Plan for 240 apartments in White River Junction completes planning and zoning review

An artist's rendering of one of four market-rate apartment buildings proposed in a planned development on a 25-acre lot on Sykes Mountain Avenue in White River Junction, Vt. (Courtesy Town of Hartford)

An artist's rendering of one of four market-rate apartment buildings proposed in a planned development on a 25-acre lot on Sykes Mountain Avenue in White River Junction, Vt. (Courtesy Town of Hartford) Courtesy photograph Town of Hartford

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-22-2024 5:01 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Planning and zoning officials have approved a plan to build more than 200 apartments off Sykes Mountain Avenue.

A partnership of White River Junction-based Simpson Development Corp. and the Venezuela-based Pering Group has proposed four buildings containing 192 market rate apartments on one lot and, on a smaller lot, a single building with 48 apartments for people with moderate to low incomes.

On Monday, the Hartford Planning Commission voted unanimously in approval of the proposed planned development, which is slated to go between Hickory Ridge and Lily Pond Roads.

The commission also approved, in separate unanimous votes, the site plans for the four-building complex and for the affordable apartment project, and a boundary line adjustment.

“There were several milestones that we had to (reach) to get to this point,” Dennis Marquise, of Simpson Development, said at Monday’s meeting.

The process included several meetings with town departments, such as fire and public works, to plan the project’s use of public streets and utilities.

“From our perspective, we think (our plan) is there,” Marquise told the commissioners.

The Planning Commission’s approval comes following the Zoning Board of Adjustment’s thumbs up for a permit last week, also by a unanimous vote, to allow the project in a zone where planned developments are a conditional use, according to minutes from the board’s May 15 meeting.

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The commission’s approval on Monday marks the end of a planning and zoning process that began in April 2023, when the developers presented a conceptual project design to the planning commissioners.

Real estate developer Earl Simpson, of Wilder, has been trying to develop the 25-acre parcel for several years, he said at the initial meeting. In 2015, Simpson sought to build a $6.4 million, 88-unit residential project on 11 acres of the property. Though the Planning Commission approved the site plan, Simpson said he abandoned the project due to concerns about its financing.

“Their team worked hard to put this (new project) together and they worked very well with the town department,” Hartford Zoning Administrator Jo-Ann Ells in a phone interview.

The size of the project requires coordination between the town and the developers, particularly in regard to the utilities, roads and other infrastructure, Ells said.

In the current proposal, the developers submitted four separate planning applications, including a request to divide the 25-acre property into separate lots — which the commissioners approved on Dec. 4.

Separating the standalone building from the complex will enable the developers to transfer ownership of affordable housing project to an organization that specializes in affordable housing projects, Marquise told the Planning Commission last year.

The four-building complex will be constructed on an 18-acre lot and will include 36 studio, 29 junior one-bedroom, 81 one-bedroom, 23 larger one-bedroom and 23 two-bedroom apartments.

The apartment building set aside for people earning 80% or less of the area median income — which in Windsor County is $100,500 for a family of four — will be on a 4-acre lot and will provide nine studio, seven junior one-bedroom, 20 one-bedroom, six larger one-bedroom and six two-bedroom apartments.

The developers must now meet with the Selectboard to receive approval of a street realignment near the intersection of Hickory Ridge Road and Sykes Mountain Avenue. The realignment is needed to create a safe entrance into the planned development, Ells said on Tuesday.

The developers are proposing to close Hickory Ridge Road at the intersection and replace it with a direct entry into the new development. Residents on Hickory Ridge Road could then access Sykes Mountain Avenue from Lower Hyde Park, a nearby street in their neighborhood.

Neighbors on Hickory Ridge Road asked the Planning Commission last year to consider closing Hickory Ridge to through traffic, saying that too many drivers use the street as a thruway to avoid traffic lights on the main roads.

The developers will also need the Selectboard to agree to an on-site pump station to draw water from municipal lines to the residential buildings, which will be located atop a steep elevation.

Marquise and Irwin Peret Jr., of the Pering Group, could not be reached for comment.

Patrick Adrian may be reached at padrian@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.