Blue Spruce Motel owners get new cleanup order

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB) has ordered the owners of the Blue Spruce Motel property to clean up the burnt building remnants from the site at 2428 Route 7 South, thus echoing a directive issued by Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay back in September.
The DRB issued its order — and an opinion that the motel had been “abandoned” — after a Nov. 6 review of the status of the property. That meeting included Sam Sharma, a partner in the KANA Corporation that owns the Blue Spruce Motel, which burned down on July 12, 2017, as a result of an electrical fire.
Ramsay told DRB members the town has received many complaints that the charred remains of the motel remain on-site more than a year after the blaze, which fortunately claimed no lives nor injured anyone. Ramsay in September filed a formal complaint against Blue Spruce owners hoping to compel them to clear the site.
Sharma earlier this year promised a cleanup, but it has not materialized. He has cited among other things unproductive negotiations with insurance companies as a reason for the lack of action.
On Nov. 6, Sharma reiterated his commitment to have the debris removed and even told DRB members the work could begin this month with the ultimate goal of building a new motel, according to minutes from the gathering.
Sharma added he believed the cleanup could be completed within three months, according to the minutes.
But that scenario seems improbable, according to town officials.
DRB members according to the meeting minutes asked Sharma if he had contacted state officials about the need to do environmental testing of the debris prior to its removal, to check for asbestos and lead. Those harmful materials would require special handling.
Middlebury officials cautioned Sharma that a cleanup would likely take longer than three months with environmental testing and abatement factored into the project. Sharma told DRB members on Nov. 6 the state had yet to conduct an environmental assessment of the site.
“He has to hire his own consultants,” Middlebury Director of Planning & Zoning Jennifer Murray clarified.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on KANA Corporation’s plans to rebuild — or at least do it expeditiously.
The motel is a non-conforming use in the Agricultural District in which it was built many years ago. The Blue Spruce could have been re-established within a year with an administratively approved zoning permit, had the cleanup and an application been submitted within that timeframe, according to planning officials.
Between one year to four years, the motel could be re-established with approval of the DRB. After four years, the motel use would be considered discontinued and any future use of the property would need to comply with the town’s zoning regulations for the Ag District, officials said.
Murray and Zoning Administrator David Wetmore are reviewing the town’s options if the Blue Spruce Motel owners fail to take action during the coming months. They said it could come down to a complaint lodged with the Vermont Environmental Court.
“This was only the first step of many steps,” Murray cautioned. “It lays the groundwork for future discussions.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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