By ANDY KIRKALDY
FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh planning and zoning officials heard on Sept. 24 a preliminary proposal to build a McDonald’s Restaurant, Jiffy Mart convenience store and gas station on the 2.5-acre Route 7 parcel that was most recently occupied by the Ferrisburgh Roadhouse and before then by Burdick’s Country Kitchen.
Champlain Oil Co. (COCO) has a deal to buy the parcel contingent on getting permits for its proposal, according to landowner Marcos Llona, who operated the Ferrisburgh Roadhouse until it was destroyed by fire in June 2007. COCO had no further meetings with Ferrisburgh zoning officials scheduled as of Friday morning.
Llona and his wife, Claudia, Shelburne residents, bought Burdick’s Country Kitchen, the 2.5 acres and a home on the property from Vergennes residents Sue and Greg Burdick for $450,000 in July 2006.
Llona said he and his wife decided it was too risky to rebuild the restaurant given the current economic climate, and added their window for rebuilding without a completely new and more costly septic system is also coming to a close.
“I would love to rebuild the restaurant, I really would. It’s a good site. It is needed ... But I don’t have the resources,” Llona said, adding, “I can’t do a second mortgage on my home and take that risk.”
COCO, which had been interested in the property before the Llonas, approached them this summer, he said.
Ferrisburgh officials said Wednesday’s meeting was not a public hearing because no formal application has been filed. It was described in the warning as a “special meeting” for “sketch plan review.” Such meetings often serve to give applicants feedback on possible issues with their plans.
And Zoning Board chairwoman Charlene Stavenow and Town Clerk Chet Hawkins, a former town zoning administrator, said there are questions about how the plan as presented can conform to the area’s zoning.
That plan calls for removal of the home, building along Route 7 a 4,800-square-foot structure evenly split between the McDonald’s and the Jiffy Mart, and installing gas pumps for regular unleaded fuel that would be covered by a 400-square-foot canopy. It also calls for installing diesel pumps to the rear, 24 parking spaces for cars around the building, and seven parking spaces for tractor-trailer trucks, also to the rear.
An underground fuel tank would be installed near the southern boundary, and COCO representatives told Ferrisburgh officials they are discussing buying an easement on neighboring property owned by the Burdicks for a septic disposal system.
That area along Route 7 in Ferrisburgh, about two miles north of Vergennes, is zoned highway commercial, which lists gas stations and restaurants among its permitted conditional uses, assuming a 2-acre minimum parcel.
Hawkins said a central question is whether both of those uses can be placed on a single parcel of 2.5 acres, however, or whether each use would require 2 acres.
“Can we have those two uses on the lot?” Hawkins said.
Also, Hawkins noted the rear of the lot is in a 5-acre zone in which gas stations are not a permitted use, and that the COCO plans show truck parking and diesel pumps in that zone.
Hawkins also said a separate provision in Ferrisburgh’s zoning bylaws regulating gas stations also requires underground fuel tanks to be at least 35 feet from boundaries, a setback requirement not met by the preliminary sketch.
Another issue may be the “dimensional standard” for the highway commercial zone that states improvements on a lot may cover only 25 percent of its surface, Hawkins said.
Stavenow said COCO representatives asked about the possibility of variances for some of those issues, and that Ferrisburgh zoning officials told them they have been hesitant to grant variances for any non-conforming uses.
Stavenow discussed other possible technical issues, including the size of the canopy, hours of operation and lighting, and said some are questioning the project’s impact on traffic and local businesses.
“People are concerned about the traffic. People are concerned about the impact of a fast food restaurant,” she said.
Another issue may be the scope of the operation, Stavenow said. The town plan’s section on “Highway Commercial areas” has a subsection on the “area south of the Civic Center running to Little Otter Creek,” an area that includes the parcel in question.
A portion of that section reads: “All uses in this area should ... include only small-scale commercial enterprises and mixed uses typical of a 19th-century highway crossroads area.” Stavenow said it is unclear whether the scale of the project proposed by COCO conforms to that provision.
All conditional use permit applications require Ferrisburgh zoning officials to consider the capacity of town facilities to handle the proposal, the character of the area affected, traffic, the town plan and zoning laws, use of renewable energy resources, and the “appropriate use or development of adjacent property.”
Officials may also impose other conditions “found necessary to protect the best interests of the surrounding property, the neighborhood or the town as a whole.” Those can include considering the placement and height of buildings and “service areas;” limiting noise, smoke, dust, odors or glare; and insisting on landscaping.
Meanwhile, Llona would also like officials to consider the needs of truckers, who he said are underserved in Vermont on their way to Chittenden County.
“You come off Route 22A, and there is nowhere for the truckers to stop,” Llona said.
If things don’t work out with COCO, Llona did not rule out rebuilding on the site, but not until the economy rebounds.
“It they don’t get their permit, we’ll probably do something in the long run,” he said.