BENNINGTON — Zoning changes under consideration would allow lodging, outdoor recreation and related development projects on portions of the 371-acre former Southern Vermont College campus.
The Planning Commission prepared the changes, which would affect zoning and the town plan, after a request from the property owner, Southwestern Vermont Health Care and its development entity, newly formed to work with developers or other partners on projects.
The zoning changes will be the subject of a commission hearing March 3 at 6 p.m. at the Bennington Firehouse.
In general, the revisions would change the current zoning tailored to educational purposes by expanding the town’s Institutional/Professional zoning district to include a portion of the former SVC campus. The revisions would allow lodging-related development within the district — but only west of Monument Avenue, where the campus is.
The Institutional/Professional zoning district now includes the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center campus, the Mount Anthony Union High School campus and the Vermont Veterans Home property.
A copy of the proposal will be posted soon on the town’s website, Assistant Town Manager and Planning Director Dan Monks said Thursday.
“In a nutshell, this allows hotels west of Monument Avenue [on sections of the campus],” Monks said.
The Everett Mansion itself is under preservation easement restrictions through the Preservation Trust of Vermont. In addition, some 200 mostly wooded acres behind the mansion at the base of Mt. Anthony is under conservation restrictions through an easement held by the Vermont Land Trust.
The campus includes a dozen buildings in all, in addition to the stone-walled mansion, which was built as a private home in 1911 to 1914. The college moved onto the campus during the 1970s from another location in Bennington.
Monks said development projects could be allowed in the rural residential and rural conservation zoning districts on the campus, but not on the forest zoning district land.
He said there also would be height, setback and similar restrictions for hotels or other buildings that might be proposed.
According to the hearing posting, the bylaw amendment includes further protections beyond conservation and historic preservation easements, aimed at ensuring development and redevelopment plans don’t negatively affect historic and scenic resources.
The health care organization has formed a development entity, which along with partners is expected to consider lodging, outdoor recreation and related uses for the property, as well as expansion of existing hiking trails and a scenic viewing tower atop the mountain.
Other uses could include health care facilities. The former campus is across Monument Avenue from Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, and the hospital already has used the former Southern Vermont College athletic complex and surrounding parking areas for COVID-19 testing and vaccination programs.
PURCHASED AT AUCTION
The medical center’s parent corporation, Southwestern Vermont Health Care, purchased the campus at an auction in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in December 2020 with a high bid of $4.65 million.
The private school closed in 2019 amid mounting debt, and the board of trustees entered the institution into the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process in August 2020 after attempts to sell the property fell through.
Southwestern Vermont Health Care officials last spring sought input from area residents through a survey that drew about 1,000 responses, and the health care organization has been working with town planning officials, the Bennington County Regional Commission and others to develop a master plan for the land and former college buildings.
Brian Lent was hired by the health care organization to oversee repurposing efforts for the campus and buildings.
In addition to being posted on the town website, the proposed zoning revisions and maps can be viewed at the town offices on South Street.
After the commission receives public input and approves a final draft of the proposal, it will go to the Select Board. The board also is expected to hold a public hearing before voting on the zoning changes.