Path cleared to develop high-profile city property

VERGENNES — A settlement of a site-contamination case should soon pave the way for the restoration of prominent, but long vacant, buildings next to the Otter Creek falls in Vergennes, according to the structures’ owner.
Ferrisburgh resident David Shlansky, the principal in Shenandoah LLC, the company that owns the former Haviland Shade Roller Mill and its nearby Annex, said he now hopes in the months to come to revive plans to put shops, office space and condominiums in the two historic Canal Street properties.
Shlansky said the timetable remains a bit uncertain. His primary focus will remain operating the law firm headquartered in the nearby Grist Mill Island that lies in the falls itself. But Shlansky said he will be devoting some of his and his employees’ time to re-filing for state and local permits for the Shade Roller project.
“One of our biggest limits is staffing, bandwidth in terms of people. We have to get an Act 250 permit too, which will take some time. But it shouldn’t be a complex project for Act 250,” he said. “It’s already July, and it would be great to start this year, but … I’ve got a day job.”
The project was stalled when environmental site assessments performed in 2007 and 2008 revealed contamination in both buildings, most notably by poly-chlorinated byphenyls (PCBs) that had leaked into flooring. PCBs are found in transformers, among other pieces of equipment.
Shlansky purchased the property from Green Mountain Power (GMP) for $150,000 in 2004. Both buildings have been empty for almost 20 years, but had previously been used by Simmonds Precision, now Goodrich Corp., to store materials.
The contamination from the PCBs, plus solvents and some petroleum products, meant Shlansky’s firm could not proceed with its development plan. In 2010, he filed suit in U.S. District Court in Burlington against GMP claiming the company did or should have known about the contamination. The civil suit sought a jury trial.
GMP maintained that Shlansky knew of potential contamination when he entered into the purchase and sale agreement, and that he failed to inspect the property before the purchase. Shlansky, in turn, said he received assurances from a GMP manager that there were no serious problems before he waived his inspection rights.
The recent settlement of that suit also involved Goodrich. Shlansky said the firms ultimately agreed to be responsible “both in material measure” for a sum he described as well into six figures, although each firm at first maintained it was not at fault.
Critically, Shlansky said, the settlement is enough to fix the problem.
“We had an expert look at it, and I guess you can look at the chemical signatures of different things and figure out where they came from. We never really got clarity on exactly how they got there, but it seemed like there were two defendants that said they weren’t responsible,” he said. “And at the end of the day there was a settlement that should suffice to clean up the problem.”
Because much of the contamination is in the structure itself, Shlansky said the clean up will be part of a restoration effort once it has Vergennes and state approval, not a separate project.
“The remediation is a thing that’s best done as part of the construction, so we have the funds reserved,” he said.
Plans for the buildings on what is a 1.5-acre site had changed before the contamination problem halted the effort. The first set called for restoration of the Annex, and the second for replacing it with a new building using the same footprint.
Now, Shlansky said, he is leaning toward renovating the smaller building, which has a 3,500-square-foot footprint, but for commercial purposes. He said a loft area inside would be more easily adapted for non-residential uses, while the larger Shade Roller Mill could house up to 10 condos.
“I think that we’re going with the first plan,” Shlansky said. “What we’re trying to do is re-apply for the first one, which is to do a historic rehab to keep both buildings there.”
He said both plans received at least preliminary city zoning approvals at some point, and he hopes for smooth sailing the second time through for what will be a substantially similar proposal.
“I think the regs haven’t changed in regards to this part,” Shlansky said, “and since the facts haven’t changed hopefully it will be permitted.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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