More apartments eyed for island

VERGENNES — The owner of Grist Mill Island in the Vergennes falls is proposing to add five apartments to the two buildings on the island, for a total of nine overlooking Otter Creek.  
Three of the apartments would replace office space in the Grist Mill itself and two would be carved out of a now empty horse barn.
The June proposal followed the Vergennes Development Review Board’s May rejection of a 10-apartment plan submitted by Mahaiwe LLC, of which major city property owner and Ferrisburgh resident David Shlansky is listed as the manager.
Parking was one of two reasons for the rejection. The DRB on May 2 said no to Mahaiwe’s request that it “consider reducing the number of required off-street parking spaces” on the island that 10 units would require. The island offers a dozen parking spaces.
City Manager and Zoning Administrator Mel Hawley on Monday confirmed the 12 parking spaces for the nine units requested in the new application do meet the zoning standard for the district.
The DRB also said in its denial that full fencing should be installed on the island perimeter, which its decision noted at some points features “a vertical drop of 37 feet” into the rocks and water.
The new application, signed by Shlansky, cites the “prior rejected application” and calls fencing “the only foreseeable issue.”
According to Mahaiwe’s new application, the ownership is willing to install metal fencing to replace existing post-and-chain fencing. The DRB will hold a hearing on the new application on Aug. 1 at 7 p.m. in Vergennes City Hall.
Shlansky now has offices in the two top floors of the Grist Mill, with four apartments on its lower levels. Although an architect is still working on final plans, he foresees a large one-bedroom apartment on the top level, which has a knee wall and thus less headroom than the level directly below, and probably one two-bedroom unit and another one-bedroom apartment on what is now the first level of his office space.
Shlansky said he would either move his local office to 48 Green St., another of the several Vergennes properties he owns, or to Burlington, where he has law and real estate offices. He also has law offices in Boston, New York and Wilmington, Del.
He envisions two one-bedroom apartments in the former horse barn, to the left of the driveway that the Grist Mill Island shares with the city-owned Pump House Island, to the right of Grist Mill Island in the falls.
Those apartments will be closest to Otter Creek, Shlansky said.  
“Those people will have stellar views of the water. I don’t know if you could build a building near the water like that today,” he said.
One-bedroom apartments might end up renting for $1,100 a month or a little more, and two-bedroom units for $1,350 or possibly slightly higher, Shlansky said.
If the DRB awards a permit in August or September, Shlansky believes he could obtain a Vermont Department of Labor and Industry Permit and make final project financing in about another month’s time.
Workers could start on the project, assuming all goes well, sometime between early November and mid-December, he said.
“The idea would be to get to work during the winter season,” he said, adding that completion could come during “spring, in the loosest sense.”
News on another Shlansky project overlooking the falls is not so upbeat.
The nearby project spans both sides of Canal Street at the intersection of West Main Street, right at the west end of the falls, on a 1.5-acre lot that is literally a stone’s throw from Grist Mill Island.
Shlansky has permits and a state tax credit to install 10 residential units and commercial space in the Shade Roller Mill, on the river, and its Annex, across Canal Street. But what he said in 2013 he hoped would be a $3 million project came in at $4.2 million once official estimates arrived.
Shlansky said that cost is just not supported by the projected income on a property he bought in 2004 from Simmonds Precision for $150,000.
“We have a problem where the local rents, as far as we can model them, don’t work with the cost of the rehab of the building,” he said. “It’s basically every way we try to model it, it’s underwater.”
Shlansky said he would accept simply not taking a loss.
“Even if it doesn’t make any money, I’d be happy to do it. Frankly, if someone else could do it, I’d be happy to let them take a crack at it,” he said. “Even breaking even it would be good for the town. I just can’t see how to get there.”
Shlansky said maybe at some point in the future the numbers might add up.
“I still haven’t given up on it,” he said. “But I’m feeling pretty low about it.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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