Court upholds Monument View permits

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BENNINGTON — The Vermont Environmental Court has upheld two permits for the Monument View Apartments, meaning the housing project proposed for Eden Way could move forward as planned.

Shires Housing wants to build the 24-unit project and has received amended permits from the town and the state. Residents raised concern the project would traffic, put a strain on municipal services and affect the historic character of the neighborhood; they appealed both permits — from the town's Development Review Board (DRB) and the state Natural Resource Board under Act 250.

Judge Thomas G. Walsh addressed the residents' appeals in an April 14 written decision.

"This decision is a victory for Shires Housing and our partners at Housing Vermont, but also for the Town of Bennington who has supported the project, the Bennington community, and families who will benefit from quality housing that will be financially sustainable," Stephanie Lane, executive director for the nonprofit housing development corporation, said in a statement on Thursday.

The project on 2.7 acres between South and Silver Streets calls for five duplexes adjacent to Silver Street. Two apartment buildings of six and eight units would located west of the duplexes on a proposed extension of Eden Way.

David Fredrickson, president of Healthy Neighborhoods, MBE, said he and other residents in the citizens group are disappointed with the court's decision and noted the law allows 30 days for them to appeal.

"We believe we prepared a strong case in court with concerns about the Act 250 decision and the town's regulations," he wrote in a letter to the Banner on Thursday. "We don't agree with the way the court narrowly construed its de novo jurisdiction; and we don't agree with the court's interpretation of either the town regulation or the facts."

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Appleridge Development wanted to build condominium units at the site; permits were issued for 53 units in 2005, amended to 42 in 2006. Only 15 were built, with 12 units in six duplexes and three in a renovated historic home.

Both the town DRB and NRB's District Commission issued an amended permit to Shires for a 24-unit project, in 2014 and August 2016, respectively. Residents appealed both.

Shires also appealed the Act 250 findings. The court addressed that in the same decision and ruled: The developer may use composite materials instead of wood for exterior siding and trim of project, affirmed the correct number of parking spaces (46), and issued details on blasting activities.

In reviewing the Act 250 criteria, Walsh disagreed with residents' claims that the project would cause undue adverse effects on the aesthetic of the neighborhood. He wrote, "the court does not find a single feature of the project... that arises to the level of 'shocking' or 'offensive' to an average person's sensibilities."

The project fits into the Town Plan's description of the MR District "in that it's a planned development with an integrated design that provides compact residential development in duplexes and small apartment building" and "promotes appropriate use of land and ensures efficient use of municipal services," Walsh wrote. Further, it's "designed to aesthetically integrate into the adjacent historic neighborhood, with an appealing street presence."

"If Silver and Grandview Streets were the only streets in the project's neighborhood, the neighbor's concerns would be considerably stronger," he wrote. South Street has numerous multi-unit buildings, including the 42-unit Nathaniel Court on a lot smaller than where Shires seeks to build.

Residents, Walsh wrote, "provide little evidence addressing their concerns with traffic other than their lay opinions to suggest the project would create unsafe conditions, particularly by pedestrians."

Reach staff writer Edward Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111 or @edamon_banner.


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