No to eminent domain: Development of Lot 15 will continue through legal process

Photo by Madeline Hughes
Over a dozen members of the public voiced their opinions on the selectboard’s decision to begin the condemnation process of Lot 15.

By MADELINE HUGHES

In a standing-room-only meeting Monday night, the Hinesburg Selectboard voted against pursuing eminent domain on Lot 15, the space in town Hannaford Brothers Co. wants to build the town’s largest grocery store.

Tensions were high in the main meeting room of the Town Hall Monday night while the selectboard met to discuss the potential acquisition of the land. Over a dozen Hinesburg residents voiced their opinion to the selectboard at the meeting, the last opportunity in the months-long process where board members received emails, letters, phone calls and other messages about the land.

“Eminent domain is serious business,” selectboard chair Phil Pouech reiterated at the end of the meeting.

Selectboard member Andrea Morgante opened the meeting with a motion that would begin the process of establishing a condemnation hearing for Lot 15. In the interim, the board would have surveyed the land and gotten an appraisal.

But the board voted to deny the motion. Selectboard members Tom Ayer, Merrily Lovell, Aaron Kimball and Pouech voted “no” for the motion. Morgante voted in favor of her motion.

The board has until Feb. 14 to decide what to do about the land, and was seeking a motion to stay – pause on the decision – from the Vermont Environmental Court. That motion was rejected today, Chair Pouech said.

The timeline was 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.

Because the ruling was based on the town map, the town government is then allowed to step in to buy the land for the intended purpose. That process – called eminent domain – is where  government might buy private property for public use.

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.

This is the last remaining undeveloped parcel of land in Hinesburg zoned to accommodate a commercial building over 20,000 square feet. The Commerce Park area was originally intended to be developed as a commercial center for town, members of the Giroux family said. It’s the last parcel in the development still owned by the Giroux Family Trust.

The Hinesburg Development Review Board decision is continuing in the Environmental Court because of stormwater and traffic concerns, which the board also cited in the denial of the project in October.

This story is developing. Check this week’s The Citizen for more information.

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