By Larry R. Michaels, O’Brien Brothers Agency Chief Operating Officer
I wanted to provide some historical and factual context to the recent debates surrounding O’Brien Brothers’ proposed residential project on the Thomas Farm property in Shelburne.
Dan O’Brien and Leo O’Brien, Jr., fourth generation Vermonters, purchased the Thomas Farm in Shelburne in 1968 with the intent of creating homes and neighborhoods over several decades. Over the past 35 years, the O’Briens have created the highly desirable neighborhoods of Maple Knoll, Wildwoods, Rivercrest, and Sugarwoods. These neighborhoods have become vibrant and desirable places to live and have contributed to the flavor and character of Shelburne. The neighborhoods are a testament of the O’Brien’s long-term, thoughtful, and honorable approach to business. The final phase of the Thomas Farm project is underway and, as proposed, will provide a variety of housing options as well as a priceless gift of conservation land that will benefit Shelburne residents and wildlife for generations.
Dan and Leo have owned the property for over 45 years, and several of their children and grandchildren live in Shelburne on former Thomas Farm property. The O’Brien Brothers approach every project with their legacy in mind. The O’Brien family has requested expansion of the Sewer Service Area, which already serves Rivercrest residents across the street, and a zoning change, which would allow for the same zoning as Rivercrest. The proposed zoning would be far less than the zoning a few hundred yards to the west near the Shelburne Falls, and this zoning change proposal is quite consistent with the long-term trend of having residential communities along Irish Hill Road.
The purpose of these requests is to concentrate housing and ultimately use less land. This approach conserves more rural lands, allowing farming on over 50 acres of agricultural lands abutting the proposed neighborhood. And for the sake of preserving an existing conservation corridor, O’Brien Brothers would be prepared to work with the town of Shelburne and land trust on conserving an additional 65 acres of beautiful land bordering the LaPlatte River. This land could be conserved in perpetuity, dramatically augmenting an existing conservation corridor.
The family-friendly residential neighborhood being proposed between Irish Hill Road and Thomas Road would incorporate the best qualities of traditional Vermont neighborhoods with compact and walkable streets, amenities, attractive village-style, energy-efficient housing, and open space. This neighborhood would meet the need of young families, empty-nesters, and our aging baby-boomer residents while being phased appropriately to enhance town infrastructure.
The number of housing units to be built is yet to be determined, and much of the speculation I have read is uninformed. The actual number of housing units would be determined in collaboration with all stakeholders to include neighbors, residents, city staff, boards, and commissions. We are all determined to create a successful neighborhood for the long-term benefit of the town of Shelburne.
We invite you to attend the Thursday, June 13 Planning Meeting to hear more about this project. We are committed to continuing a long and respectful relationship with Shelburne that the O’Brien family has honored for the past five decades. We hope to hear from our neighbors, many of whom enjoy living in Shelburne on Thomas Farm land caringly and thoughtfully developed by Dan and Leo O’Brien.