Ferrisburgh trucking eyes new home

FERRISBURGH — Family-owned Ferrisburgh trucking firm J.A. DeVos and Sons Inc. is planning to move its operations from the north end of town to a 9-acre parcel on Tuppers Crossing, just off Route 7 and not far north of Vergennes.
The 35-year-old company, owned in part by former selectman John DeVos Jr., has for more than a decade been sharing space further north in Ferrisburgh on Greenbush Road with the other DeVos family business, organic dairy producer Kimball Brook Farm.
DeVos’ three sons are involved in both concerns: One son, J.D. DeVos, is primarily focused on the farm, and the other two sons help operate a trucking business that runs eight tractor-trailer units and mostly hauls petroleum products.
DeVos said the family had been looking for a new home for the trucking business before buying the 9 acres of a former farm just west of Route 7.
“My sons just want to spread their wings a little bit and have a facility they can call their own, and we can’t do that here simply because it’s a farm,” he said.
The 9-acre Tuppers Crossing lot, not far from railroad tracks, is in Ferrisburgh’s Industrial District zone, and “Freight and trucking terminal” is listed as a permitted conditional use. That designation means the use is allowed if approved by the Ferrisburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment, which may attach conditions after a public process.
Zoning officials typically consider the impact of conditional use proposals on a neighborhood when evaluating them, and conditions they impose often include landscaping and other requirements to soften a project’s impact.
The first concrete step of the DeVos family plans came in July, when heavy equipment began working the land to lay groundwork for what DeVos said would be roughly an 80-foot-by-100-foot building. But he and his wife, Sue DeVos, said that work halted because of a hiccup in the state permitting process.
Sue DeVos said the misunderstanding arose when one piece of paperwork listed the larger piece of property from which the 9 acres was subdivided. Commercial developments on fewer than 10 acres typically do not require Act 250 permits unless they are being subdivided as part of the application, but she and John DeVos said officials essentially considered the land to be part of a larger parcel and insisted on an Act 250 permit.
“We bought the 9 acres of property with the understanding it would not need Act 250, and it’s a beautiful piece of property for what we want it to be, and there was a little glitch in the system,” Sue DeVos said.
John DeVos said the business has now hired an environmental lawyer and a Williston consulting and engineering firm to resolve the misunderstanding as well as handle obtaining the local and state permits that are required.
“Our company bought a 9-acre lot,” DeVos said. “And somebody made a mistake. It certainly wasn’t on our part. The state seems to think we bought the 45 acres and then subdivided, which we never did.”
One neighbor between the 9-acre parcel and Route 7, Ken Villeneuve, believes what has been done so far should have required a permit. Villeneuve also contends the proposal for the recently subdivided lot would not fit in the area, and the intersection of Tuppers Crossing and Route 7 is not suitable for truck traffic.
“We assumed a house was going to be built there, because on this whole street there is nothing except housing,” Villeneuve said. “We didn’t think something so out of character would ever be plopped in the middle of our road.”
Villeneuve said the significant grading and digging done so far on the lot should have been permitted. He said Ferrisburgh Zoning Administrator Ken Wheeling at one point told him it did in fact require a permit. Villeneuve also said Wheeling told him that Wheeling had advised real estate broker Carl Cole, who brokered the deal for the land, that the DeVos business needed a permit for the site work.
“He told Carl Cole what they were doing was not a little landscaping,” Villeneuve said. “And he told me they need a permit, that that’s not landscaping.”
Wheeling this week acknowledged he had that conversation with Cole last month, but said he had changed his mind about whether a permit was required.
“I don’t think he has created a parking space yet. I’m treating it as landscaping until he has permanent parking spaces,” Wheeling said. “So far he’s just landscaping. If he goes much further I’m asking him to fess up and get a real permit.”
DeVos said the work on the land was intended to evaluate the lot’s subsurface to help plan the potential construction project, including by learning how much fill would be needed. He added that he had spoken to a member of the Ferrisburgh Board of Zoning Adjustment before proceeding. 
“I don’t think we did anything that was illegal,” DeVos said. “It was my understanding we could move dirt around, so that was what we were doing.”
Villeneuve said he is also concerned because the trucking company also hauls petroleum products and hazardous waste, thus potentially threatening local water sources and the nearby Little Otter Creek.
“There’s wells drilled in the land all around that,” he said.
But DeVos said plans call for empty trucks to be parked on the parcel, and minor service work to them there, as is the case now on the family organic farm on Greenbush Road.
“They go out empty, and they come back empty. It’s a housing facility where we can change a tire, maybe change the oil. That’s all we’re going there at all, wash trucks,” DeVos said.
He acknowledged there will be some truck traffic.
“Some will leave at 1 o’clock in the morning. Some will leave at 7 o’clock in the morning. It all depends on their schedule,” DeVos said. “But it will be absolutely no different than what we’re already doing.”
He also said the final design would minimize the visual impact.
“We don’t have a spec design yet, but it will be attractive. It will have a little character to it,” DeVos said. “It will blend in. It will be a New England-type building.”
Cole also said the zoning board has a history of attaching design conditions to projects it does approve, including the recent Champlain Oil Co. and Dollar General developments nearby on Route 7.
“I’m sure part of any approval will include some landscaping,” Cole said.
Villeneuve remains skeptical. He hired Bristol attorney James Dumont to look into the project and said the work on the land only stopped on July 25 after Dumont did so.
“He (Dumont) called the zoning administrator and it immediately stopped,” Villeneuve said. “I assume they knew they were doing something they probably shouldn’t be doing.”
DeVos tells a different story — Act 250 officials told him to halt the work until the acreage question is resolved.
“They did make me stop doing what I was doing there until this got cleared up,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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