Editorial: Exciting news, big possibilities for former Greg’s

That the former site of Greg’s Grocery in Middlebury may soon see another grocery in that location is exciting news for many local patrons of the former grocery. It long had served the northern end of town and the hundreds of workers who routinely use Exchange Street en route to their jobs in what is Middlebury’s industrial and commercial park.
As commercial neighbors (being located two blocks away in the Marble Works Business District, we’re as eager as most to see a new grocery revived in that location.
But the location is not without its challenges. It sits at the intersection of Exchange and Elm streets, one of the busier intersections in town because it funnels a couple of miles of commercial and industrial businesses into an off-kilter, four-way intersection that is complicated by having the former grocery store building butt-up to that corner with barely a foot or two to spare. The building obscures visibility, makes parking in front of the building dangerous and in the public right of way, and increases traffic congestion that is already problematic during peak times.
In an ideal world, the building would have been moved back slightly on the lot to create enough space for a round-about at that intersection, along with a pedestrian/bicycle corridor along the Exchange Street side. Such a move would open up new possibilities to re-imagine that site in far more productive and user-friendly ways. Reality suggests that such additional costs might have made selling the property much more difficult, and far less profitable to the buyer in the short-term.
Nonetheless, at the Development Review Board’s hearing next Monday (see story by clicking here), while we fully support a revived market in that location, we also hope the board will take into consideration other factors the town needs to address with this property, namely:
• It’s easy to imagine Exchange Street as the preferred northern entrance to the town. That’s particularly true once the proposed round-about at the intersection of Exchange Street and Route 7 is completed and pedestrian and bicycle paths are built along what could become a boulevard entrance into the community. And if, a decade or two from now, Middlebury is successful in bringing new industries into town, developing some workplace housing and completing the full potential of that industrial-commercial district, Exchange Street will need to be able to handle significantly more traffic.
Members of the town’s planning boards have to take that probability of change into account, anticipate the consequences and plan today for the best possible outcome.
• Because the intersection at Elm and Exchange Streets is problematic today, and will only get worse with increased traffic, now is the time to make whatever changes are necessary. At the very least, bicycle and pedestrian use along the full length of Exchange Street should be accommodated, and if possible some solution to that intersection would serve the town well for generations to come.
• More parking spaces are needed for the property and proposed plans to expand it to 50 are promising. In the process, plans for entering and exiting the parking lot (that also includes other existing businesses in adjacent buildings) are needed, rather than the current-free-for-all.
• There is also ample room in this proposed complex to imagine a revived beverage center, and additional development on land along the railroad to the north. It is not beyond the town’s purview to engage property owners in such conversations and work with them to encourage the highest use of the land in light of the work that will be done on the grocery store site, and perhaps in conjunction with it. We understand that is beyond the scope of next Monday’s meeting, but it’s never too soon to get entrepreneurial minds thinking of new possibilities — and perhaps providing planning opportunities and efficiencies that had heretofore not been considered.
Angelo Lynn

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