Ferrisburgh fast food arrives after long, slow process

FERRISBURGH — Although a string of appeals and court cases may show that not everyone in Ferrisburgh is lovin’ it, the new McDonald’s Restaurant that will complete Champlain Oil Company’s new Route 7 development should be up and running next week, said COCO President Tony Cairns on Monday.
When the doors open under the golden arches, it will finish Cairns’ and COCO’s roughly seven-year effort to build a gas station, convenience store and restaurant on the former home of the Ferrisburgh Roadhouse and Burdick’s Country Kitchen.
The chain of events that created the COCO project began with a 2007 fire that destroyed the Ferrisburgh Roadhouse. Owners Marcos and Claudia Llona first tried to rebuild, but in 2008 agreed to sell their 2.5-acre property to COCO. On May 8, 2014, they completed the deal, receiving $580,000.
On the same day, former Roadhouse owners Greg and Sue Burdick, who had operated Burdick’s Country Kitchen before selling to the Llonases, sold an adjacent 7.2 acres to COCO for $280,000 and another 17.07 acres of conservation land to the rear to the Allandra Farm for $17,000.
COCO required the additional acreage to accommodate all of its plans, which had to be amended along the way to meet town zoning and state environmental requirements.
What now stands on a 9.7-acre site about a half-mile south of Ferrisburgh’s town offices and a mile-and-a-half north of Vergennes is a 4,800-square-foot structure. That building houses a 2,600-square-foot Jiffy Mart convenience store and 2,200-square-foot, 34-seat McDonald’s with a drive-through window.
Surrounding parking handles 54 vehicles, gas and diesel fuel pumps have peaked canopies, and after some residents took the proposed development into the court system, both the Environmental and Vermont Supreme courts have agreed with the Ferrisburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment that the project does conform with town zoning and will not have an undue adverse impact on its surroundings.
Cairns said the Jiffy Mart already employs “four or five” on a full-time basis and another few part-time workers.
The property has yet to be assessed by the town of Ferrisburgh, but it should generate significant tax revenue to the town. Town officials recently said they expect the COCO project and another Route 7 development under way, a Dollar General store at the intersection of Monkton Road, to bump up the Ferrisburgh grand list.
Cairns acknowledged COCO’s Ferrisburgh project is unique in scale among the 34 such Jiffy Mart/gas station/restaurant combinations his privately held South Burlington company owns and operates in Vermont and New Hampshire. It also leases another 50 properties to private operators.
He would not estimate its overall value, but said the lot size had to be larger than COCO’s other holdings in order to accommodate zoning and necessary onsite improvements, including a septic system and a drainage pond, while the size of the project — and its court costs — drove up its price tag.
But Cairns would do it all again despite the opposition from some quarters — testimony was mixed in packed public hearings in late 2007 and 2008 when the project first was proposed. Some supported the rights of businesses that they believed conformed to zoning and cited the benefits to Ferrisburgh’s tax and employment bases, while others objected to the scale of the project and to what was then only a possibility of a McDonald’s.
“Yes, I probably would have,” Cairns said. “I tend to have the demeanor I don’t give up, especially when I think I’m right.”
Still, he wishes that those who had opposed the project had compromised, especially after repeated court setbacks.
“They just kept appealing every step of the way,” Cairns said. “I’ve never had that happen.”
Cairns said the project will be an asset to Ferrisburgh, in part because it is better looking than its surroundings immediately south of the intersection of Route 7 and Little Chicago Road, although he praised the appearance of the nearby Vermont Energy and Dock Doctors businesses.
“A lot of it is either commercial metal buildings or dilapidated,” Cairns said. “If you look at what’s surrounding us, our building is more than attractive.”
He also said COCO made every effort to make its development fit in with its surroundings, citing in particular the peaked canopies over its gas and diesel islands and “Colonial” design elements of the building.
“I think it’s going to be a great project when it is up and running finally,” he said. “That’s why I built it the way I did.”
A group called Friends of Ferrisburgh for Responsible Growth (FFRG), a primary opponent of both the COCO project and the Dollar General store further south, sees it differently.
A statement submitted to the Independent by group member Nick Patch on behalf of FFRG said that it is “abundantly clear” that only “because of the legal pressure FFRG applied to the project” were desirable changes made to the proposal.
“The first application submitted by the Champlain Oil Co. contained flat canopy roofs over the pumps, harsher lighting and a less effective storm water treatment system. Only when Mr. Cairns realized there was serious opposition to this project did he add those modifications that he deems ‘assets,’” the statement said.
The peaked roofs, however, were part of the plan that the Ferrisburgh Board of Zoning Adjustment approved in 2009. That plan was later amended after the Environmental Court remanded the first FFRG appeal back to the town. At that point, COCO revised the site plan to accommodate site improvements.
FFRG remains concerned about the project and its possible consequences, that it could trigger further “sprawl” not unlike that in Chittenden County:
“We still believe this project is out of scale for Ferrisburgh and is a catalyst for unplanned sprawl development in the Route 7 corridor. It is our hope that Ferrisburgh will adopt reasonable zoning updates that help avoid going further down the road of uncontained strip development. One doesn’t need to go very far north to see the end result.”
Despite one last delay — the cold winter — Brandon general contractor Naylor & Breen Builders, which drew praise from Cairns, is now putting the final touches on the McDonald’s.
“Winter construction is difficult,” Cairns said. “Things just don’t seem to go well in the winter.”
Cairns said it’s too early to tell for sure, but remains optimistic the project will be profitable, especially once the weather eases and the restaurant opens its doors.
“The problem we run into is these storms,” Cairns said. “When McDonald’s opens up it will give us a little better indicator.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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