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College land buy to boost affordability in Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY SELECTBOARD CHAIR Brian Carpenter listens as Middlebury College Vice President David Provost talks about the college’s plans to build workforce housing on the land they are standing on off Seminary Street Extension, not far from downtown Middlebury. Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College has purchased 35 acres of mostly open land to build 100 units of affordable housing within walking distance of downtown.

The apartments, multi-family and single family homes will be constructed by an independent developer and are not being built for college employees.

Town and college officials said the bump in housing will help employers — current and future — by providing places for their employees to live.

“The No. 1 priority for the selectboard after the rail project is wrapping up is workforce housing,” Middlebury selectboard chair Brian Carpenter said. “We’ve been talking about this with the college — this and childcare. They are priorities No. 1 and 2.”

The 35-acre parcel is on Seminary Street Extension in Middlebury. It is east of Seminary Street Extension’s intersection with Washington Street, generally in the area of Valley View Road — on the north side of Seminary Street Extension.

The college plans to sell it to Summit Properties.

“The  college has no interest in long-term ownership of this property,” said David Provost, executive vice president for finance and administration at Middlebury.

The South Burlington developer will build 100 units of affordable and workforce housing that could house 250-350 people. A press release said Summit plans to sell some units and rent others. The estimated cost of the development is $40 million. The company expects to begin construction within eight months and to develop the property over the next five to six years.

Middlebury College had been looking around town at other properties to build workforce housing, Provost told the Independent.

“This spot appealed to us because it was zoned high density,” Provost said. “We are trying to fill a need for the town.”

He acknowledged that while more housing will be good for the town as a whole, it will also be beneficial to the college in the long run because it would boost the local economy.

“Having more growing businesses in town would be a good thing to attract high-caliber employees who would bring following spouses who would want/need to work here, too,” Provost said.

Middlebury President Laurie Patton in a press release recognized the urgent need to increase the availability of housing in Addison County.

“Our faculty and staff know about the scarcity of housing firsthand, and we hear about these ongoing concerns from our human resources office, local businesses and other nonprofits,” she said. “We saw an opportunity to help with a problem that we all share. I’m delighted that we will be able to help with the needs of businesses and organizations of the town and county, who are our valued partners on so many levels.”

The college bought the property, which had been for sale for several years, from Marjorie Mooney for $1.5 million. Carpenter pointed out that others interested in using the big piece of open land had looked into buying it but couldn’t come to terms with Mooney. Provost thought that she had agreed to this offer in part because of some connection to the college.

For their part, officials at Summit Properties said they are excited to tackle the housing challenges in Middlebury.

“Summit has a long history of providing affordable housing throughout the state and region, including right here in Addison County, so we see the need every day,” Zeke Davisson, COO of Summit Properties, said in a press release. “This collaboration has the potential to positively impact this community for generations.”

Each housing unit will have one to four bedrooms. The mix of housing types — apartments, multifamily houses and single family homes — will be determined at a later time.

Household income determines whether a family or individual qualifies for workforce or affordable housing. The range of income for residents of workforce housing — which in Addison County is approximately $50,000 to $80,000 for a household of two — is higher than that for affordable housing, which is less than $50,000 for a household of two. Summit plans to work with local housing partners and nonprofit organizations on the project.

Elise Shanbacker of the Addison County Community Trust, which manager affordable housing, offered her organization’s services on the project.

Carpenter brought up the larger economic development picture.

“This isn’t just for the college,” he said. “The town has been talking to a two sizable companies who would need employee housing, as well.”

He acknowledged that they are manufacturing businesses.

Provost said the college was brought into those discussions. Middlebury College owns land in the industrial park that could be useful to a new manufacturer.

“The college is open to the idea of divesting some of its land holdings in the industrial park to make way for these businesses,” Provost said. He pointed out that those concerns would like the proximity to rail service.

THE BIG OLD HOUSE

Initial public reaction to the announcement this past Friday was a mixture of excitement over the economic development possibilities and concern over how a flood of possibly hundreds of new residents could tax local resources. Some worried about the increased traffic or greater demands on town wastewater treatment. Carpenter and Provost said those issues will be explored in the forthcoming permitting process.

Some wonder if the schools can handle an influx of new children, others point out that the schools have been losing students and may welcome new ones.

Aside from new housing to be built in the field, the 35 acres includes a nine-bedroom house at 51 Seminary Street Ext. that sits on the edge of the property. The stately old building, known to some as Stone Crop Ledge, is in need of renovation and repair. College administrators plan to sell the house and are working with potential buyers to explore various uses for the structure.

“It will not be turned into dorms or college housing,” Provost said.

He said the college is in talks with an individual who has developed a number of historic old structures in college towns. This businessman fixes the buildings, rents them out as time shares to families while their kids are in school, and then he sells them.

It is just one possibility for what will happen to Stone Crop Ledge, which is apparently 200 years old.

Whatever is done with that one house, town officials are excited about the possibility of the hundred new housing units that could be build nearby.

“This project will truly support our local workforce,” Carpenter said. “I’m glad that Middlebury College had the vision to see what was possible.”

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