Blue Spruce Motel owner plans to rebuild

MIDDLEBURY — The owner of Blue Spruce Motel property at 2428 Route 7 South in Middlebury said workers will soon begin clearing the site of fire-scorched debris, setting the stage for a potential construction of a new lodging establishment.
Sam Sharma during a Monday phone interview said he’s inquired with the Middlebury planning office about the logistics of erecting a new motel in place of the Blue Spruce, which was destroyed by a fire back on July 12, 2017.
Sharma, whose family also owns the Pierre Motel in Barre, said he’s hoping to build a new, two-story motel. But he added he’d stick with a one-story structure if Middlebury’s zoning rules won’t allow for a taller version. Either version would keep with roughly the same 23 rooms that were part of the original Blue Spruce Motel, he said.
Insurance reimbursement, along with local zoning rules, will be key in determining what kind of motel re-build will be pitched, according to Sharma.
The Blue Spruce property was most recently assessed at $815,600 by the town of Middlebury. That figure also took into account a separate home on the parcel.
“I’m hoping it will be a happy ending,” Sharma said of the fire aftermath.
Middlebury fire officials cited an electrical mishap as the likely cause of the Blue Spruce blaze that fortunately claimed no victims. The motel was fully rented the day of the fire, but all occupants safely exited the motel either before — or shortly after — the fire call came in at around 7 a.m.
The blaze originated in the center of the motel, above the office. Since the building had a common attic, there was no physical “fire stop” to prevent the blaze from spreading and rapidly enveloping the entire structure.
On-site remnants of the motel have provided passersby on Route 7 with constant reminders of the fire. Sharma said he hopes to begin cleanup next month and begin construction later this year.
“I know Middlebury needs another motel,” said Sharma, who said any rebuild would retain the “Blue Spruce” name.  
Middlebury Town Planner Jennifer Murray noted the Blue Spruce property is in the community’s Agricultural-Rural District. The motel was a nonconforming use in that district.
Section 845 of Middlebury’s zoning laws states that “if a nonconforming use or structure is damaged by fire, explosion, or other catastrophe, and no government investigation determines that the damage resulted from the owner’s intentional conduct or gross negligence, the use may be restored or the structure rebuilt,” subject to conditions that include:
•  The owner the owner shall obtain a zoning permit.
•Any restoration or rebuilding that results in a modification of exterior features must receive a conditional use approval and get an OK from Middlebury’s Design Advisory Committee.
•  Any noncomplying on-site parking amenities “shall not be increased beyond what existed prior to the catastrophe.”
•  Restoration or reconstruction must be completed within one year after resolution of insurance or legal disputes.
Murray said any motel rebuild proposal for the site will be put before the Middlebury Development Review Board, as opposed to it being an administrative action.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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