Locals weigh in on Middlebury draft plan

MIDDLEBURY — The town of Middlebury should consider making at least one exception to its current ban on retail establishments of more than 50,000 square feet in order to woo an anchor store to Addison County’s shire town, according to at least some of the roughly two-dozen people at a Sept. 18 hearing on the proposed new Middlebury town plan.
That was the one of several proposed tweaks to the new plan that the Middlebury selectboard heard at the Ilsley Library at the first of at least two selectboard public hearings intended to get feedback on the expansive document.
The town’s planning commission has spent more than two years updating and revising the document, which must be approved by the selectboard. The commission this summer held two well-attended public hearings on the plan, which drew some praise put also some criticism for its length (185 pages) and the belief by some that its language is too restrictive in its tone when it comes to future development.
Local planners made a litany of changes to the town plan draft in response to concerns voiced at its hearings. Now it’s the selectboard’s turn to consider further changes in the document prior to approving it for another five-year run as the community’s blueprint for future development and as an inventory of local resources.
Some at Tuesday’s hearing suggested that the selectboard amend the plan in a manner that would:
•  Continue to allow parking in front of Greg’s Meat Market near the intersection of Elm and Seymour Streets. The parking — which has been in place for years — has been criticized by some for posing traffic problems at the busy intersection. Greg’s owner Bart Litvin told the selectboard that the elimination of parking in front of his store would probably cost him business.
•  Include more details about Addison County Transit Resources’ growing public transportation services for local residents. The organization recently broke ground for a new $4.2 million facility off Creek Road.
•  Add further protections and amenities for bikers and pedestrians.
•  Add language further acknowledging the need for a soon-to-be hired business development director who will help recruit businesses to town and help existing enterprises grow.
Local businessmen and property owners Scott Foster and Kevin Newton urged the selectboard to change the plan to allow the town to consider a future application for a retail store in excess of 50,000 square feet, which is the current local cap.
Town officials had endorsed the cap as a means of staving off large big-box stores and the sprawl that is often associated with such enterprises. But Foster, Newton and other residents have argued that Middlebury needs an anchor retail store to give shoppers wider access to general goods. Those shoppers, they argue, have instead been traveling to major stores in Burlington, Rutland and Ticonderoga, N.Y.
Middlebury selectboard members said they were pleased with the tenor of Tuesday’s hearing.
“Everyone who came and submitted comments was very positive,” selectboard Vice Chairman Victor Nuovo said. “It was a very good discussion and was the public hearing process at its best.”
Selectboard Chairman Dean George said he and his colleagues will spend the next few weeks discussing the proposed changes before deciding which ones to bring up for a vote.
The selectboard must hold a second hearing on the town plan before Dec. 12, and then decide whether to convene another hearing or approve the document, with or without changes to the planning commission’s version.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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