Development board to start review of Middlebury town office design

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB) on Sept. 22 will begin its evaluation of the community’s new town office and recreation facility proposals, a review that could span several weeks as the panel takes testimony on plans that have already generated considerable debate and controversy in Addison County’s shire town.
And it looks like the DRB could undertake its review a little shorthanded. The Addison Independent has confirmed that two of the DRB’s current seven members — Chairman Ted Davis and Vice Chairman Skip Brush — have elected to recuse themselves from participating in review of the town office and recreation facility applications because of their stated opposition to the plans after they were first announced.
“After our brief discussion concerning the upcoming public hearings, I’ve decided to recuse myself,” Davis wrote in a Sept. 8 e-mail to Ted Dunakin, Middlebury’s director of planning and zoning. “I truly believe I can be objective, fair and impartial hearing these cases; however, it is in the public’s best interest that I take this action. Maintaining public confidence in the integrity of its government is of the upmost importance to me.”
Davis, as a recent candidate for the Middlebury selectboard, had stated his opposition to the town offices plan for 77 Main St., questioning the proposal’s conformance with the town plan and arguing residents needed more time to weigh in.
Brush had not only opposed the new building plans, but spearheaded a successful petition effort to get a public revote on the two projects. He also offered his own vision of instead relocating the town offices to Court Street and expanding the Memorial Sports Center off Buttolph Drive.
Brush believes he, too, could have been unbiased in his consideration of the plans, but said it made sense for him to recuse himself.
“It’s the perception by other people that concerns me,” Brush said. “As a public official, I’ve got to be concerned about what people think, right or wrong.”
The remaining DRB members are Don Keeler, Ruth Whitney, Kevin Newton, Scott Foster and Rick Emilo. John MacIntyre serves as alternate.
It was on May 13 that residents gave their final OK — by an 880 to 714 margin — to a $6.5 million proposal to erect a new, 9,500-square-foot municipal building at 77 Main St. and a new, 11,400-square-foot recreation center facility on land off Creek Road owned by the UD-3 school district. Middlebury College agreed to underwrite $4.5 million of the construction costs in return for the current municipal building/gym site at 94 Main St. and another town-owned parcel at 6 Cross St. The college will also pay the estimated $1 million costs of moving its Osborne House from the 77 Main St. site to the 6 Cross St. parcel, and to clear the 94 Main St. parcel and turn it into a public park.
Bread Loaf Corp. filed applications for both projects with Middlebury’s planning office on Aug. 29.
The municipal building plan includes work offices; a lobby; two meeting spaces; public restrooms; and a town clerk’s department with vault. The building is to be clad in brick with metal roofing and would possess substantial roof and wall insulation, according to Bread Loaf. The Independent reported last week that the college has agreed to pay an additional $287,550 to make the new municipal building a “net zero” project. This will include such features as a “super-insulated” building envelope; high-performance windows; air source heat pumps; and a community solar array to offset energy consumption.
Project architect Chris Huston added that the latest plans feature a physical (unenclosed) connector between town offices and the adjacent Ilsley Library. This element of the project would depend on availability of funds, he said.
Meanwhile, the recreation facility is to be located on a parcel off Creek Road that was once home to the Middlebury American Legion headquarters. The facility is to include a 7,000-square-foot, multi-sport gym;a lobby with seating cubbies; Middlebury Parks & Recreation Department offices; a kitchen; storage rooms; and a large multi-purpose room that can be partitioned into two spaces, while also serving as a senior center.
UD-3 voters separately endorsed a roughly 2,000-square-foot, self-contained addition onto the new center that will create four “team rooms” for UD-3 students and visiting athletes that will include changing facilities, showers, restrooms and storage.
Dunakin said both building applications will require a “changes of use” permission to fit the zoning classification of the parcels on which they are to be located. A change to “governmental use” will be required for the 77 Main St. parcel, while a change to “indoor recreation” will be required at the Creek Road parcel, according to Dunakin. Both properties allow for the use changes being sought, Dunakin noted.
It’s tough at this point to forecast how long the town office and recreation facility reviews will take, according to Dunakin.
“It depends on who shows up at the hearings and what issues are raised,” he said.
Opponents earlier this year raised a variety of concerns about the projects. Some called the plans shortsighted, hastily prepared, poorly sited and not endowed with enough parking.
Others called the project a “win-win” proposition that would net the town two new buildings at an affordable cost and keep the municipal office building centrally located downtown.
The DRB’s decisions on both applications — be they approvals or denials — will be appealable to the environmental division of the Vermont Supreme Court, according to Dunakin. The environmental division would determine whether there was enough material on the record to support the DRB’s decision. That environmental division decision would be appealable to the Vermont Supreme Court.
Municipal officials are targeting a spring groundbreaking for both new buildings.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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