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Four-level building OK’d in downtown Midd

THE FORMER SITE of Cole’s Flowers on South Pleasant Street could soon see a four-level, mixed-use building that will host offices and a penthouse residence. Independent photo/John S. McCright

MIDDLEBURY — When the words “development” and “South Pleasant Street” are mentioned in the same sentence, the mind naturally wanders to the recently launched construction of a new, 7,000-square-foot addition for the Town Hall Theater.

But there’s another interesting project just a stone’s throw away, at 150 S. Pleasant St., a site that could soon host a four-level, mixed-use building that will host offices for Marble Trail Financial and a penthouse residence for that business’s owners.

The Middlebury Development Review Board has unanimously OK’d that four-level building plan, located in the town’s Mixed-Use District. Plans on file at the Middlebury planning office call for an 8,800-square-foot building standing 47 feet, 4 inches tall. The street-level floor and second floor are to be used for Marble Trail Financial offices. The third floor and a mezzanine level will host a residence for Marble Trail Financial owner Don Devost and his spouse.

Plans call for wood-framed construction, but will include cement elements and metal cladding “to ensure it presents as well-maintained and stately for a good long time,” reads the project narrative for 150 S. Pleasant St. “The building graciously bows to the Town Hall Theater and the larger buildings across the street, all of which are significantly taller. We believe this building is of its time and place while respecting the fact that it is part of a larger urban fabric.”

Also included in the plan is a new parking lot on the Otter Creek side of the site that would be accessed by an existing shared driveway. The DRB has granted the applicants a parking waiver for additional spots, agreeing that employees and customers will be able to find enough nearby off-street parking downtown during business hours.

Andrea Murray of Vermont Integrated Architecture noted the building will be “all electric,” with no fossil fuels serving the structure. The below-grade area will include a two-car garage, storage and utility space, she told the DRB. She told the panel she believed the building design fits the character of Middlebury.

The applicants, in their project narrative, described the challenges of the building site and efforts to make the structure compatible with its surroundings:

“The project site is extremely tight and constrained. It is also on a steep hillside with over 18 feet of grade change front to back. In designing to the context of downtown Middlebury and South Pleasant Street, the design team considered many factors, including site density, views, accessibility, historic character, form, scale, massing and materials. The building takes cues from the historic Town Hall Theater down the street, by referencing the horizontal marble banding. It also references window patterns and proportions of windows in buildings on both sides of the street.”

Longtime residents will fondly recall 150 S. Pleasant St. as the former site of Cole’s Flowers — a business that now operates at 21 MacIntyre Lane. Coincidentally, former Middlebury Fire Chief Rick Cole (who ran the shop for years) and his family were Devost’s first neighbors.

Marble Trail Financial, or MTF, is currently based in the former Addison County courthouse on Court Square. Middlebury College owns the building and is looking to sell it.

“The impetus for doing this was the fact the college was putting the (old courthouse) up for sale,” Devost acknowledged. “And as happy as we are here, and not terribly eager to move… (staying put) didn’t seem like something that made sense for us to invest in.”

MTF won’t gain a lot of new square footage with the new building, but it will be able to add offices because the space will be tailor-made for the company’s needs, he noted.

The building plan doesn’t signal an impending growth spurt for MTF, though the company remains on solid footing. The firm’s workforce has doubled during the past six years, according to Devost. Marble Valley Financial currently counts 15 full- and part-time workers.

Devost isn’t exactly sure when work will begin on the new MTF building. Construction costs have gone up 60% since the company began planning for its new home, he said.

WEYBRIDGE STREET DEVELOPMENT

Meanwhile, the DRB is getting set to review another proposed development not far from downtown. This one calls for a four-lot subdivision on a 1.68-acre parcel at 368 Weybridge St.

The plan, proposed by Hackamore Partners LP, calls for the existing four-bedroom, single-family home on the property to be renovated, with removal of its detached garage. Hackamore Partners wants to build three-bedroom duplexes on lots 2 and 3, and a four-bedroom, single-family home on lot 4. A new driveway off Weybridge Street is being proposed to serve the development.

Middlebury’s DRB is slated to review the Hackamore Partners proposal at its Monday, Jan. 8, meeting, slated for 7 p.m. at the town offices. 

Middlebury Director of Planning & Zoning Jennifer Murray said that based on her preliminary observations, the Hackamore Partners plan dovetails with a major goal in the community’s Downtown Master Plan: Increase housing options in the village center.

She noted Middlebury’s downtown neighborhoods are now largely made up of single-family homes.

“There are empty nesters who’d be happy to move to smaller units, if there were some available,” she explained.

The availability of more townhomes, duplexes and triplexes would provide landing spots for older residents ready to downsize, thus freeing up more single-family dwellings for families looking to settle in the shire town, she said.

“And smaller units can accommodate potential workers, who could walk to jobs at Porter Hospital, the college and service-sector jobs,” she noted. 

It also should be noted that Middlebury recently revised its zoning rules to encourage more housing development. Among those changes: A reduction in minimum lot sizes from 10,000 to 8,000 square feet in the downtown, and reduced setback requirements that now allow some garages to be more easily repurposed as accessory dwellings.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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