Cider company plans big expansion

MIDDLEBURY — Vermont Hard Cider Co. has filed plans to build a new, 87,005-square-foot bottling plant on a 27.6-acre parcel on the north side of Middlebury’s Exchange Street, between the Bridge School and Maple Landmark Woodcraft.
The nation’s pre-eminent manufacturer of hard cider, Vermont Hard Cider (VHC) has been looking to expand out of its current 60,000 square feet of rented space at 153 Pond Lane, where it produces and markets its increasingly popular brand of Woodchuck hard ciders throughout the country.
The company, which has 68 employees in Middlebury, initially drew up plans to grow at its current location, then considered a plan to acquire and occupy the 115,000-square-foot headquarters of Connor Homes on Route 7 South. The Route 7 option fell through, however, prompting VHC officials to seek other growth options in the Middlebury area. They found what they believe is a great spot within the town’s industrial park on which to build the proposed $20 million facility.
“This permit application marks a truly exciting time for Woodchuck Hard Cider, which is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary,” company President an CEO Bret Williams said in a statement to the Independent. “This world class cidery will certainly foster the rapid growth we are experiencing, and ensure we remain fully rooted in our local community for years to come.”
Plans filed with the town on Friday include several preliminary drawings of how the new plant might look. The facility, according to the application, would not put a strain on the town’s sewer system or schools; would have a negligible impact on town services such as fire, police and ambulance; would be in character with the current composition of the industrial park; would cause no undue, adverse effect on agricultural lands, farms, rivers, streams and other natural resources; would have adequate access and parking for employees and visitors; and would be in conformance with the town plan.
The company is considering adding 20 new employees to its workforce in conjunction with the new facility, according to the application.
Williams indicated VHC will provide additional details about the project as it is evaluated by the Middlebury Development Review Board.
Town officials said they are pleased that VHC is looking to lay down long-term roots in the community.
“We are looking forward to working with them,” selectboard Chairman John Tenny said. “We are pleased they feel comfortable working with us and staying in Middlebury.”
The selectboard has long acknowledged VHC as a major local employer and has worked to keep the company in Middlebury. In February of 2010, the selectboard offered to waive water and sewer tap-on fees for what was then VHC’s plan to expand at its Pond Lane campus. That deal would have saved the company around $78,000 in one-time fees based on its proposed expansion figures. Town officials calculated that the loss in revenue from waiving tap-on fees for VHC would eventually be more than offset in the long run by greater water/sewer consumption by the company as it grows. New construction would also add to Middlebury’s grand list and new employees could bump property tax revenues and help area stores.
Tenny confirmed the town remains willing to stand by its fee abatement offer.
The Middlebury Development Review Board has scheduled an initial public hearing to review the application on Monday, Dec. 12, at 7 p.m. in the municipal building conference room.
“The town is delighted that VHC has chosen Middlebury and is proceeding with its project, and we look forward to permitting this expeditiously and seeing their construction early in 2012,” said Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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