Restaurant, condos eyed for site near falls

MIDDLEBURY — Owners of the Edgewater Gallery at 1 Mill St., the former home of the Vermont State Craft Center, want to buy a small sliver of land from the adjacent town-owned Jessica Swift Park in order to expand their enterprise to include a new restaurant and two condominiums.
Cornwall resident George Dorsey of Edgewood Property Holdings, LLC purchased 1 Mill St. from the Frog Hollow Craft Association back on Oct. 1, 2009. Dorsey has substantially upgraded the building, which continues to house an art gallery.
Now Dorsey wants to expand the building and its uses while taking better advantage of the surrounding scenic resources, including Otter Creek Falls.
“Much of the aesthetic and commercial appeal of the property lies in its proximity to the Middlebury falls and the town-owned park to the west,” reads a basic project narrative submitted to the town by Dorsey’s attorney, Ebenezer Punderson. “In its current configuration, the property does not take full advantage of these assets. Although the building sits right on the river, one would hardly know that standing inside.”
With that in mind, Edgewood is proposing to acquire from the town a strip of land that extends 30 to 35 feet along the west, downslope side of the Edgewater building. The company also wants to acquire a small, triangular piece of land along the north side of the building.
“The parcel has little value to the town,” reads the project narrative. “It is an un-maintained and little-used portion of an otherwise attractive and functional park area. Currently it is overgrown with brush and littered with debris.”
Acquisition of the property would allow Edgewood Property Holdings to expand the gallery building upward and outward to the north and west. Two residential condos would be added to the upper floor. The gallery space would remain where it currently exists, with some rearranging to include a new entry and interior stairwell.
The current lower gallery space would be converted into a restaurant, with primary access on the west side of the building with approaches through the Jessica Swift park. A patio and stone walkway would connect the property to the existing path leading to the footbridge across the Otter Creek to the Marble Works. The walkway would extend through the park to the creek, where it would intersect with a boardwalk and continue along and around the riverbank.
A covered deck would encircle the south and west sides of the restaurant gallery. Plans also call for an additional dining area, lounge and bar to be located in the current basement space and old waterworks pump house, where there remain remnants of turbines and gears that would be showcased.
Matt LaFiandra, a vice president at Edgewood Holdings, said the project design would respect its surroundings.
“We want to use as much of the existing building as possible,” LaFiandra said. “I think it would be a great addition to the (Frog Hollow) alley and the downtown core.”
Officials said the land sale and project would not interfere with a hydro project being considered in the fall area by Middlebury Electric.
Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington said the local Design Advisory Committee has already taken a look at Edgewood’s draft plan and favorably recommends it. The proposed restaurant and condo uses appear to fit with current zoning rules for that area, he added.
The project will eventually have to come before the Middlebury Development Review Board for local permitting. But in the meantime, Edgewood will have to strike a deal with the town for the property it needs.
The selectboard on Tuesday agreed to set a schedule a public hearing to consider the sale. Barring an objections from the public, the selectboard could then move on to negotiate a transaction with Edgewood, which is proposing a purchase price “equivalent to the assessed value of the parcel, subject to Edgewood’s approval of the assessment.”
Selectboard members at this point seem supportive of the land sale and the project.
“I am very impressed with the project,” said Selectman Nick Artim. “Let’s make it happen.
“It is easy to understand and appreciate,” selectboard Chairman John Tenny said of the plan.
In other action on Tuesday, the Middlebury selectboard:
•  Agreed to hire the company Aldrich & Elliot for a fee of up to $9,600 to “conduct a sewer system evaluation study.” The study findings are expected to guide planning for future capital projects for collection system and pump station improvements.
•  Announced that the Ilsley Library roof will likely need around $100,000 in repairs, as opposed to a total roof replacement at this point.
•  Saluted Tenny, at what was his last regular meeting, for his 17 years of continuous service on the selectboard. His colleagues presented him with a piece of artwork and a card. Selectman Dean George read a story from one of Tenny’s childhood friends about some of his adventures as a teen.
“It has been a high point and an honor to work with all of you,” Tenny told his colleagues.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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