Baptist college plans housing project in Bennington

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BENNINGTON — Northeastern Baptist College is planning a major project on a lot off Convent Avenue, including development of nine duplex buildings clustered around a central accessway.

According to plans submitted to the town by Jason Dolmetsch, of MSK Engineering and Design, on behalf of the church, the housing would be constructed on a vacant lot south of Anthony Drive and east of Convent Avenue.

The nine buildings, according to the submission, would be set on a 265,128-square-foot site, or just over six acres, and would be a maximum of 28 feet high.

The cleared lot is listed as 400 feet wide and wouldn't be subdivided, with the duplexes to set on either side of an accessway and at the end. The plan calls for building out the development over three or four years.

Parking is shown in a paved lot with 28 spaces, located between Anthony Drive and the buildings with a separate driveway off Convent Avenue.

Officials with the small private religious college, which opened in Bennington in 2013, could not be reached for further comment on the plans.

Objections raised

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Town Planning Director Daniel Monks said the Development Review Board began reviewing the project during a meeting Tuesday and the proposal was continued to the next meeting, on July 21.

The developer seeks planning and zoning permits and Planned Residential Development approval to create the two-bedroom units of family and student housing.

On Tuesday, the DRB heard from several residents of the area who raised a number of objections to the proposed development. Those included that it would add too much new traffic to Convent Avenue, creating a safety hazard, and would increase water runoff because of the parking area that would exacerbate ongoing problems with water entering existing cellars.

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They also cited likely negative effects on wildlife now using the property, and contended that it is unlikely temporary college-associated residents, who are not local homeowners, would have the same level of commitment to the neighborhood as permanent residents.

The effect of lighting emanating from the development also was cited as a potential nuisance for the neighborhood.

The neighbors also submitted a petition of opposition to the proposal to Monks that contained 37 signatures.

It was unclear Wednesday whether the buildings would be tax exempt as a function of the school. Monks said that would depend on the exact designated use.

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According to the plan, the development would be called the Dr. Gray Allison Village.

Other details of the submitted plan include that there would be open space around the clustered housing, with more than half the site open toward the rear of the property, some of which is shown on plans as a wetlands area.

The college, which according to its website has around 100 students, was founded in 2013 by Mark Ballard, who is president of the private religious school. The school is said to be affiliated with the Baptist Convention of New England and the Southern Baptist Convention.

The college now has 23,000 square feet of classroom, office and other space in the upper floors of the former Ramada Inn building at 104 Kocher Drive, with Grace Christian School operating on the lower floors of the former hotel.

The college's Charles & Pauline Hogue Library, with 10,000 feet of space, is located in a former restaurant and inn building off West Main Street, just east of the intersection with Convent Avenue.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien


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