By CHEA WATERS EVANS
The corner of Route 7, Ferry Road and Church Hill Road is the gateway to Charlotte, and in recent years, that gateway has been a bit of an eyesore.
Currently the home of a shuttered gas and service station and an abandoned bingo hall/creemee stand, the property has been in the sights of entrepreneurs and developers since Steve’s Citgo closed in 2012 and Uncle Sam’s Dairy Bar closed a couple years later.
After a series of non-starter business ideas, a new proposal is in the works for the high-profile corner, and this suggestion is for something already in Charlotte’s wheelhouse: a farm.
Local business owner, Rise ‘n Shine milkman Peter Carreiro, is under contract to purchase the property and plans to, as he said, “un-develop” it.
Carreiro is largely undeterred by the fact that Charlotte is notoriously difficult to develop, and that corner in particular has become a landmark for where business dreams go to die. For example, most recently, plans for a Maplefields convenience store and gas station, proposed by Vermont developer Skip Vallee, were withdrawn after a VTrans flagged wetlands on site as an obstacle for access onto Route 7.
It didn’t help that more than 150 people signed onto a letter saying they were opposed to the project. Rebecca Foster, an organizer of the Charlotte Crossroads group that led the charge against the convenience store, had this to say about the planned Rise ‘n Shine Farm: “I don’t know enough about the plans to speak to them, but I am excited about the prospect of a Charlotte-owned business in that central location that is food/ag focused.”
With a sale closing date set for January, Carreiro’s take on the three-acre parcel’s potential is to go back in time, not forward. In a Sunday email to his customers titled “Exciting News,” the Rise ‘n Shine owner outlined his vision for the property: removing all asphalt surfaces and replacing them with fill and grass, turning the service station into a barn for cows and chickens, and turning the bingo hall into a farmstand. The creemee stand would reopen, serving ice cream produced by the milkman.
Carreiro already owns the land behind the empty service station. It’s where he operates his business which itself is a throwback to simpler days – he delivers milk, eggs, and other foods, most of it local and a lot of it organic, to customers’ homes and businesses. He has been a milkman since 1990, he said, in Charlotte for the past 14 years.
“The idea has been brewing for a number of years, but didn’t start percolating until Maplefields fell through,” he said.
He admits he was actually supportive of the proposed convenience store and gas station, and that he had hoped for some kind of business there. The Spear family of Charlotte, who owns the property, has been trying to sell for years.
“They’ve been good neighbors of ours,” Carreiro said of the Spears. “I wanted to see them do something with that property.”
It has not been for a lack of trying that past project proposals didn’t make headway, but Carreiro hopes his idea hits the right notes.
Most importantly, he said he sees the agricultural nature of what he is calling Rise ‘n Shine Farm will mean that the project would be regulated by state agricultural guidelines, but it would not need Act 250 approval. Created just this year, Act 143 allows accessory on-farm businesses as long as 51 percent or more of a business’s income is generated by goods produced on the farm. That will also be useful from a permitting standpoint.
Carreiro said he has been working with Charlotte lawyer Mike Russell to make sure they are following whatever regulations might be necessary from the town, and he said they plan to follow all the rules regarding wastewater and other practical issues.
Since that email went out last weekend, Carreiro said feedback from his customers has been positive. That’s a step in the right direction, Carreiro said, noting that regarding other proposed businesses for that site, “There weren’t a lot of options that people were willing to embrace.”
Carreiro said he hopes that after the January closing, he will be able to open at least the creemee stand in time for summer. In addition to the ice cream bar, he plans to eventually have meat birds, laying hens, and beef cattle on the three-acre site, all of which will be sold directly through Rise ‘n Shine. He will hire a farm manager, he said, and there will be other employment opportunities as well. “I’m not sure, but maybe 4-6 full time jobs and then I would hope to follow in the footsteps of the Spear Family and employ generations of teenagers to serve ice cream,” he said.
While the vision for the new operation takes shape, Carreiro said he’s also working on improvements to his milk-delivery business.
He’s explored the idea of operating his own bottling plant in order to bring the glass-bottle milk business closer to home. He currently drives a 10-hour round-trip to pick up milk every four days from a dairy in New Hampshire.
He hasn’t signed an agreement yet, so he is reluctant to discuss details, but he said he is close to confirming a partnership with a dairy farm much closer to home.
With big plans for his business’s future but a lot of decisions that are yet to be made, Carreiro is certain of one thing: he’ll still be driving his white refrigerator truck around Chittenden County making deliveries. “I’ll always be the milkman,” he said.