Town orders cleanup of Blue Spruce site

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury town officials have filed a formal complaint against the owners of the Blue Spruce Motel at 2428 Route 7 South, a move selectboard members hope will prompt the property owners to finally clear the burned remnants of the building that was destroyed by a blaze 14 months ago.
The selectboard recently voted unanimously to allow Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay to lodge the complaint with Middlebury’s Development Review Board, relating to what they say has been a lack of cleanup effort following the July 12, 2017, electrical fire. The blaze originated in the building’s attic and quickly spread to the rest of the motel. The building’s “common attic” lacked a fire stop, according to public safety officials. Fortunately, no injuries were recorded as a result of the blaze.
Charred debris at the site provides passersby with a constant reminder of the fire. Principal owner Sam Sharma has said he plans to clear the site and build a new motel. But that plan has encountered a variety of setbacks, Sharma said on Tuesday. Among them, according to Sharma: Two of his three business partners have lost interest in the property, and his insurance carrier won’t release any settlement money until the site is cleared. The cost of clearing the site is about $25,000, according to Sharma, who said he doesn’t have the necessary funds.
“I will try my best,” Sharma said of his efforts to clean and redevelop the motel site.
But Middlebury officials have grown weary of Sharma’s past assurances and the lack (thus far) of follow-through. Under Middlebury’s zoning and subdivision regulations, the selectboard can authorize the town manager to file a complaint with the DRB over a “lack of maintenance” if a local property creates any or all of the following conditions:
•  A threat to public health or safety.
•  An undue adverse impact on the aesthetics of the neighborhood and surrounding area.
•  An undue adverse impact on neighboring property values.
The DRB, upon receiving the complaint, “may hold a hearing to determine whether a structure has been abandoned. If the DRB determines that the structure has been abandoned, it may, consistent with the purposes of the town plan and this ordinance, order that the abandoned structure be secured, repaired or removed at the expense of the owner.”
Middlebury Director of Planning & Zoning Jennifer Murray said the DRB has offered to hold the hearing on either Oct. 22 or Nov. 26; Sharma has requested the latter, by which time he hopes to have finalized a plan for the Blue Spruce Motel site.
If the property owners don’t respond to the DRB’s decision on the property, the town could take the case to the Vermont Environmental Court, according to Murray. The court could then put a lien on the property as a way of compelling the owners to clean up the site, Murray said.
Sharma would need DRB permission to reuse the property for a motel. Sharma has up to four years to make that request, according to Murray.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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