Stony Hill grant opens door for industrial park in Bristol

BRISTOL — The town of Bristol has won a $25,000 federal grant that will allow the community to finally determine the development potential of a roughly 20-acre parcel of town-owned land on the western edge of the village.
The land in question is referred to as the “Stoney Hill property,” which the state of Vermont conveyed to Bristol for $1 more than two decades ago. The property has remained unused for lack of an access point and in the absence of planning funds to determine the extent to which it could be used to host light industry and businesses.
Bristol officials were ecstatic to report on Monday that the access and financial obstacles have now finally been removed.
Local entrepreneur Kevin Harper has purchased the so-called Nelson property that fronts West Street (Route 17). Harper has expressed a willingness to work with the town to provide an access to the Stoney Hill property through that Nelson land.
And state officials have confirmed Bristol’s receipt of a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) that will be used to create a development and marketing plan for a potential mixed-use light industry/business park on what is a flat, 9-acre portion of the property.
“We are very excited,” Bristol Planning Commission member John Elder said of the CDBG grant award. “This has been one of the biggest items on Bristol’s wish list for more than a quarter of a century.”
Elder and his colleagues are anxious to hear what consultants and engineers will have to say about overcoming some challenges in developing the property. For example, around half of the land is made up of a steep slope leading down to the Lathrop and Johnson lumber mills, Elder noted. There is also a protection area encompassing residences on nearby Lover’s Lane that are served by wells. That wellhead protection area figures to make it tricky to create a septic system for the businesses that would locate on the Stoney Hill property.
Local officials believe the solution might require extending municipal water service to the homes on Lover’s Lane, which could be a costly proposition that would require some buy-in by developers of the new business park.
“If you run the water line west downhill to Lover’s Lane, then wellhead protection will not be an issue,” Elder said. “But a water line is going to be expensive.”
Expensive, but potentially well worth the investment, according to promoters of economic development in Bristol.
Bristol’s industrial park off Munsill Avenue was once home to manufacturing industries like Autumn Harp, a successful natural cosmetics manufacturer. But Autumn Harp outgrew its space and relocated — along with its 200 jobs — to Chittenden County in 2009.
Things were looking bleak at the industrial park until local entrepreneur (and Autumn Harp founder) Kevin Harper and some fellow investors led a renaissance of the six-acre property that culminated in Bristol Works, a business park that includes such enterprises as Mountain Health Center, Red Clover Family Dentistry, Bristol Internal Medicine, the Marble Works Pharmacy and Bristol Bakery and Café Wholesale.
Bottom line: There are now more than 100 full-time-equivalent jobs provided through the Bristol Works campus and Harper continues to field phone calls from business owners who want to move in. But Bristol Works is full. Harper believes the space demand from budding businesses — particularly those making their mark in the processing of agricultural foods — is substantial enough to warrant a second Bristol business park on the Stoney Hill property.
“The success of Bristol Works, LLC has demonstrated the demand for additional light manufacturing and professional office space,” Harper wrote in a letter of support for Bristol’s CDBG grant application. “Now there is momentum and a clear vision from the town, backed by a voter-approved town plan that has identified this site for mixed-use development. There is clear support for a campus-style business park that is walking distance from the core downtown area, across the street from the high school and recreation park and surrounded by a vibrant, well-established residential neighborhood.”
And Harper is backing up his words with currency.
He is managing member of Stoney Hill Properties LLC, a real estate development enterprise that formed to purchase the two Nelson lots that are adjacent to the town’s Stoney Hill land. These are the lots that would give access to the new business park as well as provide a location for a new Bristol Fire Department headquarters that will be decided by local voters on July 7 (see related story).
Stoney Hill Properties also pledged a $6,250 local match to help Bristol land the $25,000 CDBG grant, written with a big assist from Adam Lougee, executive director of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission.
Those funds will specifically be used to define the infrastructure requirements and constraints, including water, wastewater, storm water, vehicle access and utilities for creation of a comprehensive plan for the new business park. Whatever entity is awarded the contract will also be expected to show how the land could be developed in accordance with Act 250 and how an ‘umbrella permit” could be obtained so that interested businesses could move forward quickly with their new facilities on the property.
“We’re thrilled,” Harper said of the grant award during a phone interview on Monday.
Elder believes development of the Stoney Hill property would help Bristol become more than just a place where businesses incubate before moving to more spacious quarters in Middlebury’s industrial park or to locations in Chittenden or Rutland counties. The Stoney Hill property is located in a commercial-residential zone that Elder said would allow for several buildings of substantial size, perhaps 25,000 square feet or larger. Business operations would take place within the buildings, thereby removing — or at least lessening — potential noise impacts for area homeowners, he said. Bristol is well known for being situated on gravel, thereby increasing the prospects for on-site septic service at Stoney Hill.
Bristol Town Administrator Therese Kirby added her voice to those pleased about the grant award.
“The town of Bristol has been working to create a business park on Stoney Hill for many years, so the selectboard is excited Bristol’s CDBG application was awarded,” she said. “Stoney Hill will be a great location for a business park and a wonderful opportunity to bring jobs to Bristol. (The selectboard) would like to thank all of the people involved with preparing the grant application, as it was not an easy task.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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