Major housing development pitched for Cornwall

CORNWALL — The Cornwall Development Review Board on March 1 will take its first look at a proposed 21-unit subdivision slated for a portion of a 167-acre parcel located directly northeast of the intersection of Route 74 and North Bingham Street.
Cornwall residents Churchill Franklin and Matt Bonner are spearheading the so-called “West Cornwall Hamlet,” which shapes up to be one of the largest the DRB has ever fielded.
The business partners have submitted their plan under the name Beaver Brook Properties LLC. They bought the land — which spans the West Cornwall and Low Density Residential zoning districts — from the Bingham Estate on May 26, 2017.
“The goal of the West Cornwall project is to create new residential options and amenities which benefit the immediate community, the wider town, and the existing environment and landscape,” reads an overview contained in a 20-page project narrative the applicants filed with the town earlier this year.
The narrative includes photos of the property and a conceptual drawing of the layout of the four categories of dwellings to be offered to future customers: Village homes, carriage houses, commons cottages and woodland view homes. Plans also call for restoration of a pre-existing farmhouse (adjacent to Route 74) and Greek Revival church.
Other featured amenities include a public garden and commons, a pedestrian trail, and more than 100 acres of perpetually conserved property. The sketch also depicts a network of roads lined with trees serving the development.
“In keeping with a traditional development pattern, the proposal enhances and strengthens the population center’s physical form through a number of design principles,” the narrative states. “Using the existing church building as a centerpiece and focal point, newly introduced works of architecture and open space will frame its massing and emphasize its significance.”
Cornwall officials and residents could have questions for the applicants at the March 1 DRB meeting, technically a sketch plan review. The current narrative offers no details on the size, appearance and pricing of the proposed homes, nor how they would receive water and septic service.
Franklin was unavailable for comment as the Addison Independent went to press on Wednesday.
Bonner, through an email, shared a few details about the West Cornwall Hamlet, though he stressed planning is still in its infancy.
“The homes likely will vary in square footage, but generally will be consistent with existing homes in the neighborhood,” Bonner said. “It’s too early to pinpoint the number of units, as we’re actively exploring the idea of dividing the project into more than one phase. And … once the site work is complete this spring, we’ll have a better idea of the most efficient direction to proceed with shared improvements and utilities.”
The applicants said they aren’t targeting any specific demographic — “only people who would like to live in Cornwall,” according to Bonner.
Plans call for hamlet clients to choose their own builders.
While we do have experience with real estate investment, restorations, subdivisions, and commercial property, we’re not developers,” Bonner said. “We’re making an investment in West Cornwall, to create a thoughtfully planned addition to the hamlet which can grow organically, and in a way that benefits the town.”
The narrative includes examples of how the applicants believe their proposal is consistent with various provisions of Cornwall’s town plan and zoning regulations.
For example, Bonner and Franklin said the West Cornwall Hamlet:
•  Meets the town plan goals of providing a “range of housing opportunities that will meet the needs of Cornwall’s current and future residents” and will “promote and protect the long-term viability of agriculture and agricultural land.”
Plans call for 123 of the 167 acres to be conserved.
“We’ve already received preliminary approval from the Vermont Land Trust to conserve 75 percent of the entire parcel,” Bonner said. “Once dedicated open spaces and no-build areas are formalized, we anticipate that 90 percent or more of the land will remain permanently undeveloped and protected, and will preserve the various riparian areas and wildlife corridors.”
•  Offers building types that are “compatible with the architectural character of West Cornwall.”
•  Provides adequate roadway and pedestrian circulation.”
•  Conforms to the town’s Planned Unit Development (PUD) density allowance of up to four homes per acre in the Cornwall Village and West Cornwall Village districts.
•  Ensures the dwellings — rather than related parking — will “front and relate to streets” surrounding the subdivision.
Several neighbors contacted by the Independent declined to comment on the plan until it had been unfurled at the March 1 DRB meeting. Others agreed to weigh in with some general concerns.
Resident Elizabeth Karnes Keefe cited traffic, noise, health of the local watershed and septic system infrastructure as among the issues she hopes the applicants will soon address.
“We have way more questions than answers at this point,” Keefe said. “The neighbors are paying close attention and are waiting to hear what they have to say on March 1.”
West Street resident Katherine Branch said she’s concerned the West Cornwall Hamlet proposal “appears to be out of proportion to the pattern and scale of development in Cornwall, which has a rural pattern of homes set on larger lots.”
Branch is curious to learn the target clientele of the new homes. She noted the proposed development is not conveniently located to any stores or “family friendly” activities.
She also wondered if there would be ample demand for around 20 new homes in the area. She noted the 22-lot Foote Farm subdivision off Route 125 in Cornwall went through a foreclosure sale back in 2008, and plenty of those lots remain available, according to the footefarmvt.com website.
“There doesn’t seem to be a market for this type of denser development in Cornwall,” Branch said. “It seems like an enormous waste of town and volunteer resources for such a large proposal to move through the Cornwall DRB, and then have the result be that there is not a market.”
Bonner said he’s aware of the current supply/demand for housing and added the new hamlet will be marketed accordingly.
“While there is ample demand for modestly priced housing, strengthened by the presence of the college, there’s also no rush to build extensive new roads without homes on them, or to complete homes that might sit empty,” he said.
Cornwall resident Bethany Barry Menkart is concerned about the potential impact on an area of the community she referred to as “Dr. Bingham’s woods,” boasting a large forest block and “a viewshed of fields and rolling hills down to the winding Beaver Brook” that she said has “added to our sense of place in Cornwall.”
“Would ‘Beaver Brook Properties, Inc.,’ a 21-house development, with roads, and accompanying issues being built on this quiet country road fit with our town?” she asked. “Or would it be better left unspoiled and open? Can our wildlife still exist with more land fragmentation, degradation and loss of habitat? How would Beaver Brook be impacted by run-off and erosion? Do we want a suburb in Cornwall? Or to keep our town rural? These are as yet unanswered questions.”
The upcoming sketch plan review, according to Cornwall’s subdivision regulations, will provide an initial opportunity for the applicants to present their proposal and receive DRB feedback on “The need for further meetings and the advisability of entering into the preliminary and final plan” phases of the application process.
Franklin and Bonner have already acknowledged their proposal will deemed a major subdivision. If the project qualifies as a PUD — and the Beaver Brook subdivision undoubtedly will — the DRB could choose to simultaneously review the project based on Cornwall’s PUD rules.
Once the West Cornwall Hamlet is formally declared a major subdivision, Franklin and Bonner will have six months in which to submit a preliminary application to the town.
That preliminary plan will need to provide a description of proposed water supply, sewage disposal and stormwater systems; a description of potential impacts on traffic, natural resources, schools and municipal services; and an explanation of utilities — as well as roads, street lights and other infrastructure — that would be included to serve the development.
Cornwall’s subdivision and zoning regulations can be found at cornwallvt.com.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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