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Middlebury gives conditions to Staples store developers

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By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Developers will be able to build a proposed Staples store in The Centre shopping plaza in Middlebury if they adhere to a series of town-mandated conditions, including that they provide access between The Centre parking lot and two adjoining properties, and finance a re-timing of traffic signals to minimize additional gridlock on Route 7.

Those were some of the conditions included in a 24-page “notice of decision” sent to developers Middlebury Associates LLC last week by the Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB). It was the second such conditional decision sent to the developers, who are seeking to build a 14,737-square-foot Staples next to the Hannaford Supermarket.

The proposal has come under fire from various residents and citizens’ groups who believe Staples would hurt some smaller, locally owned stores that also sell office supplies. Opponents have also voiced concerns that Staples would add more traffic to Route 7 and to a Centre parking lot that is already dangerous to negotiate, according to some shoppers who have testified at DRB hearings.

Key elements of the DRB decision call for Middlebury Associates LLC to meet the following conditions:

• Negotiate access connections between The Centre parking lot and the adjoining Middlebury Short Stop and former bowling alley properties.

• Pay for an adjustment to The Centre/Route 7 intersection traffic signal that would lengthen the light from the current 60 seconds to an 80-second cycle.

• Complete, with input from the Middlebury Design Advisory Committee, a series of pedestrian safety, traffic circulation and aesthetic improvements to The Centre property.

The DRB, in its decision, added that it would maintain continuing jurisdiction over the issue of parking at The Centre. Officials believe the new store, along with the desired improvements to The Centre lot, could significantly reduce parking availability.

Last week’s decision did not require that the Staples footprint be reoriented forward on the shopping center’s site, as some DRB members had suggested. And the DRB did not deem the proposed store a “big box” project, nor did it find the project would pose an “undue adverse impact on the economic vitality of downtown.”

“The board went as far as it could and was as prescriptive as it thought it could be so that things were not left hanging,” Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington said of the decision.

Middlebury Associates LLC and interested parties in the case had until this Monday, July 28, to respond with objections or other submissions based on the DRB’s decision. Developers are expected to meet with the Middlebury Design Advisory Committee before the end of this month to review the project. The DRB is scheduled to revisit the status of the Staples project at its meeting on Monday, Aug. 11.

Chris Hunt of Middlebury Associates LLC said on Thursday he and his colleagues were still processing the decision and “formulating our response.”

Hunt said he could not respond to specific conditions included in the decision. But asked if the decision, in general, was something he believed his company could conform to, he replied, “some of it we can and some of it we can’t.”

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