Montpelier retail owners, city officials and politicians react
by Carla Occaso
BERLIN — Bulldozers. Mounds of dirt. Gigantic new buildings. Plans for a new state rest area. Up in Berlin Center, that’s what it’s all about.
The spacious two-story Northfield Savings Bank operations center went up over the summer just off Paine Turnpike at the bottom of Fisher Road. The 21,000 square-foot building houses 70 employees, said Sherry Doane, vice president of operations by telephone to The Bridge. Employees started to work there beginning in September. There were also several repaving projects this summer up in that area, especially on Airport Road by the Hilltop Inn. Repaving projects included Route 62 from the interstate exchange to Airport Road and down the hill to the Barre-Montpelier Road. The municipal water system project also was a headache for motorists up in that area from the Shaw’s driveway to Fisher Road and beyond.
And in recent days, a new Kohl’s department store sprang up and is nearing completion in the same complex as the Berlin Mall. A banner in front of the construction site declares the store is scheduled to open in February 2016 and they are seeking workers.
The Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission offers this from the original Act 250 application: “We recently received an Act 250 application for construction of a single, approximately 55,550-square-foot, free-standing department store (Kohl’s).” In addition, the report states the store will provide 100 jobs, and roughly $80,000 in state and local property taxes will be paid to the town.
The Act 250 permit was granted in July 2015 after hearings.
As for the water supply, Kohl’s will first get water from the existing private system used and managed by the Berlin Mall. Then, after it becomes available, the store will use the new Berlin municipal water system, according to Berlin Development Review Board minutes from October 21, 2014. Wetlands also surround the project, which is evident to the casual observer. To deal with this concern, the project had to get a wetlands permit from the Department of Environmental Conservation.
And, although the company isn’t putting in solar panels during initial construction, the company is installing the appropriate infrastructure to make the store solar ready.
So, what else is in the works? “There is a master plan for the Town of Berlin,” said Town Administrator Dana Hadley to The Bridge November 10. “The planning commission has been working on upgrading the town’s zoning and subdivisions laws … so zoning would conform with the master plan.”
Other future developments in that neighborhood include a new state welcome center just off Exit Seven near Applebee’s. “That (old gas station) store will be closing and that will be a new rest area on (Interstate) 89,” Hadley said. In addition, a new Maplefields convenience store and new gas station will be put in by Wayne Lamberton of Berlin. Ground has already broken for that project.
Montpelier retail owners, officials and politicians speak out:
Ashley Witzenberger, executive director of Montpelier Alive:
“Downtown Montpelier is very different than what is developing in Berlin. The shopping experience is very different. We always hope everyone does well, rising tide … you know?”
Sarah DeFelice, Bailey Road clothing store owner:
“As a new and small business, having a growing development of major chain stores right up the road is a definite concern. However, even though the Berlin Mall will appeal to bargain and box chain shoppers, I think its most recent development will make what we have in downtown Montpelier even more special. Montpelier will continue to be the authentic small town where shopping can be personal.”
Claire Benedict, Bear Pond Books owner:
“People who want the cheapest they can get will be happy.”
John Hollar, Mayor of Montpelier:
“The retail stores at the Berlin Mall are, by and large, not the types of businesses that are going to locate in Montpelier. I shop at the mall for products that aren’t available in Montpelier.”
Rep. Warren Kitzmiller, D-Montpelier:
“I’m told they have decent quality basic clothing, so maybe it would be a good place to buy underwear, pajamas, socks. I doubt it will have much effect on Montpelier, since we have more “specialty” stores (and we were NOT put out of business by WalMart as some predicted). I very seldom shop in that mall. Once in a great while, when I actually want to buy some “cheap plastic crap,” I’ll go to WalMart, but I doubt I spend $50 a year there.”