By MADELINE HUGHES
The Hinesburg Selectboard has until Feb. 14 to decide whether to acquire Lot 15. That process – called eminent domain – is where government may buy private property for public use.
The timeline is based on an October development review board decision regarding the Hannaford Brother’s Co. proposed development, which the review board said did not comply with the town map.
In 2010, the Maine-based grocery chain sought a permit to develop a 36,000 square-foot store on Lot 15 of Commerce Park in the middle of the village. In the eight years since then, the town, Hannaford and the citizen group Responsible Growth Hinesburg have been tangled in litigation over the land. The application has gone to the Vermont Environmental Court, the State Supreme Court, and back to the local review board.
“Now it comes into the selectboard’s hands and I think it’s appropriate for the selectboard to do the same and follow the process,” Chair Phil Pouech said at a selectboard meeting Monday night.
Currently, the selectboard is awaiting a motion to stay, or hold off on a decision, from the Environmental Court until stormwater and traffic issues have gone through the legal process. However, if the court does not rule on the town’s motion, the board will meet Feb. 11 at the town offices to discuss its options.
There are several: condemn the entire parcel of land, condemn some land, or do nothing at all.
The option to do nothing does not mean Hannaford has the opportunity to begin building overnight. Two other factors – stormwater and traffic – were cited in the development review board’s denial of the project. Hannaford appealed the board’s decision on all three items. The development project is also subject to state Act 250 land use review.
To learn more about the land, the selectboard reviewed a 2011 citizen study of the land at Monday night’s meeting.
Selectboard member Andrea Morgante was on the board in 2011, and she provided context as to why that citizen group completed the study. The group was convened after Hannaford submitted its application because town officials knew the Commerce Park lot was designated on the official town map for public use. That map was adopted in 2009.
“The Lot 15 committee was developed to help identify potential uses and give guidance on action (the board) could potentially take, even if DRB process hadn’t started its process yet,” Morgante said.
Town officials wanted to have options and information if the development review board ruled that the Hannaford project was not in compliance the official town map .
In 2012, the board approved Hannaford’s application with some conditions not related to the town map. However, both Hannaford and Responsible Growth Hinesburg brought the decision to the Environmental Court.
The Vermont Supreme Court sent the application back to the Hinesburg Development Review Board in 2017. The grocery store’s revised 2018 application did not have the same language as the 2011 application with regard to the public use portion, Morgante explained.
At Monday’s meeting, the selectboard opened the discussion up to the crowded room of over 25 people.
Dawn Francis asked the selectboard to look at an economic impact study Hannaford submitted with its Act 250 application in 2012. She explained the report detailed economic impacts not outlined in the town’s study.
The board also took questions related to the town acquiring the entire parcel, and how the town would potentially pay for the land. Pouech explained that the decision was not all or nothing, and that if the board decided to pursue eminent domain, it would open the process up to appraising the land before decisions were made to purchase it.
The economic impact study can be found at bit.ly/HannafordEcon.
The town’s Lot 15 study can be found at bit.ly/Hinesburg15.