BENNINGTON — Proposed tourism and redevelopment projects on the former Southern Vermont College campus got a green light this week from the Bennington Select Board.
After the required public hearings, the Select Board approved land-use regulation changes to allow tourist lodging and projects on the site. Southwestern Vermont Health Care, which acquired the 371-acre former campus for $4.65 million in a December 2020 auction in bankruptcy court, requested the changes.
Select Board approval of the revisions followed a recommendation from the Planning Commission.
The commission had proposed making areas of the former campus part of the institutional/professional zoning district, which also includes the medical center and the Mount Anthony Union High School and the Vermont Veterans Home grounds.
The changes also allow lodging and related development in this expanded district, but only west of Monument Avenue. That restricts such development to the sections of the former campus near the Everett Mansion, dormitories, athletic center and the other college buildings.
About 226 acres of mostly wooded and mountainside land west of the mansion would not be open to development, falling under a conservation easement held by the Vermont Land Trust.
While SVHC officials have not announced any specific development plans, they have indicated there will be an effort to renovate the Everett Mansion for hospitality lodging — likely with a partner — and a new child care facility is being seriously considered for the site.
Restrictions on any projects involving the mansion could include historic preservation easements on the stone-walled, 27-room mansion, which was completed in 1911-14 by industrialist Edward Everett as a summer home. The structure is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The college, which closed in 2019 amid mounting debt, had purchased and moved to the site during the 1970s after operating previously at another location in Bennington.
Other development proposals, some of which were put forth by residents in a survey conducted by the health care organization, included new or improved hiking trails, a viewing tower on Mount Anthony, which looms behind the mansion and expansion of medical services offered by SVHC.
SVHC officials could not be reached Wednesday for an update on redevelopment plans for the campus.
DAY CARE FACILITY
One project being considered is an expansion of day care services now offered by the hospital on the nearby medical center campus.
In March, Kevin Dailey, SVHC’s vice president of administration and chief human resources officer, said hospital officials had learned that Vermont’s two U.S. senators had earmarked more than $800,000 in federal funding toward an expansion of those services.
The proposal is to expand the Learning Tree Child Care facility, which is currently at the medical center and licensed for 59 child care spots. The plan would be to move the center to a new facility, allowing double the capacity.
But Dailey and other hospital officials said in March there was no formal plan in place, and no cost figures had been developed.
They said that will require preliminary architectural plans and approval from the SVHC board of trustees to proceed.