Redevelopment plan for Rice Lumber property questioned

By Carol Casey

Members of the Development Review Board (DRB) and the Natural Resources Committee posed multiple questions to Patrick O’Brien, the developer of the Rice Lumber property. DRB Chair David Conard inquired whether large trucks going northbound on Route 7 would be able to make a left turn into the lumber yard, but the owners responded by saying that the vast majority of trucks coming to the yard are southbound. Conard also noted that a pedestrian walkway from the yard to the bus stop and a bike rack needed to be included in the plan.

Gail Albert, chair of the natural resources committee, stated the committee’s willingness to continue to work collaboratively with the Nature Conservancy and the developers and the owners of the property, but voiced concerned about the threat to the ecosystem posed by the planned location of four residential lots. He said these will have a negative impact on bobcat habitat and indigenous plant life and that relocating the building envelopes would not solve the problem. Conard suggested that the owners consider revising their application to focus solely on the commercial aspects of the property and defer the residential subdivision plans until a later date. He also recommended that more thought be given to the subdivision of the commercial property and the takedown schedule for buildings that will be replaced by the new facility. The Historic Preservation and Design Review Committee recommended that some of the existing historic structures be rehabilitated and reused if possible. Further consideration of the application will resume at the DRB’s next meeting.

A request for a variance in the front yard setback for a lot on Northern Heights Drive, filed by Jerry Fisher, drew negative comments from owners of neighboring homes. Fisher argued that the variance was necessary because the topography and dimensions of the lot preclude building a residence in compliance with the setback requirements. He offered two different building envelopes for the DRB’s consideration. Conard noted that variances are issued only when there is no “reasonable use” of the lot without a variance. Neighbors pointed out that the lot is now being used for a community wastewater system which constitutes “reasonable use” and a variance should not be granted. The DRB decided to seek a legal opinion as to the definition of “reasonable use” and to make a site visit to the property at 6 pm on June 20. Fisher was asked to stake out the proposed building lots prior to their visit, give the dimensions of the planned residence, and explain why those sites were selected.

In other business, the DRB approved a rooftop sign for Chez Boheme, the replacement of a free-standing sign at 928 Falls Road, a sketch plan for a boundary line adjustment between St. Catherine of Siena and the First United Methodist Church properties, and the final plan for subdividing two existing residential lots at 75 Northside Drive. The DRB also re-approved a preliminary plan application for Champlain Housing Trust to give them more time to finalize state permits.

The next meeting of the Development Review Board will be held on Wednesday, June 20 at 7 pm.



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