Route 7 Dollar General project clears hurdle

FERRISBURGH — Environmental Court Judge Thomas Durkin on Oct. 24 ruled in favor of a group of landowners who would like to build a Dollar General store on a 9.9-acre Ferrisburgh parcel that lies at a prominent Route 7 intersection across from Vergennes.
Neighbors, joined by a number of other Ferrisburgh residents, had appealed the Ferrisburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment’s (ZBA) approval of the 10,640-square-foot store, which Group Five LLC intends to build across Route 7 from the Ferrisburgh Solar Farm and across Monkton road from Denecker Chevrolet.
There are about a dozen Dollar General shops in Vermont; the company on its web site describes itself as a “small-box discount retailer.” Group Five LLC representatives have said they expected local consumers to shop at Dollar General, which would employ a dozen and could add $600,000 to Ferrisburgh’s grand list.
Durkin granted Group Five, which includes South Burlington resident Joe Handy, its permit, including all conditions attached by the ZBA, adding only that Group Five also paint a pedestrian walkway across its 42-vehicle paved parking lot.
Neighbors, including Gary Lange and Martha Redpath on the north side of Monkton Road and Elizabeth and Peter Markowski just to the east, have not yet decided whether to appeal. But Lange said on Friday they still might do so.  
First, however, Lange said they would await the outcome of a Motion to Reconsider that Attorney James Dumont filed on Oct. 31 with the Environmental Court on their behalf.
In that motion, Dumont claims Durkin “applied the incorrect statute” in making his decision. At issue, he wrote, is a change after 2010 — when Group Five first applied — in a state law controlling conditional use permits. The change is from language that states projects “shall not adversely affect” the character of an area, to a law that instead reads projects “shall not result in an undue adverse effect.”
Dumont calls the 2010 language “an older, stricter test” that should have been applied to the Dollar General proposal rather than a “less demanding test” that was applied.
Durkin in his Oct. 24 decision did address the difference in the two laws: He wrote, “Based on case law that has defined these terms, however, we conclude they are interchangeable in application.”
On the crucial question of adverse impact on local character, Durkin ruled in favor of Group Five. He called the area “one of the most significantly developed commercial areas in the town,” and noted the town plan “identifies the area encompassing the Route 7/Monkton Road intersection as one of the areas of planned high density development.”
Durkin wrote “the proposed project — particularly with the aesthetic improvements in Applicant’s revised site plan — is aligned with the existing developments on adjoining lands. No party to these proceedings asserted that those existing developments have caused an adverse impact upon the Bylaws or the Town Plan.”
In a Friday phone call, Joe Handy said he viewed the motion to reconsider as a delay. In an earlier phone call, he said he was “very happy” with Durkin’s Oct. 24 decision.
Handy — who in 2010 said Group Five had agreed with a prospective storeowner on a 10-year lease with a 10-year renewal option — said he was skeptical about grounds for an appeal, especially because Group Five had made changes to its proposal based on requests from the ZBA.
“They have no reason for the appeal, anyway,” Handy said. “Whatever the town wanted I did, and they approved it.”
Revisions to the building from the original 2010 application included a peaked roof with standing seam metal roofing, large windows on the wall fronting Route 7, a faux barn door on the second floor facing the front, two cupolas on the roof, faux windows on the north and south sides, and the addition of masonry brick to the lower half of exterior walls.
Durkin wrote that at the Environmental Court trial Handy testified Group Five “incorporated these design revisions … so that it would look similar to other commercial barn structures in the area. The proposed barn is similar in appearance to commercial barn structures on nearby properties.”
The building will not have a typical bright Dollar General sign (described by Durkin as “out of place in most Vermont settings, including some commercial areas”), and Group Five also agreed to move the site entrance further from Route 7 and install a sidewalk on Monkton Road.
Durkin also ruled that traffic impact would be minimal: “The project will not generate so much traffic as to significantly change the delays, queue lengths, and level of service for all turning directions of the Route 7/Monkton Road intersection.”
Durkin also noted the project has all needed state septic and stormwater permits, and that stormwater provisions would improve existing runoff  “by as much as fifty percent, according to credible estimates presented by Applicant’s engineer.”
Barring an appeal to Vermont Supreme Court or an acceptance of the motion to reconsider, Handy, one of five landowners in Group Five, said construction would begin, “Probably in the springtime. It depends on the weather.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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