By MADELINE HUGHES
Hannaford Brothers Co. began its quest to build a supermarket in Hinesburg in 2010. Eight years later, after a trip through the local permitting process that went all the way to the Vermont Supreme Court, the Maine-based grocery chain is back before the town Development Review Board.
But while the project was before the board Tuesday night, representatives from the company chose not to attend the public hearing on the proposal. That move didn’t sit well with local residents present, many of whom take issue with the project.
Tuesday was the fourth development review meeting devoted to the controversial proposal since it has returned to the local permitting process recently.
Last November, the Vermont Supreme Court issued a ruling that rejected an earlier town zoning approval for the project and the company has reapplied. The high court also took issue with the project’s approval under Act 250, the state land-use law, sending it back to state Environmental Court for more review.
Based in Scarborough, Maine, the grocery chain operates 181 stores in the Northeast, 17 of which are in Vermont, the closest at Taft Corners in Williston. Hannaford’s plans call for building a 36,000-square-foot grocery store and pharmacy with 128 parking spaces on about 4.5 acres in the last open lot in Commerce Park north of Hinesburg village along Vermont Route 116.
Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, a report from town planning and zoning staff after the previous meeting in July ticked off a list of outstanding concerns with the proposal as pertaining to: “internal vehicular circulation, sufficient parking and loading facilities, refuse storage and disposal, snow storage and removal, emergency access, hours of operation, the landscaping plan, exterior lighting, sewer and water, grading, erosion control and generation of hazardous wastes.” Those concerns were supposed to be discussed Tuesday evening.
Hours before the meeting, Hannaford architects from SE Group requested more time and town staff added another public hearing date for Sept. 4, but still held the already-scheduled meeting because it was too late to cancel.
The reason for the request? The applicant received questions about a traffic report that company officials were not prepared to answer, said Michael Norton, director of corporate communications for Hannaford.
The hearing began as planned, however, with about 20 members of the public in attendance. Frustrated that experts from Hannaford did not show up, Jim Dumont, lawyer for the citizen group Responsible Growth Hinesburg, argued that experts paid for by the group be heard. Referring to Hannaford officials, Dumont said: “They choose not to show up unilaterally.”
The citizen group’s hired experts were present and prepared to testify on stormwater and traffic analysis issues.
The board’s Vice Chair Richard Jordan said the board planned to continue the discussion into a September meeting regardless of how Tuesday’s hearing went in order to give people another opportunity to be heard. Planning and Zoning Director Alex Weinhagen added that he suggested to Hannaford representatives that they still show up Tuesday despite the request for the continuance. Board member Greg Waples said the board could take the last-minute delay request into account later in the process.
There was some disagreement about which topics were up for discussion for Tuesday’s meeting, and what topics would be continued in the next meeting. Vice Chair Jordan suggested those present address what they came to discuss.
“If questions are getting asked today, they are not getting answered, so get them on the record,” Jordan said, adding that Hannaford officials could catch up by watching the video recording of the meeting.
Andres Torizzo of Watershed Consulting Associates testified on behalf of the citizen group that Hannaford’s stormwater plan did not meet 2017 standards. “There are no means to meet the groundwater recharge standard,” Torrizo told the board.
Board member Sarah Murphy asked what Hannaford’s response to that might be. Mitchel Cypes, Hinesburg’s development review coordinator, said the company contends that the project complies wastewater standards.
Michael Oman and John Bruno testified as traffic experts on behalf of the citizen group. They pointed out that Hannaford’s traffic analysis has not addressed traffic on Route 116, lacking in particular a look at potential truck turns, and a crash analysis for the added left-hand turns that the store would generate onto Commerce Street.
“We are really [now] at the limits of Route 116 to carry current traffic,” Bruno said. “There’s not room in the system.”
The consultants criticized Hannaford’s data that estimated trips to the store at just 10 per hour, 85 fewer than the number at the existing nearby Lantman’s Market, Hinesburg’s locally owned grocery store. “Hannaford has a big draw,” Bruno said. “At least the Lantman’s trip rate should be used.”
In addition to town officials, Hinesburg residents in the audience had a chance to ask questions and comment at Tuesday’s hearing.
Hinesburg resident Katherine Goldsmith pointed out “for the most part the project hasn’t changed” since 2010, asking will the board consider all of the evidence presented over the last eight years?
The public hearing will continue Sept. 4 when Hannaford is expected to address concerns raised Tuesday by the development review board and the public.