Proposed Hannaford notches court victory; hurdles left to cross

Updated 5/5/2015: Previous image used was incorrect. Correct image is now shown below

Proposed Hannaford location at the lot 15 meadow. The left-hand pole marks the southeast corner of the proposed building. The right-hand pole marks the southeast corner of the proposed covered porch.
Proposed Hannaford location at the lot 15 meadow. The left-hand pole marks the southeast corner of the proposed building. The right-hand pole marks the southeast corner of the proposed covered porch.

While a proposed Hannaford supermarket in Hinesburg has gained a court victory, the project must still wait to see if any appeals will be filed.

The court’s decision effectively helped the store leap over seven stop signs as the building scheme wound its way through the local development review.

Judge Thomas Walsh, of the Environmental Court, Superior Court Division put his signature on paperwork during the middle of April, advancing the supermarket chain’s push to move forward with development schemes. The push to construct a 36,000-square-foot store in town started nearly six years ago. From the project’s earliest conception, which included 128 parking spaces, local residents have argued the project’s merits.

The plan’s site plan also won approval from the Hinesburg Development Review Board, but nearly three dozen conditions pertaining to traffic mitigation and construction were attached.

Hinesburg Development Review Coordinator Annie Geratowski discussed the Environmental Court’s ruling with the development review board during its April 19 meeting. Board members appeared to be surprised that its denials of plans of two businesses were included in the appeal.

Later on, board member Greg Waples, noting that several developers of larger development projects reviewed by the board, are now appealing those decisions in court. “Our decisions mean nothing,” said Waples, an attorney with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Burlington. He went to note that the Environmental Court’s rulings amount to a trail de novo, or in effect, a new trial. “We’re investing a huge amount of time and (our) good judgment…that’s being overturned.”

Waples suggested that the board consider implementing more formal policies when reviewing some developments, including testimony from project applicants be given under oath.

There was no public indication from the board, if or when, that might happen.

Since then, the project was on the receiving end of denials and approvals. Among the rejections was the board’s decision to turn down Hannaford’s request to add one-third of an acre property to its building location from an abutting business. Also, the board also gave the thumbs’ down to Aubuchon Realty Co.’s hope to move its parking area entrance further easterly, scaling back on vehicle congestion stemming from the store.

The Environmental Court’s decisions touched on an array of issues, including Hannaford’s site plan, wetlands classification, Act 250 rulings, store extended hours, revision to nearby Automotion’s site plan, a changed entrance to Aubuchon and a boundary adjustment. Walsh’s decision favored Hannaford and two of the decisions turned back denials made by Hinesburg’s Development Review Board.

When contacted, Hinesburg Director of Planning and Zoning Alex Weinhagen responded that Hannaford isn’t scheduled to appear before the board again.

While Hannaford developers are pleased with the court’s decision, the project is still in need of at least two permits, while one appeal found in the Environmental Court still must be ironed out.

“We are pleased with recent decisions and do not have any appeals planned,” wrote Eric Blom, Hannaford Supermarkets external communication manager in an email to The Citizen. “The process is ongoing, and it would not be appropriate for us to talk in detail outside the process.”

Hannaford attorney Christopher Roy was out of town at the end of last week and not immediately available for comment. In his absence, Blom answered questions.

Lawyer James Dumont, who practices in Bristol, represents residents, who comprise Responsible Growth Hinesburg. He wrote in an email that he plans on speaking with members of the organization this week. He did note the group isn’t finished with the court system. “We will be filing a motion to reconsider…once the court rules on that motion; we will decide whether or not to appeal.”

Motions to reconsider are driven by federal and state laws, and vary by jurisdiction. It’s often a prelude of an appeal of a court decision.

Motions to reconsider are filed with the court that made the decision, Dumont said.

At the same time, Responsible Growth Hinesburg has lodged an appeal with the Environmental Court concerning a permit from the U.S. Army Corps. Of Engineers to add fill to the wetland.

The Town of Hinesburg is a party to the legal proceedings. When contacted about the environmental court’s ruling, Hinesburg Selectboard member Michael Bissonette noted in an email late last week that the panel briefly discussed the decision during its April 18 meeting. It’s slated to be discussed in more detail during the board’s May 2 meeting.

If the town decided to appeal, the deadline to do so is 30 days from the April 12 decision, according to Weinhagen.

Hinesburg Town Administrator Trevor Lashua responded to The Citizen in an email about the course the town may pursue in the wake of the environmental court’s decision. The Town Administrator said it was ‘still to be determined” if the town would appeal the court’s ruling. He added that no other discussions are planned with Hannaford developers.