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Blue Spruce motel owner still working on rebuild plan

MIDDLEBURY — The owner of the Blue Spruce Motel property on Route 7 south of Middlebury village still hopes to build a new motel on the scorched premises that burned down one year ago.
The Independent reported in May that owner Sam Sharma planned to finalize insurance claims and begin rebuilding of a new motel as soon as possible. But the charred property has remained untouched since that time, often drawing the attention of passersby.
Sharma last week said challenges to finalizing details of post-fire insurance reimbursement have prolonged the process. He added that a close business associate also recently fell ill and was unable to continue working, and that he would need to find a new partner before he is able to seriously focus on reconstruction.
“Hopefully within another month or two we can finalize these plans,” Sharma said.
The Blue Spruce Motel burned down on the morning of July 12, 2017, after an electrical fire started in the building’s attic and quickly spread to the rest of the motel. The building’s “common attic” lacked a firestop, and flames spread quickly and destructively; fortunately, no injuries were recorded as a result of the blaze.
The town of Middlebury’s most recent assessment valued the Blue Spruce property, including a separate home on the site, at $815,600.
Middlebury Town Planner Jennifer Murray said that the planning and zoning office has no immediate plans to make changes to the property. The premises falls under the category of a “non-conforming” property in the town’s agricultural-rural district.
Section 845 of Middlebury’s zoning law 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,” providing that:
•  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 non-complying 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.
Per the last rule, Sharma will have one year to complete any plan for reconstruction that is approved by the Middlebury Development Review Board after insurance reimbursement is finalized.
Sharma, whose family also owns the Pierre Motel in Barre, said he thinks that the Middlebury area needs another motel.
“I would like to live there again myself,” he said of the Blue Spruce location. “Hopefully, if everything goes smoothly, I would like to have a motel back there soon.”

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