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Staples appeal set for litigation

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By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Mediation has failed to resolve differences between the parties contesting a conditional approval awarded by the town last fall to a proposed Staples in The Centre shopping plaza, so the dispute will now have to be settled in Vermont Environmental Court.

The day-long session, mediated earlier this month by local attorney Tad Powers, failed to produce common ground between the town of Middlebury, the developers (Middlebury Associates LLC) and a citizens’ group calling itself Middlebury Area Residents for Sustainability (MARS).

Middlebury Associates LLC and MARS both filed separate appeals following the local Development Review Board’s conditional approval of a 14,737-square-foot Staples store that would be erected next to the Hannaford Supermarket in The Centre off Route 7 south.

The developers filed their appeal based on their contentions that the DRB decision placed “unreasonable conditions upon the appellant, and should be modified.”

Those conditions included that the developers submit a final master plan for The Centre showing that it will “be deemed fully built out with the Staples, based on the zoning limitations of traffic capacity, parking and town plan conformance:” that access connections be built between The Centre and the neighboring Middlebury Short Stop, and the area comprised of the Dollar Market and laundry; that a series of sidewalk connections, entrance upgrades, crosswalks improvements and landscape additions be put in to enhance pedestrian safety and aesthetics within the plaza; and that traffic signal timing adjustments be made at the Route 7 south/plaza intersection to ensure extra traffic generated by the Staples store does not exacerbate gridlock on Court Street/Route 7.

MARS members, meanwhile, filed their appeal based on their contention that no permit should have been issued for the project.

Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington said the Environmental Court is scheduled to hold a status conference on the case, by telephone, on Feb. 2.

MARS members have begun raising money to fund their legal costs in the appeal, an effort that has garnered support from a local artist. David Bumbeck of Middlebury is donating prints of two of his etchings to raise funds for the appeal. The signed, numbered etching prints, titled “The Dancer” and “The Family,” are being offered for donations of $50 and $100, respectively, through a downtown business that could take a substantial economic hit if a Staples is ultimately built: Main Street Stationary.

Bumbeck called Main Street Stationary “a symbol” of the kind of small, family operated store that is becoming increasingly threatened by big-box retailers.

“We need to be careful that the profit making does not outweigh the benefit and the community,” Bumbeck said of the potential for large retail outlets to overwhelm smaller downtown businesses.

Greg Tomb, owner of Main Street Stationary, said 10 prints of “The Dancer” and around three of “The Family” had been snapped up as of Thursday. Bumbeck said he will keep replenishing the prints.

Michelle Fay, a member of MARS, said on Wednesday the group had raised almost $8,000 toward its Staples litigation expenses. She noted the Preservation Trust of Vermont has provided $5,000 of that sum. The balance has been generated through individual donations and revenue from the Bumbeck prints.

“It’s really wonderful and generous of him to do this,” Fay said of Bumbeck’s donation of artwork.

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