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Aldi drops plans for Middlebury discount food store

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December 6, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Aldi will not proceed with a plan to locate a 17,000-square-foot discount food store in the Middlebury South Village (MSV) housing and retail development off Court Street.

Jeffry Glassberg, one of the developers of MSV, confirmed the news on Tuesday — two weeks after the Middlebury Development Review Board convened its first formal review of the Aldi store plan. Some board members at that meeting voiced concerns about the scale and design of the proposed store, as did several community members.

Glassberg stressed, however, Aldi’s decision to reconsider a Middlebury store was not based on negative feedback at the November hearing. Rather, it relates to a shift in the company’s business plan for Vermont.

“Our understanding from a broker involved is that Aldi is retrenching from Vermont and has terminated its pursuit of four or five other sites in the state as well,” Glassberg said. “This is primarily a staffing decision for Aldi.”

Founded in Germany during the 1940s, Aldi in an international retailer offering a “no-frills” shopping experience at 3,500 stores worldwide, including one location in Bennington.

Aldi officials last year expressed interest in establishing a store at MSV, a planned unit development that has already received approval for 56 single-family homes, 30 townhouse apartments, a new Chittenden Bank, and a total of 34,000 square feet of office and retail space, including a bank and sit-down restaurant.

MSV developers had hoped to recruit several small retailers and firms to occupy the commercial/office space, but that strategy did not yield the results they were hoping for. They shifted gears, hoping to make Aldi MSV’s anchor retailer.

Plans called for Aldi to occupy 17,000 square feet in a 21,200-square-foot building, with the remaining 4,200 square feet used for office and retail purposes.

Aldi’s plan drew some criticism from the development review board, which took issue with the scale of the proposed building in context with Middlebury’s town plan and the zone (Village Residential-Commercial) where it was to be located. Middlebury’s town plan states that new development in the Court Street/Route 7 South area should be consistent with the scale of current buildings in the village, and that the area is “not appropriate for new or expanded large-scale shopping mall development, similar to the existing Hannafords Plaza to the south.”

Glassberg and his colleagues were prepared to continue lobbying for the Aldi plan, but that became a moot point when the company terminated its purchase and sales agreement with MSV. And MSV, in turn, withdrew its application to the town to approve permit changes that could have paved the way for the Aldi store.

“We believed that Aldi would be a good addition to Middlebury and the broader region,” Glassberg said. “We’re disappointed that we will not have the chance to work with the development review board to try and push Aldi further with respect to design issues. There was an opportunity to make this work — it would not have been easy — but the outcome could have served the community well.”

Developers will now turn their attention back to finding new commercial/retail tenants for MSV. Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington said MSV maintains conceptual approval from the town for a 24,000-square-foot office and retail building, an 8,400-square-foot retail building and a 5,200-square-foot restaurant.

“We continue to pursue discussions with businesses that would be well-suited to Middlebury and our project, and, we look forward to announcing new activity in the near future,” Glassberg said.

John Barstow, chairman of the Middlebury Development Review Board, said he is pleased to see the Aldi application has been dropped and now looks forward to receiving an alternative plan from MSV developers.

“I do believe the application for the Aldi store was counter to the originally approved (planned unit development), the Village Residential-Commercial district and the town plan,” Barstow said. “I’m gratified Aldi has withdrawn its application. I’m looking forward to working with Jeffry in the future to approve a development that meets the pattern of development called for in that zone.”

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