Bristol business park proposal taking shape

BRISTOL — Bristol’s quest to build a business park took a major leap forward Monday when backers of such a park unveiled their prototype to be located on a Stoney Hill parcel behind the new fire station.
For many this vision to put a business park in Bristol and bring scores of permanent jobs to town began when the town purchased the 30 acres on Stoney Hill for $1 in 1999.
“The town is very excited about the business park moving forward,” said Town Administrator Therese Kirby. “The town was really excited to partner with Stoney Hill Properties and Green Mountain Engineering and Cushman Design Group to work on the master planning study. We’re very pleased with the outcome.”
After the prototype was introduced at Monday’s selectboard meeting and with the master planning study in hand, the project can move from an envisioning phase to an active search for businesses looking for a home in Bristol.
Community leaders behind the project have said that the new development can offer good jobs, an improved tax base, a greener lifestyle that encourages walking or biking to work, more customers for downtown businesses, and a way to make local resources like farms and forests become more sustainable and pay off in more value-added products.
They also believe it will help alter a pattern repeated all too frequently, whereby start-up businesses incubate in Bristol, grow to become more and more successful — and then leave, because Bristol lacks commercial buildings large enough to handle their expansion. Examples of this pattern include Autumn Harp, Aqua Vitae Kombucha, Vermont Coffee Company and Renewable NRG Systems.
As currently envisioned, the business park, to be sited on 8.61 of the town’s 30-acre Stoney Hill property, is expected to bring in 200 jobs.
The project results from a public/private partnership between the town of Bristol and developer Kevin Harper of Bristol Works! and Stoney Hill Properties. David Blittersdorf of AllEarth Renewables and founder of Renewable NRG Systems is partnering with Harper on the business park project.
Having a developer on board was essential to the town’s winning a state planning grant. And the study itself, Kirby emphasized was essentially free to the town because the state’s $25,000 matching grant was met by $7,000 from Stoney Hill.
“It’s just a great partnership,” said Selectboard Chairwoman Michelle Perlee. “We have the property, and Kevin has the background and the experience to do the business park.”
The study committee itself brought together a broad range of stakeholders: Harper, Kirby, Bristol Zoning Administrator Eric Forand, selectboard member Peeker Heffernan, planning commission members Sue Kavanagh and John Elder, and Addison County Regional Planning Commission executive director Adam Lougee.
The town and Harper’s Stoney Hill Properties will jointly file for Act 250 permits. And Bristol and Stoney Hill have contracted that Harper will buy the property once the building of the water main extension to Lovers Lane makes the property developable — or Harper can buy the property at a lower price, within two years if the extension is not built.
Meanwhile, the town has had considerable input on what the business park will look like and what kinds of jobs, businesses and benefits it will bring to Bristol.
Kirby said this kind of project “needs that private/public partnership because the selectboard and the town of Bristol are not in the market to become developers. We’re not property developers. So this works out really well for us: if the town can help sponsor a grant and have input into the development process it benefits both parties.” 
At the selectboard meeting, Harper stressed that the initial design — while essential — should be thought of as a prototype for reaching out to potential businesses, not a blueprint for immediate construction.
Kirby referred to the design as a sales and marketing tool that shows prospective businesses “what we’re envisioning, what we’ve designed” as Harper begins his search for the businesses that best fit the business park and the community.
“We’re not going to just push up buildings and hope that we got it right,” said Harper. “If we put up a 10,000-square-foot rectangle, they’re going to want an L-shaped 8,000 or 15,000. We can’t just wing it, push them up and hope they will come.”
At the same time, said Harper, the master planning study and the business park prototype are essential to beginning the permitting process and laying the necessary groundwork before businesses sign on.
“Unless you plan for this stuff, it’s not going to just happen,” said Harper. “Entrepreneurs are running businesses. They don’t have time to do Act 250 permits and planning grants. Growing entrepreneurial companies need a space and they needed it yesterday. That’s the only way it is. So if we can give them an opportunity by pre-approving this site for a variety of shapes and sizes and uses of buildings then we can build the building for them. We’ve taken all that work out of the  mix. But we’re not going to put anything up until somebody says, ‘Hey, I need X, Y, or Z.’”
Both the master planning study and Harper expect permitting to begin by late 2016, businesses to be identified this winter, and construction to begin by summer 2017. Harper said he will use the same design/build/engineering team he used on the new fire station, Cushman Design Group, Naylor and Breen Builders, and Green Mountain Engineering.
The planning group envisioned a campus-like business park that would offer several buildings of different sizes, suitable for a range of uses, from light industrial/manufacturing to professional office space. They also wanted a business park that was close enough for employees in Bristol neighborhoods to be able to walk or bike to work and that would provide easy access to downtown for lunch or shopping — thus the Stoney Hill acreage fit the bill.
“These people can walk out of their office or their production job, walk across the street on a sidewalk, go watch their kids play softball and come back to work an hour later” said Harper, citing the integration between business park and community the study group envisioned.
Given that the site is perched atop a steeply wooded hillside with the New Haven River snaking below on the east, it was also important to preserve as much as possible of the natural beauty of the setting and make it inviting to employees, prospective employers, community members and visitors.
The prototype depicts four buildings along a gently curving road that would altogether offer close to 60,000 square feet. The smallest of the buildings is suggested at 9,450 square feet and the largest at 24,200. Two medium-sized buildings are suggested at 12,650 and 13,390 square feet. The three largest buildings are shown accompanied by loading docks.
Access to the business park would be from West Street on an extension of the same road that now serves the fire station. The road would be large enough for regular and emergency vehicles and would end in a circle towards the south end of the property that would allow for a smooth traffic flow.
Near the West Street entrance, closest to the nearby housing, would be a residential area. The current design calls for eight two-bedroom row houses.
Parking — a proposed 256 spaces — is dispersed around the buildings and along the access road so as to maximize green space and keep the feel of walkability and the campus-like atmosphere. The proposed design makes room for a hoped-for ACTR bus stop to link employees to home and downtown.
To capitalize on the beauty of the site itself, the prototype shows a trail running the perimeter providing views to the river on the east and the Green Mountains to the south. The trail would be open to community members and employees.
Total costs — including construction, architecture, infrastructure, engineering and permitting — are estimated at close to $14 million.
Kirby emphasized that for the town, development of the project will end up as money in the bank. Once the town sells its 8.61 acres to Stoney Hill Properties, its 1999 $1 purchase will net $35,000 per acre.
Said Perlee, “We all feel very positive about the plan and hope that it will continue to move forward on a positive note and that Kevin Harper will have plenty of interest from prospective businesses. As you can imagine the selectboard is hoping for a long and lucrative business park, which will benefit the town for years to come.”
Residents who want to learn more about the business park will be able to attend a public information session at an upcoming selectboard meeting. Kirby expects it will be held within the next 60 days.
Learn more about what kinds of businesses are being sought for this business park by clicking here.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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