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Middlebury board lifts big-box limit from town plan

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday continued to make its own tweaks to the town plan update, with the most prominent revision being a move to remove a reference to a 50,000-square-foot cap on new retail proposals. The board replaced mention of that cap with a stipulation that retail store applications must be consistent with the town’s zoning ordinances, noted Middlebury selectboard Vice-Chairman Victor Nuovo.
Local officials will be revising the municipal zoning ordinances after they have updated the town plan, a process initiated more than two years ago by the planning commission. The commission held two hearings and multiple feedback sessions to get input on the beefy document laying out Middlebury’s growth priorities and many resources.
The planning commission in early September handed the document off the selectboard, which is expected to give its final approval in November of December. The board in turn solicited feedback at some public hearings and has spent its past few meetings incorporating some of that citizen input into the plan. Many of the changes have been minor tweaks.
But the board was split on whether to lift a 50,000-square-foot space cap for retail store applications. The cap had been put into the plan several years ago amid concerns the town could be targeted by a “big box” store (Walmart, Costco, etc.), an entity some officials believed could lead to sprawl and marginalize small retailers already struggling to make a living.
But some local merchants and officials have been lobbying for the presence of a retail anchor store in Middlebury, which they argue could keep more shoppers in Addison County instead of seeing them travel to big stores in Rutland, Burlington and Ticonderoga, N.Y.
Nuovo said he endorsed eliminating the town plan’s reference to a cap as a way to promote discussion of a possible anchor store sited in downtown Middlebury. The town and Middlebury College are currently working together in devising a so-called “Economic Development Initiative,” or EDI, on land the two entities own jointly behind the Ilsley Public Library.
The town could still choose to have a retail store cap in its soon-to-be-revised zoning ordinances, according to Nuovo. In the meantime, he’d like to see townspeople debate what they might be willing to support for a large retailer downtown.
“We haven’t rescinded anything,” Nuovo said. “What we have done is give ourselves some talking space.”
The selectboard voted 4-1 — with Selectwoman Susan Shashok opposed and two other members absent — in favor of removing the cap language from the plan.
“Middlebury has taken a clear position on the maximum size of retail stores in our zoning bylaws. It is important that our town plan restates and supports those bylaws,” she said.
“Personally, I feel that 50,000 square feet is more than enough space to serve the needs of our community,” she added. “But the zoning bylaws will be up for revision soon and that is the proper time to either change or reconfirm the town’s position on this issue.”
The planning commission will now take a close look at the selectboard’s proposed revisions to the town plan and offer its own reactions later this month. If there are no further substantive changes to the plan, it could be adopted by the selectboard as soon as Nov. 13.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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