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Middlebury DRB to review plan for former Greg’s market on Oct. 23

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Development Review Board on Monday, Oct. 23, will get its first official look at local businessman Tony Neri’s plans to re-establish a community supermarket at the former Greg’s Meat Market property at 3 Elm St.
Neri confirmed back in July he had purchased the old Greg’s property — which includes the adjacent, 2,000-square-foot Pool World building at 30 MacIntyre Lane — for a sum of $380,000 from TD bank. The once thriving Greg’s Market has stood dormant since April of 2015, when Bart Litvin filed for bankruptcy protection after having owned the enterprise for six years.
During a recent interview with the Addison Independent, Neri noted a work crew continues to repair and paint the interior of the 7,000-square-foot building, which he would like to see reopened for business by the beginning of next year.
“It is so wanted and needed by people,” he said of the encouragement he has received for reviving the supermarket.
Neri has approached five Vermont supermarket companies in an effort to secure a tenant to run the reincarnated grocery store. He said a couple of those companies have balked at a lease, citing a need for a larger storefront than is currently available on the Greg’s site. Neri continues to talk to two companies in hopes of striking a deal.
If he can’t hammer out a lease with a third party, Neri remains committed to operating the store with his own employees. Neri runs several local businesses, including Dog Team Catering, the A&W Restaurant and a variety of rental properties.
Neri said this initial Oct. 23 hearing will give him a sense of the DRB’s expectations for project and an inkling of whether he will be able to financially and logistically meet those expectations within the context of his broader vision for the site.
“Can it in fact be a market again, or will it have to be something else?” said Neri. “I will know that when I leave that room on Oct. 23. If I get a lot of pressure and I get people from the town there who don’t want it to happen, I need to know it.
“If anyone is interested in coming to the meeting and supporting the project, I would really appreciate it,” he added.
The meeting is slated for 7 p.m. in the large conference room of the Middlebury municipal building at 77 Main St.
His current plan calls for demolishing or relocating the Pool World building, erected back in 1912. Officials with the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation have agreed with Neri’s request that the structure be delisted from the state’s Register of Historic Places.
The structure is in “pretty rugged” shape, Neri has said. It was once much larger and was mainly used for feed and grain storage, according to state records.
Displacing or razing the longtime headquarters of Pool World — a business Neri would like to continue to accommodate as an on-site tenant or in another one of his rental properties — is key to his desire to consolidate and expand parking on the roughly 1-acre parcel. There were 27 spaces assigned to the Greg’s building, according to Neri, who wants to create a larger, 50-space parking lot on the parcel. Neri also wants to install a new main entrance to Greg’s on the western side of the building (fronting the parking lot).
His plan calls for retaining the handful of spaces in front of the Elm Street entrance. Those spots would be reserved for people with disabilities. Those spaces have drawn some criticism through the years for their proximity to the intersection of Elm and Exchange streets. But Neri said his research indicates no significant accidents at Greg’s as a result of cars backing out of those Elm Street spots.
“It is important to me and the community to preserve those spaces for the handicapped,” Neri said.
Neri also believes it will be critical for the new supermarket to adopt the same level of customer service that made Greg’s such a success under former owner Greg Wry. With that in mind, Neri wants the new operation to offer home deliveries of groceries; good-quality prepared foods, particularly for seniors; and a another amenity that has been catching on in stores on the West Coast: availability of a cocktail while you shop.
“My people have some great ideas,” Neri said of his workers. “They are young and ambitious.”
Middlebury Town Planner Jennifer Murray is among those looking forward to hearing more about Neri’s plans. She said the DRB will review the application as a conditional use proposal for resumption of what was a discontinued use (supermarket operation).
“This is a sketch plan review, so there would be at least one more hearing required before final approval,” Murray explained.
“Sketch plan review will allow the DRB to comment on the site plan and give the applicant some basic direction about what will be needed to get the project approved,” she added. “Hopefully this input will help Tony to attract an investor that can participate in the development of the final site design.”
Officials confirmed Neri faces a tough road in his quest to incorporate the handful of Elm Street parking spots into his new project.
“I would not be inclined to re-approve the front parking spaces for a variety reasons, including safety, aesthetics and the fact that they partially use the public right-of-way,” Murray said. “However, Tony will be have an opportunity to discuss parking with the DRB on Monday night, and the decision of whether or not to allow parking in front of the store will ultimately belong to the DRB and — because these spaces would use the public right-of-way — the selectboard.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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