By Julia Purdy
RUTLAND—The developers of the proposed Starbucks restaurant on North Main Street appeared before the Rutland Development Review Board (DRB) and observers Wednesday to present updates to the project and request a conditional use permit to operate a retail store in conjunction with the planned restaurant.
The project has encountered public opposition in recent weeks, as Starbucks will replace an early 19th century house, once the renowned Royal’s Hearthside restaurant, which will be torn down.
Zoning Administrator Tara Kelly said the project will not require Act 250 review because the parcel is under an acre and Rutland City has a zoning ordinance. P&R Properties LLC, a Mark K. Foley Jr. holding, currently owns the property.
Wednesday’s site plan review hearing focused on the appearance of the building, landscaping, traffic, drainage measures, water and sewer, and parking.
The applicant is Alrig USA, a Detroit-based developer of commercial properties, which was represented by attorney James Goss of Facey Goss & McPhee P.C., in Rutland.
Matthew Skelly, transportation engineer of Fuss & O’Neill in Connecticut, described the traffic considerations, and Nicole Kesselring, president of Enman Kesselring Consulting Engineers, elaborated on the landscaping and site plan.
Goss introduced the project, saying the plan is to construct a 2-unit commercial building with Starbucks coffee shop and drive-through in the “Gateway Business District 2.” The Starbucks is a permitted use, and the project meets all regulations and technical requirements, he said.
Access will be through the CVS parcel via an easement with that property, eliminating traffic “conflicts,” he said. He gave other examples that include Home Depot and Tractor Supply.
Goss noted that while nearby businesses have flat roofs and glass fronts, large houses to the north are mainly frame construction with pitched roofs. The Starbucks store is viewed as a “transitional” design. It will feature a pitched, gabled roof, and stone accents and stone coloring, following the suggestions of the architectural review committee, which is advisory to the DRB.
Nicole Kesselring described the landscape plan as achieving a balance between aesthetics and maximizing space for parking.
A buffer strip along Route 7 of juniper and hydrangea will line the sidewalk, and a rain garden at the rear of the lot will capture parking lot runoff, exceeding the city standard for significant reduction in runoff, she said. A cluster of birches will mark the driveway.
The ordering window would be on the side facing Route 7. As many as eight cars can queue at the window, transportation engineer Matthew Skelly said, although Starbucks criteria nationally are for three to four cars in line at any one time. In a memo, the city engineer had recommended planning adequate space for cars to queue at the ordering window rather than trying to direct longer lines to stack in the parking lot during peak periods.
Lighting will be as unobtrusive as possible, with four pole lights and decorative lighting, and there will be no floodlights.
Skelly noted that the Route 4-Route 7 intersection is the busiest intersection in Rutland. According to his firm’s traffic impact study, VTrans counted 24,962 vehicles passing through the intersection over a 24-hour period. The Rutland Herald had reported in 2011 that the 24-hour count was 22,800 vehicles.
The traffic study also noted the Five Guys hamburger shop proposed for the Mobil Station location 500 yards away and concluded that it would attract less traffic than the Mobil Station has.
In his memo, the city engineer expressed “no concerns” for an adverse impact on traffic patterns or wait times. Skelly said patrons will use the existing left turn lane into the CVS lot, and the timing of the traffic signal is not expected to be changed, although longer queues can be expected. The lane length can be increased, he added.
No one at the hearing asked about traffic safety, but the traffic study includes a crash analysis. The study notes that although this intersection is included on VTrans’ High Crash Location map for 2012-2016, there is no proposal to alter traffic patterns.
While 2015 saw a high of eight crashes here, 2017 only saw one, and the average per year has been four, all occurring within 200 feet of each intersection. VTrans crash data shows the majority occurred on Route 7 before noon or in late afternoon, in most cases in good weather. The majority of crashes were “sideswipes” of vehicles moving in the same direction as they failed to keep to their lane.
VTrans plans to install rumble strips and new pavement markings in 2018, the study reported.
Skelly stated that sight distance meets VTrans standards.
Observers remained silent but attentive. Questions from the board concerned parking, snow removal, the sewer layout, what the retail area would consist of, what the enclosure will be made of, and the number of people to be employed by Starbucks.
Retired architect Alvin Figiel of the ARC stood to thank the planners for incorporating changes requested by his group.
The ARC requested the exterior elements be light-colored clapboard siding of either wood or “simulated wood” and brick, stone or wood, with simulated wood trim around the windows, and that the center gable be larger than the other two.
The final comment from “behind the rail” included a plea on behalf of the Northwest Neighborhood, which claims North Main Street as its east boundary, to preserve the historic Hearthside building and move it elsewhere to be repurposed as a cultural resource.
The DRB has 45 days to render its decision, followed by a 30-day appeal period to the Vermont Superior Court, Environmental Division.
Zoning approval is the first step, Kelly told the Mountain Times. The DRB will make its decision within 45 days, followed by a 30-day appeal period. If appealed, the proposal goes to the Superior Court’s environmental division. Actual construction will need a building permit plus a permit from the fire safety division.
The Starbucks property will include the present parking area on the north side of the Hearthside, and the building will take up most of the frontage on Route 7. The total footprint of the building will be about 5,700 sq. ft., with the retail section taking up about 2/3 of the total.
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