Hannaford bags store at new Brandon plaza

BRANDON — The Hannaford supermarket chain has pulled out of the beleaguered Brandon Plaza project, citing economic changes and the lengthy permitting process.
Developer Bill McCabe had been counting on the store to anchor his long-delayed shopping center project at the intersection of Route 7 and Nickerson Road. From its corporate headquarters in Scarborough, Maine, Hannaford officials cited a change in the economic climate since the project entered the local permitting process in 2009.
“Hannaford has decided not to move forward with its planned supermarket along Route 7 in Brandon,” a statement read. “The business and economic analysis supporting this project has changed since the planned store was first announced in September 2009.”
The statement closed by saying the current Hannaford at the former Grand Union site in downtown Brandon is performing well.
“Hannaford has been pleased with customer response to its current store in Brandon,” the statement read.
In an interview Tuesday morning, Hannaford spokesman Michael Norton said time was the biggest obstacle for the proposed store in Brandon.
“In the time since we first applied in September 2009, we’ve opened stores in Bradford, Swanton and West Lebanon, N.H.” he said. “We love doing business in Vermont, where we have 17 stores, but that’s part of the business and economic climate changing. It’s not like we’re not serving customers, but in the time since we announced the Brandon project, we’ve gone on to do a lot of other things.”
McCabe, developer for that West Lebanon, N.H., store, said in an interview Tuesday that he has similar reasons for pulling the project altogether, at least for now.
“In the two and a half years we’ve been working on this, I’ve permitted and opened another shopping center,” he said. “The question is, where do I put my dollars and my time? To be perfectly frank, I’d rather spend my money where I know I can make a return on my investment.”
And so goes the latest chapter in an ongoing saga that began with a September 2009 filing and months of local hearings through the Brandon Development Review Board’s July 2010 decision to approve a scaled-down version of the proposed project. The board voted 5-0 in its decision to deny the Act 250 application filed by McCabe to build a 36,000-square-foot Hannaford supermarket, a 12,000-square-foot line of smaller stores, and a 5,000-square-foot standalone outbuilding, plus a 295-space parking lot.
In its Act 250 land use decision regarding conformance with the town plan, the DRB voted 5-0 to reduce the size and scope of the project, allowing for the construction of just the 36,000-square-foot Hannaford store and a smaller 145-space parking lot, while eliminating the planned Nickerson Road access.
Neither McCabe nor the citizens group formed against the project was happy with the DRB’s decision and both sides appealed to the state Environmental Court.
The citizens group, which had received party status in the proceedings, hired noted environmental attorney Jim Dumont of Bristol. The 15 Brandon petitioners in the group were Jim Leary, Kevin Thornton, Judy Bunde, Christy Gahagan, Skip Davis, Jeff Faber, Buzz Racine, Phil Keyes, Beth Rand, Helyn Anderson, Andrew Cliver, Linda and Jeff Stewart, Jon Andrews and Patt Cavnaugh.
McCabe’s team filed a motion to dismiss the group’s appeal, but it was upheld.
After filing those appeals in the fall of 2010, enduring the retirement of Judge Meredith Wright and the reassignment of the case to another judge, and filing multiple briefs and overviews of each side’s arguments, all parties waited. For months, there was little or no movement on the case. It wasn’t until March 26 of this year that Environmental Court Judge Thomas Walsh issued a 16-page decision, siding with Dumont and the petitioners’ arguments on at least three points, effectively handing the case back to the Brandon DRB and asking for clarification and support for the board’s decisions.
McCabe held back in criticizing the DRB for its decisions when he was interviewed Tuesday.
“I could say a lot of things, but I don’t think it would be productive,” he said. “If I had gotten this to the Act 250 (state-level land use permitting) process, it would’ve gone a lot smoother.”
Paul Bruhn of the anti-sprawl group the Preservation Trust said on Tuesday he was thrilled by the news.
“This is great news for downtown Brandon,” he said. “The community needed a better grocery store, and they got one. It’s a big plus for the community and the downtown. It’s huge.”
Brandon attorney and member of the appellant group Jim Leary was reached by phone Tuesday morning for comment and was floored by the news that Hannaford had pulled out of the Brandon Plaza project.
“What can I say, I think that’s a great decision,” he said. “We’ve thought all along that the current location is ideal, so this is the ideal outcome form the onset. Hannaford does a great job serving our community from the current downtown location.”
As for McCabe, he said he hopes that the land in question will be developed some day, and that he has not been discouraged from doing business in Vermont.
“I still believe Brandon holds some opportunity,” he said. “Just because this site doesn’t hold a project right now… anything is possible in the future. This certainly hasn’t scared me off of Vermont. You just got to know when to fold them, I guess.”

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