City denies permit for new Boys & Girls Club home

VERGENNES — A Monday decision by the Vergennes Development Review Board means the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes’ longtime search for a new home will continue.
At its Monday meeting, the DRB unanimously denied a joint permit application by the Boys & Girls Club and homeowners Maurice and Jane Hebert to convert a house at 75 Main St. into club headquarters. 
The Heberts’ property, which the club sought to purchase, is in the Vergennes Residential/Limited Business District. Permitted uses in that zoning district include “Community Center,” but only with conditional use approval. The club applied as a community center.
The DRB’s decision cited lack of parking as the main issue, and also said the club proposal to light parking areas and clubhouse entrances did not meet zoning standards intended to limit glare.
According to the decision, the DRB “finds that the number of off-street parking spaces required for the proposal per the regulations is 12 spaces,” and, “The site plan reflects a total of seven parking spaces.”
The DRB decision said those spaces were required to meet the minimum requirement for a community center of “one off-street parking space for every four patrons,” and noted that in addition to expected daily attendance of 25 youths there are typically three staff members and two volunteers at the club.
The decision stated that the club “requested a reduction in the number of required off-street parking spaces … since the youth in attendance at the center are not old enough to drive.”
But the DRB concluded that the 12-space requirement “is not excessive for the proposed use” because there are no on-street parking spaces in the area and that “a reduction in the number of off-street parking spaces should not be granted due to pedestrian and vehicular safety.”
The decision also stated two parking places along the driveway would mean it would not be “of sufficient width to accommodate parking and two lanes for ingress and egress,” that a required handicap space was improperly placed in front of the building, and that proposed parking was within 25 feet of abutting properties.
Some neighbors had also expressed concerns about the conversion of the property, which is next to the John Graham Shelter and not far from Vergennes Union High School.
Club Executive Director Mike Reiderer was disappointed by the decision, but thanked the DRB members “for all the time and effort they spent on this” and said he saw the basis for their reasoning.
“It’s not what we were hoping for, obviously. It’s also understandable,” Reiderer said. “The primary concern seemed to really be around our parking requirements, and there is only so much you can do about that. It’s a small residential piece of property, and we understand that’s a concern.”
The club still has in hand an anonymous $100,000 pledge toward a new clubhouse, but with the DRB decision pending had not gone all-out to pursue the $350,000 in funding club officials had estimated it would take to buy and convert the property.
“We wanted to be careful,” Reiderer said. “We didn’t want to go out and have a lot of people committing a lot of dollars to a project that we weren’t sure was going to be approved or not.”
However, he remains hopeful that the contacts made during the process will pay off as the club’s search starts again.
“We were doing well, not with firm pledges secured, but with some real interest,” Reiderer said. “It’s looking like the fundraising really could come together, and that excites us going forward.”
The club’s board was meeting on Monday as the DRB was making its decision, and already had begun to look at its options, he said.
“We did talk about starting to identify other alternatives,” Reiderer said.
This summer, Reiderer said the club pays $1,700 a month in rent plus about another $4,000 a year in utilities for two storefronts on School Street, the club’s home for the past 10 years after a series of moves in its first five years.
New headquarters would allow for a kitchen, which is lacking at School Street, and would allow the club to offer meals. Reiderer has noted the number of Vergennes Union Elementary School students who are eligible for free and reduced lunches has increased to about 50 percent.
An easily supervised yard to allow for some outdoor activities would also be a major plus, and Reiderer said club officials believe a home would be more inviting to current and potential members.
Now, Reiderer said, “We’ll start kicking the proverbial tires and see what we might find.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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