By MADELINE HUGHES
The Hinesburg Town Hall’s parking lot was nearly full Tuesday night – a measure of local interest in the final Development Review Board public hearing on the Hannaford Brothers Co. grocery store project.
Hannaford began its quest to build a supermarket in Hinesburg in 2010 with plans for a 36,000-square-foot store and 128 parking spots in the middle of the village. The lot is roughly five acres, and has enough room to host a farmers market.
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.
Despite the lengthy process, Michael Norton, Hannaford’s director of external communication and community relations, said the company wants to see the project through. “It is still very viable to be in Hinesburg,” he said.
Tuesday’s hearing was the fifth on the proposed project since the board reopened the case in April. After final testimony, the board was split on whether the hearing phase should end now. David White, the longtime Hannaford representative and president of White and Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors, made a request that the board move on to deliberations.
“It is Hannaford’s preference that you close the meeting tonight,” White said, adding that the company had answered all of the board’s questions and provided as much information that it could for the board to make a decision.
Board member Sarah Murphy agreed. “If the applicant is ready to close… I say we close.”
She made the motion and the vote was unanimous to close the public hearing on the application for the site plan application.
That gives the board 45 days to deliberate. There are three regularly scheduled board meetings in that time period.
Alex Weinhagen, Hinesburg’s director of planning and zoning, told the board he hopes to get feedback from the board at the Sept. 18 meeting to bring to a town attorney for draft language for a decision to bring to the board on the Oct. 2 meeting. Then working with the attorney, the board will have about two more weeks finalize a draft decision, Weinhagen said.
The main issue discussed Tuesday night was traffic, a thorny topic throughout the project review. Questions about traffic raised days before an August hearing was scheduled, led Hannaford representatives to skip the meeting and ask to delay the conversation until September.
Board member Greg Waples expressed his “disappointment” that Hannaford representatives did not attend the previous meeting.
“We did not intend to offend anyone,” White replied, explaining that project officials needed more time to answer the traffic questions. “It was a decision that was made at that time.”
Hannaford submitted an updated traffic impact assessment on Aug. 21.
The citizen group Responsible Growth Hinesburg, which strongly opposes the Hannaford development proposal, brought traffic experts Michael Oman and John Bruno to testify that the company’s study was not adequate. The citizen group takes issue with Hannaford’s “trip generation numbers” used to predict the traffic the supermarket will create, Oman said.
Hannaford’s analysis states that the key intersections near the Hinesburg store planned near Commerce Street would see an increase of about an additional 75 trips per hour on average on weekdays. White defended the traffic study, saying the company used “conservative” estimates.
Waples recognized that building the grocery store will create new traffic patterns. “This project is going to undoubtedly increase traffic pressures on the town at busy times,” he said, pointing out that there would be no going back to reassess traffic concerns once development happened.
“We have to decide as the people of Hinesburg how much we are willing to bet on this project,” Waples said.
Members of the public attending the meeting shared their concerns over traffic.
George Dameron, who has lived in the Hinesburg village for 30 years, said: “There is only one road that can service the entire village. We will see much more congestion” with the development.
Stormwater was also discussed. Hannaford representatives submitted no further materials, saying their plans meet regulations.
Andres Torizzo of Watershed Consulting Associates testified on behalf of the citizen group. He disagreed saying that Hannaford’s stormwater plan did not meet 2017 standards, and questioned if it met 2002 standards as well.
The Development Review Board has until Oct. 19 to issue a decision on the store’s permit request.