Charlotte Planning Commission hears request for health center in village

Photo By Scooter MacMillan
The Charlotte Family Health Center would like to move from 527 Ferry Rd. to the property at 140 Ferry Rd. across the street from the Charlotte Town Hall.

By SCOOTER MACMILLAN

The Charlotte Planning Commission has begun to review a request by a village property owner to subdivide a narrow open lot on Ferry Road where a new medical office building could be built.

The Charlotte Planning Commission issued a continuance at a regular meeting on Jan. 3 for a decision about approving a permit for a proposed subdivision that would create a building site for a health center in the village.

Although the discussion was lengthy, with plenty of input from several people, there seemed to be strong consensus that everyone would like to see the Charlotte Family Health Center build in the village and that it would a be great addition to the town center.

Nonetheless, a number of issues were raised that may present problems. For one, locating a driveway with enough right-of-way that wouldn’t impede the fire department.

Ben Mason owns a 37.7-acre parcel that extends behind the Charlotte Senior Center, the Charlotte Volunteer Fire and Rescue Service, the Charlotte Children’s Center and the Little Garden Market. It includes a narrow strip of open land between the fire department and the children’s center along the main village street at 140 Ferry Rd., across from the Charlotte Town Hall. Mason is seeking approval to subdivide an acre or so along the road where the health center could build new offices.

“The genesis of this project was a letter that Dr. (Andrea) Regan circulated in the spring to all the property owners in town,” said Mason.

Regan is a primary care doctor at the Charlotte Family Health Center. She and the other two doctors who work with her would like to move closer to the center of town into an office big enough for four doctors so they could eventually expand their practice. The health center is currently located at 527 Ferry Rd.

“It struck me that we’re always talking about defining the center of town, trying to consolidate services,” Mason told the planning commission last week. “We’ve got the senior center, the fire house, the children’s center, the library, the post office. Wouldn’t it be logical to get the docs up here, too?”

“This is not something that I instigated,” he added. “I’m not in the selling-property business. I’m trying to respond to something that’s a clear and obvious need. To me it was a no brainer.”

By Scooter MacMillan
Currently the Charlotte Family Health Center is located at 527 Ferry Rd.

Brainstorming the plan

Planning Commission Chair Peter Joslin pointed out the project is still in the sketch plan phase and the members of the planning commission, Mason and Regan are brainstorming. The original plan would have put the new health center behind the children’s center.

If the health center goes behind the Charlotte Children’s Center, Mason said, it wouldn’t interfere with the “viewscape,” referring to keeping the natural environment visible, in this case keeping the scenic vista visible, particularly from the town hall.

The Charlotte Family Health Center came back with the idea to put the health center right on Ferry Road “which met their needs in a better way,” said Mason.

“We want to do this just right. This is a pretty phenomenal piece of property,” said Planning Commission member Marty Illick. “Either of the proposals might work. We have such a storm water drainage issue in the West Village that we want to make sure we’re being as smart as we can be of every parcel in the village.”

The bulk of the discussion at last week’s meeting was about the width of the property and how to fit all of the driveway, setbacks, buffers and other requirements for adding a building to a property that is only 106.7 feet-wide. The minimum setback from the property line for construction is 15 feet on each side.

Charlotte Fire Chief Dick St. George said that if the fire department shared a driveway on the east side on the building with the health center, it would need to be at least 24 feet wide.

Other concerns such as buffers for wetlands, septic tanks, and more were discussed.

Mason’s property also contains a 60-foot right-of-way to access property adjacent to his 37 acres.

Regan said her practice would like a building that is big enough for four doctors, which she estimates would be at least 35-40 feet wide with a footprint of about 3,200 square feet.

In February, she sent an email to the Charlotte Selectboard saying that her practice had recently merged with Evergreen Family Health of Williston and that they need more space. They would like more room in order to comply with privacy regulations under HIPPA.

Water issues

About 10-15 people attended last week’s Planning Commission meeting. Residents Mark Moser and Rhonda Moore wanted the commission to make sure that there is enough water for the health center. They said that there have been four well failures on nearby Greenbush Road recently. Moore said nine families “turned on their faucets and there was nothing, and this went on in December.”

Moser said the affected homeowners likely would need to re-drill their wells that already are about 400 feet deep.

Moore said that she and other residents have asked the Selectboard and the Planning Commission to look at the water issue and come up with plan that will ensure plenty of water for those already in the village and for future development.

“We can’t keep kicking the can down the road about how we’re going to develop the West Village to be sure we have enough water,” she added.

The Planning Commission will continue its review of the proposal at its Feb. 7 meeting.

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