Jiffy Mart developer sees new store as improvement to area’s character

By Shawn Cunningham
©2015-Telegraph Publishing LLC

Pointing to a “very old service station, a very old metal diner, an abandoned pizza parlor that’s overgrown, a dollar store site and a rental house that’s not in very good shape,” Matt Wamsganz, the point man overseeing constructing a 5,000-square-foot Jiffy Mart for Champlain Oil, told the Chester Development Review Board on Monday that with regard to the character of the area at Main and Pleasant streets “we are certainly improving it.”

The project — comprised of a convenience store, Subway, Ramunto’s Pizza Express and five double-sided fuel pumps — is undergoing a flood hazard review and is seeking a conditional use permit from the DRB.

The second session of the flood review involved an answer to a question posed by architect Claudio Veliz regarding changes being made to the property that abuts Lovers Lane Brook and what effect these changes would have on flooding and flood water velocity as it moved downstream. Wamsganz said that since the last meeting Champlain Oil had had an engineer do a “cut and fill analysis,” which he called a good exercise because they found that they could use 100 cubic yard less dirt and gain 20,000 gallons of flood storage.

The proposed Chester Jiffy Mart is to look similar to the one in Charlestown, N.H., pictured. Photo courtesy Jiffy Mart.

The proposed Chester Jiffy Mart is to look similar to the one in Charlestown, N.H., pictured. Photo courtesy Jiffy Mart. Click photo to enlarge.

Veliz told Wamsganz that it was not cut and fill volume, but configuration that he was interested in, noting that the raised area around the building would act like “the prow of a ship” to split and condense flood waters around the building and even onto South Main Street.  Wamsganz noted that the company did not have to do the analysis, but that a licensed engineer had said that the site would be better off  with the development than it is now.

Throughout the discussion of flood hazard, DRB chair Carla Westine reminded both the public and a board member that the board could only take into account 2007 FEMA flood maps, pre Tropical Storm Irene.

John Broker-Campbell, regional floodplain manager for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, noted that while the project is not in the area where there is a 1 percent chance of flooding each year (known as the 100 year flood zone), the entire project lies inside the area where there is a .2 percent chance of flooding (or the 500 year flood zone.) He told the board that he would be sending a letter to them outlining best practices for managing such a project in that area and helping the town to maintain compliance with the National Flood Insurance Program.

Board member Philip Perlah asked Campbell if there was any data on the accuracy of FEMA maps. Westine told Perlah that this had been discussed at the previous meeting and that the 2007 FEMA maps were what they had to use to make decisions.

Wamsganz told the board that the Jiffy Mart “went above and beyond” in addressing questions that were not required of it.

Seeking conditional uses

The board then turned to the application for a conditional use permit to include selling automotive fuels, retail and food service.

Looking to the board for clarification on how it would interpret language that does not mandate, but encourages developers to maintain the character of the area, Veliz pointed to several areas in the bylaws that he said spoke to the spirit and intent of the Planning Commission, which drafted them.

“Encouraged is not the same as required,” said Westine, who then turned to Wamsganz  asking him if he thought he had made every effort to follow the spirit of the bylaws. Wamsganz contended that the character of the area was not very good, and that the Jiffy Mart would be an improvement. “There’s no way in my mind that we are adversely affecting the character of the area.”

Noting that the bylaws urge a shift from driving and toward pedestrian access, Perlah asserted that a new gas station seems to go against that intent. Westine responded by saying that there are errors and “problematic language” in the bylaws and that the Planning Commission is working on that. In the meantime, she asserted, she walks her dog past the existing Jiffy Mart and even stops in for water on a hot day. “I can’t imagine that people won’t be walking to the new Jiffy Mart,” said Westine.

Select Board member and Planning Commission chair Tom Bock asked Wamsganz if there had been any consideration given to keeping the house on the property or moving it elsewhere. Westine instead answered, telling Bock that it was not a requirement that anything be saved on the property. “As a resident who likes to see old houses I’ll be sad to see it go, but there’s nothing in the regs,” said Westine.

“So he can’t answer the question?” asked Bock.

Wamganz said that there were three options including moving the house to the back of the lot, moving the house to another lot and dismantling the house to be reassembled elsewhere. After studying the options, the company decided that none would fit into the development budget and that the “removal” of the house referred to in the first DRB meeting would be demolition.

Robert Record, the owner of the house, which he is currently renting to the State of Vermont as transitional housing, rose to say the house is not worth saving. “I own the house,” said Record, “and it’s not in good shape. The sills are gone, the bay window is rotted. I don’t want the house, I’m not going to put any money into it.” Before being rented to the state, the house was the headquarters for the Windsor Southwest Supervisory Union for 19 years.  By the time the new Two Rivers Supervisory Union moved into its Fletcher Farm location in the summer of 2013, the monthly rent for the house was $4,023.85.

In limiting questions from the members of  the public, including Veliz, Westine said that the board did not want late night sessions. Wamsganz echoed Westine’s remarks saying that he lives two hours away and has children and that meetings that run late are an imposition on him.

At  just after 9 p.m. both the flood hazard review and the conditional use hearings were recessed to 6 p.m. Monday, June 8, also to be held at Town Hall, 556 Elm St. Click here for the agenda.

Before the Jiffy Mart hearing, Chester residents and artists Payne and Elise Junker brought a proposal to change a portion of the conditional use for their 103 Artisans Gallery, at Route 103 East, to include a small cafe with both inside and outside seating — depending on the season — and a room for yoga and other wellness exercise. The board reviewed setbacks, parking and other issues and asked the Junkers to return with letters from the Chester Police, Fire and Water and Sewer departments saying that there would be no adverse effects from such operations

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  1. We looked at the story to see if we had misstated this and could not find an error. Here is what the story said.
    “John Broker-Campbell, regional floodplain manager for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, noted that while the project is not in the area where there is a 1 percent chance of flooding each year (known as the 100 year flood zone), the entire project lies inside the area where there is a .2 percent chance of flooding (or the 500 year flood zone.)”
    Hope this clears it up.

  2. corrina says:

    The building is not in the 100 year flood plain. You should check your facts using widely available and accurate FEMA data and use it in your arguments.

  3. Claudio says:

    Though the existing house is “mounded” up and thus avoids upper level water damage, any basement area is vulnerable. Also, note the *rest* of the site in this flood video. It is innundated.

    No matter how one looks at this project, it will be damaging to Chester.


  4. Scott says:

    Where the proposed Jiffy is asking to go, I have never seen the water flood where the house is.

  5. Kathy says:

    It’s lunacy to be shackled to old flood maps while considering placing a large gas station with buried tanks virtually on top of an area which *has* flooded far more frequently (due to man-made changes along the brook as well as climate change ) and more severely than the maps would indicate.

    The area is ecologically fragile; one gas station already looms menacingly. What happens if the existing station or the proposed station leak into the earth and water?

    A small, undetected ‘pin hole’ leak can cause hundreds of millions of damage over time as well as sicken people in the vicinity of the leak and poison animals dependent on the water. Look into Northville Industries, Setauket, NY. It is a larger facility not located on a brook, but the damage was something that could very well occur in Chester and spread to other areas subject to water flow — both above and below ground.

    Have any hydrological studies been performed?

    Has the house at the proposed site been examined by an architect or someone with the licensed background to verify its structural integrity? If it is in the condition the owner suggests, why would any state or county entity open itself to such a liability by allowing people to live there?

    As for the character of the area: the Country Girl Diner is an iconic piece of roadside Americana — the metal diner — whose numbers are dwindling. Yes, it’s old and metal, and it is historic. The house Jiffy Mart seeks to raze shares architectural features with structures along Chester’s greens and by-ways, tying the community together while securing it’s place in time.

    The house on the subject property is pleasing to the eye; along with the Country Girl Diner it gives visitors a sense of what to anticipate as they head west. It was enough to pique my interest and cause me to head to the green as opposed to heading north on 103. Interestingly enough, a NY woman I came to know a year ago recommends a particular inn in Chester to her friends because of our area’s charming architecture which has been preserved over the centuries.

    Should Jiffy Mart’s large proposed gas station be approved, travelers will see another cookie-cutter, corporate construction — a soulless structure with a fast food outlet which they can find at home. Should the dollar store be approved, Chester’s fate will be sealed. Ten years from now it will be chiseled away, as box store chains develop lot after lot.

  6. Sean Whalen says:

    This area isn’t a 100-year flood risk or 500-year flood risk. It’s an every-year flood risk. I know because for 30 years I lived 200 yards upstream from the site of the proposed gas station/etc. Normal spring flooding of Lovers Lane Brook has gotten much worse since the early ’80s, at least in part because of development along the brook. The biggest difference was seen after the pizza place and its ginormous parking lot went in; but other property owners along the brook piled on to make it worse: One resident armored his part of the bank with rip-rap; another built a levee around his own property in the years 2005-2009; and one business owner cleared almost all of the “riparian buffer” along the brook. As the effects piled up, less and less water could be absorbed along the banks and flooding got worse.
    Now comes a bigger and better Jiffy Mart. Now come more fuel tanks buried along the brook. And a Dollar General on the brook too? And its parking lot?
    The area along the brook should be left undeveloped! It has been an important wildlife corridor – we’ve seen fox, coyote, ducks, herons and even a couple of moose come through over the years – and a beautiful natural area and, unless we destroy it further, it still absorbs the spring floods.
    Developers, have a heart!

  7. Claudio says:

    Strip development is, in effect, an invasive species, leeching capital from a community and giving little, even nothing in return. In this case also demolishing a 19th century treasure of a house, that could be well maintained, if one so desired. Such proposed generic, cookie-cutter development in a 250 year old American treasure, is depressing to say it mildly. It costs the town resources and prevents what could be vastly higher quality development that would provide up to ten times the tax revenue for the town. Tragically, it would seem the DRB has already pre-decided in favor of this Application, from the summary manner in which they are sliding past many violations of text in the Unified Development Bylaws.

  8. Verespy says:

    I was taken aback that he referred to “a very old metal diner” as though The Country Girl Diner were some sort of eyesore. With its pleasing exterior, local artwork displayed out front and lovely landscaping, the Diner is certainly more attractive, and definitely adds more character to the town than any convenience store/gas station could ever hope to bring!