After final testimony on traffic and architecture, Chester DRB closes Jiffy Mart hearings

By Shawn Cunningham
©2015 Telegraph Publishing LLC

It was dueling experts on traffic and Chester’s architectural character as the Development Board of Review held its final meeting on a Jiffy Mart proposed for the corner of Pleasant and Main streets in Chester on Monday, Aug. 10. The hearing began with board chair Carla Westine acknowledging the loss of member Don Robinson, who died the previous Friday. No alternate was sitting in at the session.

At an earlier meeting, opponents had challenged the traffic impact study submitted by Champlain Oil – Jiffy Mart’s parent company. In addition to answering those objections, Jiffy Mart brought a second traffic expert to critique the opponents’ expert.

Rick Bryant of Stantec testifies before the DRB. Photos by Shawn Cunningham.

Rick Bryant of Stantec testifies before the DRB. Photos by Shawn Cunningham.

Rick Bryant, of the engineering firm Stantec, emphasized repeatedly that his “No. 1 client” is VTrans while questioning the work of the engineering firm RSG and Ben Swanson, who wrote a peer review of the original traffic study written by Trudell, another engineering firm.

Traffic engineering relies on a large number of constants and factors and calculations, and the testimony showed that there are so many ways to look at a situation and put it in a favorable or an unfavorable light. The state of Vermont looks at an applicant’s traffic study and, if the argument seems sound, approves it with the stipulation that  if the result is bad, it reserves the right to fix it in whatever manner it sees fit. That fix could involve turn lanes, traffic lights or other “mitigation.” Considering such complexity, the board is faced with a challenge just reconciling the information.

When the experts had finished, several Chester residents gave their perspectives on what traffic problems the project might cause. Lew Watters pointed to the assumption that the traffic would be traveling at the posted speed limit of 30 mph, saying that he seriously doubts that most of the drivers coming through town are observing that limit.

Westine noted that the limit is what the board has to work with saying, “If you have an issue with speeding in town, take it up with the Police Department.”

Carol Theodore told the board that the intersection of Pleasant and Main is dangerous. “We should think long and hard before we make it more dangerous,” she said. Theodore noted that both Okemo and Killington ski resorts have large developments in the works and those will increase traffic. “I want to see more development in this town,” said Theodore, “but this may not be the right use for this place.”

Matt Wamsganz of Champlain Oil, left, listens as architectural historian Hugh Henry testifies about saving the house on the proposed Jiffy Mart site.

Matt Wamsganz of Champlain Oil, left, listens as architectural historian Hugh Henry testifies about saving the house on the proposed Jiffy Mart site.

Saying that he lives on Route 103 and has property behind the proposed site, Richard Farnsworth called Okemo traffic ­“insane” and called for a Chester bypass.

Chester’s Development Bylaws require the DRB to look at any new construction of a conditional use (not homes) and consider whether it “adheres harmoniously to the over-all New England architectural appearance which gives the center of Chester its distinct regional character and appeal.”

Unfortunately, neither the bylaws nor the Town Plan define the New England architectural appearance or even where the “center” of Chester is, so periodically applicants and opponents must try to convince the DRB what those elusive phrases mean.

Champlain Oil’s Matt Wamsganz submitted a summary and 20 photos of buildings in Chester that do not exhibit the steeply pitched roofs and other characteristics discussed in earlier meetings. He also put forward a letter from Burlington architects Wiemann Lamphere that seems to acknowledge that the design does not meet the typical New England style for elements like roof pitch, but that other regulations make that impossible. Wamsganz also submitted new elevations showing signs on the building rather than a blank wall.

Architectural historian and Chester native Hugh Henry spoke in favor of saving the “Burbank house” that sits on the site and will likely be demolished, noting that when he wrote the nomination to put Chester’s downtown on the National Register, the district did not include this structure, but he believes that it would be eligible for inclusion on both the state and National Register if the district were to be extended.

Westine asked if moving the house was a possibility. Wamsganz explained that while Champlain Oil has no objection to someone moving the house, the company does not want to see that as a condition or requirement since such a large and expensive project can be subject to delays that interfere with the project’s building schedule.

Westine asked Henry if moving the house would be sufficient and he said it would.

In his presentation, Chester architect Claudio Veliz addressed the confusion about the “center of Chester” by taking all the references to it in the Town Plan and Unified Development Bylaws and laying their boundaries over a map to create geographic Venn diagram showing where they overlap and establishing an area where they all agree.

Veliz then analyzed the architectural styles and the elements of those styles that he testified define the appearance of the center of town to these include:

  • Two stories
  • Gable roofs
  • Perimeter trim
  • Clapboard siding
  • Double hung windows
  • Symmetrical second floors
  • Asymmetrical first floors (entrances)
  • Entries at the front or side, not at the corner
  • Solid wood doors
Architect Claudio Veliz explains a diagram outlining what the building styles within the center of Chester are.

Architect Claudio Veliz explains a diagram outlining what the building styles within the center of Chester are.

Veliz noted that in published definitions of New England architectural style, examples are not any newer than the 1930s. He pointed to the photos provided by Champlain Oil, noting that most had been built since the ’30s.

Following Veliz’s presentation, Watters pointed to the new walking tour of historic buildings in Chester compiled and printed by the Chester Townscape. The board voted to enter the flyer into evidence.

In a closing statement, Wamsganz noted that this had been a long process. He told the board that he thought that Chester would be changed by this project and that the change would be for the better. Wamsganz noted that there was no opposition by abutters aside from Farnsworth and stated that “this is not the dollar store.” He also told the board that the reference to New England architectural character is vague at best.

After Wamsganz’s remarks, the board closed the hearing, triggering a 45-day period in which the board must make and write a decision.

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