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Gravel Pits

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Gravel pits that currently exist near residential areas are akin to putting matches next to powder kegs: it doesn’t take much of a spark to blow things sky high. That has been true in Bristol as that community has struggled with a proposal to expand a pit close to the downtown owned by the Lathrop family. A similar battle is brewing in East Middlebury with a proposal by J.P. Carrara & Sons to expand an existing pit there (see stories on Page 1A.). In both cases, what’s needed is a big-picture view of current and future residential development within the respective towns along with the recognition by residents that economic benefits can be derived by the respective expansions.

In the case in East Middlebury, the proposed expansion of the gravel pit is a direct benefit to Carrara & Son’s concrete business — a principle factor in the business’s operations for the past several decades. The business is also one of Middlebury’s largest, employing more than 100 area residents with many high-paying jobs.

The firm, to its credit, isn’t sounding alarms that it could go out of business if the pit expansion is not approved, but its spokesman was clear that drawing material from a local pit (as opposed to one in upper New York state) allows it to operate more competitively. Middlebury residents will also note that the firm has been generous in the construction of several community projects throughout the years (notably the Memorial Sports Center, among others) as a testament to its community-minded spirit.

Being a large employer and donating to community projects, of course, are not projected here as a counterbalance to unwanted growth. The proposal gravel pit expansion must stand on its own merits based on the town plan, previous permits and other mitigating factors that may come into play.

What residents should consider, however, is not whether the gravel pit should be allowed at all, but how the pit could be developed in the least disruptive way for the maximum benefit to the larger community. In zoning matters it is far too easy to view projects myopically and completely ignore the bigger picture. To that end, early indications are that Carrara’s has proposed effective measures to limit any disruption and is striving to be a good neighbor. Pledges, for instance, to reclaim the land of the existing pit (even though it wouldn’t have to) are important factors in East Middlebury’s long-term development.

Another factor is whether the area around the gravel pit would ever be ideal for residential growth or whether it should be maintained as a generator of economic activity. Because there are numerous other areas around East Middlebury that could be more easily developed for residential purposes, and because the land has a distinct and on-going economic purpose, there is a strong economic argument that the town might want to continue to allow the pit to be developed. That reasoning would reflect a town plan that readily supports a high quality of residential living along with commercial and industrial growth inside the town.

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In Bristol, the request for an amended permit by the Lathrop family has good points and bad. The good points are that the access to the gravel pit would face south, rather than toward the town — a potential aesthetic improvement as well as an improvement for traffic flow. Also, the Lathrops agreed to reclaim the land as the project proceeds, rather than waiting until the pit plays out decades from now and reclaiming it in one fell swoop.

The downside, however, is that the permit requests a doubling of the material taken out of the pit — a proposal that would significantly increase the number of truck trips per day, thereby adding to the traffic, noise and dust pollution.

Moreover, the site of the Lathrop pit is simply too close to the heart of downtown Bristol (from the standpoint of noise, dust and visual pollution) and robs the town of one of its best sites for future residential development. That’s because the land is easily within walking distance of the downtown, and is situated on a high plane above the river with stellar views looking toward the Adirondacks. Furthermore, the proposed site in Bristol has a high economic value as residential land and still allows the landowner to reap an economic return on the land to recoup and make good on the family’s investment. Finally, there is every reason to believe that the current town plan in Bristol does not allow for the proposed pit expansion — and would have to be an adjustment to the current plan. (That debate is still being weighed in court.)

In pursuing these arguments, what’s important is that the lid is kept on the powder keg. There are reasonable arguments on both sides of each issue. The community’s role, and the role of the respective businesses, is to focus on what’s in the best interest of the larger community and to work toward a fair adjudication of the proposals that will hopefully reach those lofty goals.

Angelo S. Lynn

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