Opinion Time to weigh in on NexBridge
As people may have read in the Addison Independent, the Middlebury selectboard will be meeting Oct. 27 with NexBridge regarding their proposal for developing the town-owned parcel behind the Ilsley Library. This currently serves as a heavily used, primary parking area for the downtown and will see increased use once the new town offices open.
Public meetings were held earlier this year for input on a Request For Proposals to develop this parcel. To summarize, the resulting RFP has requirements that include:
• Replacement of the public parking in addition to the parking required by zoning for new uses.
• Vertical mixed use.
• Documentation on procured funding for purchase or lease.
• LEED-ND design for green buildings.
These requirements are supported by several guiding principles such as financial strength, scheduling, the site comes as is, enhancing economic, cultural and social well being of the town, human scale, landscaping, natural environment and historic context.
For the full details of the RFP you can see it on line at http://issuu.com/tscanlon145/docs/middlebury_vt_edi_rfp_final/1.
Of the four developers initially interested in this project, one remains: NexBridge. Others withdrew due to financial infeasibility given the RFP requirements. NexBridge submitted a first-draft proposal of approximately 63,000 square feet in three and four stories above two parking levels to the EDI Review Committee. It can be seen on line at http://bit.ly/1Nkm1Sg. After initial feedback, NexBridge then worked to create several different building options in rough massing and footprint concepts — not detailed designs. Some over the parking area, some reaching over the lot roadway toward the creek.
There are elements included in the plan to meet the RFP requirements at this point but there are issues to be resolved. Currently there are 63 parking spaces. To replace these (which seems to me assumes they are adequate to meet our current needs) and provide for the new uses, they need to build 217 parking spaces. The current plan only provides 126 and does not meet the RFP. There is great expense to build structured parking, and how to fund it and provide adequate parking is an unanswered question.
Indeed, while there is interest on the part of lenders and grant sources, committed funding is not in place for the whole project. NexBridge may look to the town for tax abatement, parking waivers and/or parking fees. Additionally, 2016-2017 is the proposed schedule, which is the same time frame as the railroad bridge replacements.
Understandably, this is the stage for a decision on if and what next steps should be taken. NexBridge is looking for a nod from the selectboard. I think it is time for citizens to be aware of how this has progressed since the earlier brainstorming. This represents a major change to our downtown and commitment to proceed with this plan should have community input.
Given the unresolved issues with their implications and the magnitude of this project, the selectboard should not allow this to move forward until they know they have citizen support to do so as well as help Nexbridge refine their plan if they are asked proceed. We have learned, I hope, it is better to know if your citizens agree with you before you rush to make commitments.
I urge the selectboard to have a full public review of the proposal rather than vote on Oct. 27. Is this the project we want in the downtown? I hope citizens will contact the selectboard or come to the meeting to ask for the opportunity to be heard before a large amount time and money is spent.