By ANDY KIRKALDY
FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh selectmen have a preliminary legal opinion that a recent petition to change zoning along parts of Route 7 cannot block a Champlain Oil Co. (COCO) proposal for a truck stop with a McDonald’s Restaurant, Jiffy Mart and fuel pumps.
Selectboard Chairwoman Loretta Lawrence said last week they have asked town attorney James Carroll to study the relevant statutes on whether the petition can affect COCO’s Dec. 17 application, but that it looks like the process did not move quickly enough to take effect.
Selectmen only on Jan. 6 accepted the petition from the planning commission, along with recommendations for wording changes to clarity its intent. They then warned a selectboard public hearing on the petition for Jan. 29. To take effect, the zoning change would have to be approved in a town-wide vote called for by selectmen after the Jan. 29 hearing. Town officials have said selectmen are not obligated to call for that vote.
The town’s planning commission warned and held a public hearing on the petition in November, an act that predated COCO’s application. Officials said the question may be whether that official start on the process gave the petitioned zoning change power over the subsequent COCO application.
But Lawrence said although Carroll is working to confirm the law, it appears that only a selectboard public hearing on a zoning change — and not a planning hearing — predating an application can establish that zoning change as legally binding.
“It would appear that whatever decision we make at the Jan. 29 hearing will have no impact on Champlain Oil,” Lawrence said. “They met the deadline prior to any warning or a public hearing. It’s not going to be a selectboard issue any longer. But we’re waiting on a legal ruling on that.”
In September, COCO, a South Burlington firm, said it planned to buy the 2.5-acre property that was the former side of the Ferrisburgh Roadhouse from Marcos and Claudia Llona of Shelburne and convert it into the multi-use truck stop. COCO gave the planning commission a preliminary site plan at that point.
That site plan triggered a citizen petition calling for changing Route 7 zoning “to allow for no more than one gas station/convenience store and/or fast food restaurant within each of our commercial zones. These three commercially zoned areas are too small in road distances (one-half mile or less in each designated area) to allow for safe ingress and egress of more than one of these high-traffic businesses within each zone.”
Because the Vermont Energy Co., an existing gas station, convenience store and deli, is almost directly across Route 7 from the COCO site, the zoning change sought by the petition would prevent a second such use in the area if adopted.
There are three “highway commercial” zones along Route 7. The other two are outside Vergennes near Denecker Chevrolet, an area that now lacks a gas station, restaurant or convenience store, and in North Ferrisburgh, an area that already includes a Mobil Short Stop.
The planning commission held two well-attended public meetings at which residents expressed strong opposition to the COCO plan, especially to the McDonald’s, which would be near the town’s elementary school.
Planners tweaked the petition after the second meeting, on Dec. 17, and forwarded it to selectmen for their Jan. 6 meeting.
The same day in December, COCO submitted a formal application that planners said addressed the shortcomings in the company’s September preliminary site plan.
Setback room — for diesel pumps, underground fuel tanks, two fuel-pump canopies and truck parking spaces — that was lacking has been added by the proposed purchase of 2.13 more adjacent acres from Greg and Susan Burdick of Vergennes. The Burdicks formerly operated Burdick’s Country Kitchen, which predated the Roadhouse on the site.
The application calls for a 4,800-square-foot building, including a 2,200-square-foot, 34-seat McDonald’s with a drive-up window. The remaining 2,600 square feet would be devoted to the Jiffy Mart.
Planner Annie Cohn said in December that the proposal appeared to meet the conditional use criteria for the highway commercial district. The town’s zoning board will start taking testimony on the application at a 7:05 p.m., Feb. 4 public hearing, and the planning commission will review the COCO site plan on Feb. 18 at 7:05 p.m.
“This issue is really a zoning board issue now,” Lawrence said.