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Efforts to create Bristol business park proceed

BRISTOL — As work concludes on the extension of the town waterline to Lovers Lane and repair and replacement of the water system along West Street, progress continues toward the new Bristol business park — with some unexpected wrinkles still to be worked out.
Stoney Hill Properties developer Kevin Harper reported that two area businesses have come to him and expressed an interest in building on what is still the town’s 8.6 acres behind the fire station. He said the two area businesses are ones that have already outgrown their current real estate. He also said the two businesses are also considering other locations. Harper declined to give further details, saying that negotiations are still ongoing.
As area voters might recall, the proposed business park and the waterline repair and expansion are linked. They are also part of a series of agreements between the town and Harper (and other entities) that have taken place since 2015. To briefly recap:
•  In 1999, Bristol bought 30 acres of land on Stoney Hill for $1 from the state. The town was unable to develop its new property, however, because it was landlocked behind property along West Street owned by the Nelson family.
•  In early 2015, after various plans for a new fire station had stalled out, BristolWorks developer Kevin Harper purchased land along West Street belonging to the Nelson family. Harper and the town reached an agreement that he would oversee construction of the fire station and then sell the land and new fire station to the town. The deal also suddenly made it possible for the town to gain access to its 30 acres, which lay directly behind the site of the new firehouse. In July 2015, Bristol voters approved a $3.19 million bond to build the new fire station. The construction of the station, and its sale to the town, was completed in the summer of 2016.
•  Around the same time as it negotiated the fire station, the town began investigating building a business park on its Stoney Hill property, with Harper as developer. On July 28, 2015, the town and Harper signed a purchase and sale agreement for Harper to purchase 10 acres on the flat section of the town’s property. The deal gave the town three years to make the property developable. To do so, the town agreed to provide town water to the acreage and to remove the land from the Woodland Apartment’s well-head protection area. This latter would be accomplished by extending town water to Lovers Lane, including Woodland Apartments.
•  The town’s purchase and sale agreement for the business park land stipulates that the town has three years to meet these requirements. If it meets its deadline July 28, 2018, the land costs $35,000 per acre. If it doesn’t, the land costs $25,000 per acre. The contract also makes provision for the deadline to be extended, within certain conditions.
“So the town’s got to get that done in order for me to be able to buy this,” Harper explained last week.
•  In May 2016, Bristol residents OK’d a $1.1 million bond to replace a section of 100-year-old-plus waterline along West Street, make other repairs, and extend town water to Lovers Lane.
Fast forward to now and the waterline extension and repairs are within hours of being finished as this article goes to press, according to Bristol Town Administrator Valerie Capels. But removal of the well head protection area hit a snag last February with the death of Woodland Apartments owner Dennis Bowen. Bowen had said he would pay the cost of connecting his property to town water.
The property is now in probate, Selectman Peter Coffey said. Coffey is the selectman most familiar with the status of the Woodland Apartments connection negotiations, by virtue of having acted as interim town administrator after Therese Kirby’s departure.
Earlier in the fall, Susan Bowen had contacted the town administrator Therese Kirby to say that the heirs did not have the money to connect the apartments to town water. Kirby brought Bowen’s concern to the selectboard at its Sept. 11 meeting. And at that meeting, the selectboard voted yes to Bowens’ request that the town loan the new owners the money to connect to town water. The selectboard determined that the money would be taken from the town’s Revolving Loan Fund.
Meeting minutes show that at the time the selectboard believed that the connection would cost around $29,000. Coffey last week said that as the Bowen’s engineering firm have studied the matter further, it’s believed that the cost will be “considerably higher.” Harper said he had heard an estimated cost of at least $75,000.
A call to East Engineering to verify a number had not been returned as this article went to press.
Coffey said that the selectboard is waiting for probate to conclude so the town can finalize an agreement. It’s also waiting to hear what the new estimated cost of connecting the Woodland Apartments will be. Coffey then reiterated how important to the town it is to be able to sell the property, and said he hopes the work can be done once the ground thaws next spring.
In the meantime, Harper said he and the town have begun one part of Act 250 work on the business park property: the archeological review. The archeologists have found stone fragments, he said, and are digging more pits and continuing to investigate the area. Harper said Stoney Hill is covering the costs of this part of the Act 250 permitting process.
In the meantime, Harper is working to develop his other patch adjacent to the business park site and fire station — the close to five acres Stoney Hill owns just east of the fire station and north of the proposed business park. He said he and business partner David Blittersdorf  are looking to build six to eight small residences on the site. They are working with an architect and considering a variety of approaches. Indeed, he said he just looked at a Burlington development featuring Vermod  Homes prefabricated houses.
The idea he said is to build smaller residences, anywhere from 500 to 1,300 square feet. All would be net zero.
“There is a real demand for smart housing options inside the core village area,” Harper said.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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