Wilder housing project gets approval amid concerns over contamination, aesthetics

  • Hartford Zoning Board of Adjustment members look out at the empty lot of 1965 Hartford Ave. while they conduct a site visit in Wilder, Vt., on Jan. 23, 2019. There is a zoning application to develop a four-family 4,360-square-foot building on the former site of Tip Top Tire and Wilder Automotive, which is a brownfield on the state's list of contaminated sites. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Steve Lagasse, chair of the Hartford Zoning Board of Adjustment, left, shows neighbors property lines for the empty lot of 1965 Hartford Ave. during a site visit in Wilder, Vt., on Jan. 23, 2019. There is a zoning application to develop a four-family 4,360-square-foot building on the former site of Tip Top Tire and Wilder Automotive, which is a brownfield on the state's list of contaminated sites. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • An architect's drawing shows the front of the proposed four-unit apartment building located on 1965 Hartford Ave. in Wilder, Vt. (Courtesy Twin Pines Housing)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/31/2019 10:14:11 PM
Modified: 2/1/2019 4:08:20 PM

WILDER — Developers of a proposed mixed-income housing project on a Route 5 brownfield site have received conditional approval from the Zoning Board despite concerns from residents about exposure to contaminants and about how the new building will fit into the historic neighborhood.

The Hartford Zoning Board of Adjustment last week unanimously issued conditional use approval for Twin Pines Housing’s application to develop a two-story, four-unit apartment building at the former site of the Tip Top Tire auto repair shop at 1965 Hartford Ave. in Wilder village.

The 4,360 square-foot building — which would devote two units to individuals or families who earn up to 60 percent of Windsor County’s median household income of $74,500 and two for those who earn up to 120 percent of the median — must still receive Planning Commission approval and meet amendments ordered by the Zoning Board before receiving a zoning permit.

The board’s conditional approval came amid concerns from Wilder residents that the building’s proposed design fails to fit in with the character of Wilder Village, a late-1800s planned village for pulp-mill workers that has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1999.

About a half-dozen residents attended a pair of January public hearings and a Zoning Board site visit on Jan. 23 to let their opinions be known.

Preliminary renderings from Montpelier-based architect Gregg Gossens depict a 22-foot-high building with a virtually flat roof, balcony-style porches and a staircase protruding from the center of the front of the building.

Residents such as Cynthia Monroe, whose property abuts the site to the northeast on Hawthorn Street, said the building’s presentation could undermine the restoration efforts of other homeowners in the neighborhood.

“It isn’t about the development. We’re excited and happy to be developing and with the idea of bringing affordable housing to Wilder,” said Monroe, a Dartmouth College English professor who moved to the neighborhood two years ago. “But it is a historic mill village that is defined by houses with four basic designs, and the neighborhood is on the cusp of revitalization. There are people who maintain their property impeccably or are trying to restore places. The plan as proposed does not look like it belongs in the heart of a historic village.”

Gossens, at a Jan. 23 public hearing about the project, said he considered the Vermont Secretary of Interior Standards’ guidelines for development in a historic area when designing the building, according to draft minutes of the zoning board hearing.

Pressed further about feelings that the current building design doesn’t match the character of the neighborhood, Gossens responded that the design was “not intended to match, but to be compatible,” according to the minutes.

Twin Pines Executive Director Andrew Winter said the nonprofit will continue to listen to Wilder residents as the project moves forward, adding that the design of the building could still be adjusted.

“The neighbors are being heard,” Winter said in a Thursday phone interview. “There aren’t any major decisions that have been made yet in light of their concerns, but we’re still working with the architect on the final design.”

The building’s virtually flat roof design will likely remain, Winter said, in part to help maximize the potential future installation of solar panels. Such power sources are increasingly being incorporated into Twin Pines Housing projects, including ongoing projects in White River Junction and Hanover.

Several neighbors have also expressed concerns about the potential for exposure to airborne contaminants released during the brownfield site’s remediation and construction.

Remediation plans would include the removal of the top 1½ feet of soil at the site and replacing it with clean soil.

Kevin Geiger, senior planner for the Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Planning Commission — which years ago identified the vacant, 0.34-acre plot as a high priority for cleanup and development — vouched for the remediation process, noting the involvement of Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Winter, meanwhile, presented a letter from Waterbury, Vt.-based geologist Angela Emerson that explained steps such as pre-wetting to control contaminated airborne dust.

“We’re definitely taking the cleanup seriously,” Winter said.

The Zoning Board approval included a requirement that steps be taken to ensure snowmelt from the building’s eight-spot parking lot be directed to the village’s stormwater treatment system.

Winter said he hopes financing for the project can be tied into phase two of an ongoing, 47-unit project off of Sykes Mountain Avenue in White River Junction known as Wentworth Way.

He also voiced optimism that the Hartford Avenue project can break ground by the end of this year. The lot has been vacant since the former auto repair shop burned down in the early 1990s.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

Correction

Twin Pines Housing is proposing to build a four-unit, 4,360 square-foot apartment building in Wilder. The median household income for a family of four in Windsor County in 2018 was $74,500. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect square-footage and an outdated income number.




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