Vergennes OKs 50-home cluster off West Main Street

VERGENNES — The Vergennes Development Review Board this month approved a 50-lot housing subdivision on a 94-acre parcel that borders West Main Street, Hopkins Road, Otter Creek, and homes and apartments on Hillside Drive.

The subdivision, which has been in the works more than a decade and still requires Act 250 approval, is called Claybrook and is a Planned Unit Development (PUD). It calls for the roughly half-acre, single-family home lots to be clustered around a new road that will access the land from West Main Street and loop through the land.

The landowner, River’s Edge Associates LLC, plans to develop the property in four phases, although one of its partners said last week he did not expect work to begin this year.

Claybrook homes will be clustered to leave about 64 acres open and available to the public for what the DRB approval calls recreation that is “performed without the use of a motorized vehicle of any type and includes activities such as walking, picknicking, hiking, sun bathing, cross country skiing, snowshoeing or other like activities.”

According to the permit, no use on the open space will be allowed that “is an annoyance or interference to the peace, quiet, or serenity of the lot owners.”

The owners must brush hog the open land once a year, and other permit conditions require River’s Edge to pay to extend city sidewalk and sewer and water lines to the property.  

April marked the second time the DRB has given River’s Edge a permit for a major subdivision on the property, once part of a farm owned by brothers Marcel and Paul Bourgeois: In October 2007, just before the recession struck, the DRB approved a 54-lot subdivision with many of the same conditions.

That approval followed years of debate about zoning changes among city officials about potential zoning changes for a property formerly zoned agricultural, a designation that would have allowed only two-dozen lots.

After lengthy discussion on whether to allow as many as 120 homes or to maintain the agricultural zoning — a debate interrupted for almost two years by a city plan re-write — officials finally agreed on a special “overlay” zone in the area that would allow up to 54 homes if they were clustered in a PUD and open land was preserved.

City Manager and zoning administrator Mel Hawley said zoning officials later realized part of the land lies in a Medium Density Residential zone, and the total number of lots permitted was upped to 57. River’s Edge also owns the adjacent seven-lot Hopkins Ridge development on 14 acres, part of an original 108-acre parcel.

After a decade of talks with the Bourgeois brothers, the zoning debate and recession, River’s Edge is ready to move forward with its larger development once it receives its Act 250 permit, said Peter Kahn, a Charlotte resident who is one of three partners.

“We’re not there yet. But it’s nice after 10 years to see positive signs,” said Kahn, adding that when he and his partners began negotiating with Paul and Marcel Bourgeois he didn’t need glasses, “and now I’m on my second prescription.”

Kahn recalled what happened after the first approval, for a 54-lot PUD on 108 acres with two access roads.

“The economy collapsed, and it just wasn’t a viable project,” he said.

When city officials told them 57 lots were legal, the River’s Edge partners — brothers Brett and Ian Bartlett, South Burlington and Essex residents, respectively, round out the trio — turned their attention to Hopkins Road, where power and sewer lines already ran and they would not need to build an access road.

Hopkins Ridge was permitted in 2010. Hawley said six Hopkins Ridge homes are either built, under contract or permitted.

River’s Edge, which has sold homes in Crosby Farms in the past, markets package deals including land and new homes. Kahn said the most recently built one on Hopkins Road sold for $329,000, and that he expects most in Claybrook to sell for a little less or more than that to start.

Kahn said at Claybrook, River’s Edge will market mostly three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath, two-story homes, but will also offer ranches and four-bedroom houses.

Given ongoing work on Hopkins Ridge and the need for the Claybrook Act 250 permit, it will be a while before equipment moves onto the remaining 94 acres, Kahn said: “Realistically it’s probably next spring, probably a year.” 

When work is complete, new sidewalk will link not only Claybrook with existing sidewalk that ends at Hillside Drive, Kahn said, but also extend all the way up to and along Hopkins Road to the Hopkins Ridge and Country Commons developments, while Hopkins Ridge’s 12 acres of open land will be combined with Claybrook’s 64.

Kahn also believes the homes will be attractive to prospective United Technologies Corp. employees, noting that two Hopkins Roads sales have already been to UTC workers.

“I do anticipate this project will be a benefit to the city,” he said.

One thing area residents should not expect is a crop of new homes to pop up at once.

The first two of four phases call for eight and 10 homes, but realistically Kahn said between two and five new homes a year are more likely and noted the Hopkins Ridge pace has been about two a year.

“We’re hoping to do two to five homes per year,” he said. “That’s purely market dependent.”

If sales are on the low end, Kahn acknowledged it would be a long time from his initial 2004 interest to the final build-out.

“I did not anticipate this project to be a lifetime event when I started,” he said. “But here it is.”

Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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