Middlebury officials fine-tune town plan

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday began to tweak the latest town plan draft, a task based on language changes proposed by citizens at a recent public hearing, but the board decided that other, more substantial revisions will require more discussion.
Among those more substantial revision proposals to be considered further is one to delete a current reference in the plan to a cap of 50,000 square feet for retail stores.
A few residents who testified at the town plan hearings suggested the community change the rule to allow the town to make an exception for a large, retail anchor store for local shoppers who are now doing business at such stores in places like Rutland and Burlington.
Selectman Victor Nuovo said he supports the 50,000-square-foot cap and advocated for such a measure several years ago, before he joined the selectboard. But he believes the community should further discuss the notion of accommodating a larger retailer in the downtown area.
Nuovo said on Tuesday that the current timetable for revising and approving the town plan might not allow enough time for such a discussion. For that reason, he said the selectboard could delete references to the 50,000-square-foot cap, which in the meantime would remain spelled out in the town’s zoning ordinances.
Thus, he said if the town decided to change its position on large stores, it could do so in the context of the zoning laws, which will be revised after the selectboard approves the new town plan.
“As long as we have the zoning ordinance, we are protected and can proceed with some leisure to discuss this,” Nuovo said.
“My personal view is that everyone seems to agree they would like to attract a department store central to the town to act as an anchor,” he added. “But we also agree it shouldn’t be massive. The question is, how do we state that and at the same time reflect the restrictions?”
But some planning officials are concerned about striking the cap reference in the town plan — they noted state officials scrutinize language in the town plan during projects’ Act 250 reviews.
The board will revisit the town plan and additional potential revisions next month.
In other action on Tuesday, the Middlebury selectboard:
• Declined to endorse a three-way stop intersection at the confluence of College, Weybridge and Academy streets. This would have resulted in the addition of a stop sign for westbound traffic on College Street. Some local residents have suggested adding such a sign because they believe people entering the intersection on Weybridge Street and College Street (eastbound) are consistently confused, expecting westbound traffic on College Street to stop.
Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley said the new sign is not warranted based on the lack of an accident history, the absence of sight distance hazards and the lower speed and volume at which vehicles currently pass through the intersection. The three-way intersection was created with the addition of Academy Street as part of the Cross Street Bridge project almost two years ago.
“I don’t think it will make the intersection safer … by having (another) stop sign there,” Hanley told the selectboard.
In fact, Hanley recommended that the town eliminate the stop sign for eastbound traffic on College Street and retain the stop sign at Weybridge Street and College Street.
The board ultimately elected to leave the intersection signage as-is.
• Selected a low bid by J.P. Carrara & Sons to provide winter sand to the town at a cost of $7.75 per ton. The other bid, from Case Street Redi-mix Inc., came in at $8.75 per ton. Selectboard member Travis Forbes of Case Street Redi-mix abstained.
• Were informed that the town has received 74 applications for the vacancy of Middlebury Parks & recreation director. Tom Anderson retired from the post this past summer. Town officials will narrow the applications down to around five or seven for interviews in hopes of identifying a finalist to start the job on Jan. 2, 2013.
• Voted to apply for a grant of up to $25,000 in state funds to help make repairs to the municipal gym. Town officials have drawn up a list of more than $500,000 in upgrades to the well-used gym building. Those proposed upgrades include installing new bleachers and windows, replacing the southeast corner door, and fixing the west doors.
• Spoke of the more public outreach efforts to gain support for a new town office building/community center that would replace the current structure at the intersection of South Main and College streets. The selectboard has formed committees to look at the financing, construction and other aspects of the project, expected to cost around $5 million to $6 million.
Officials want to limit the local property tax impact of the project to 2 cents on the municipal rate. This will mean pursuing grants, donations and other creative fundraising options.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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