DRB OKs Baptist college housing project

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BENNINGTON — The Development Review Board has approved permits for nine duplex housing structures in a cluster-style development off Convent Avenue.

Northeastern Baptist College Inc. plans to create two-bedroom units for students and faculty on a 400-foot-wide lot of just over six acres. The duplexes will be located along and at the end of a central accessway, and more than half of the cleared lot will be left open.

A separate paved parking area is planned on the northern edge of the property near Anthony Drive with 28 spaces. An update to the plan during the review added a stockade fence and additional natural screening on the northern edge, facing Anthony Drive.

Objections raised

Abutters and other residents of the area raised a number of objections during an initial DRB hearing session in early July, when the plan was presented by Jason Dolmetsch, of MSK Engineering and Design, representing the private religious college.

Area residents said they fear the development would add too much new traffic to Convent Avenue, creating a safety hazard. Several speakers expressed concerns about an increase in water runoff from the site. They said the development and parking area would exacerbate ongoing problems they have with surface water draining through yards and entering cellars.

They also cited likely negative effects on wildlife now frequently crossing the property, and asserted that the temporary college-associated residents would not have the same level of commitment to the neighborhood as the permanent residents.

During the July 21 DRB session, it was also noted that college students can be noisy and might not care for property as a homeowner would.

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College founder and President Mark Ballard responded that students of the religious school are not allowed to have parties and must meet strict behavioral guidelines.

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

During the first session reviewing the proposal, the neighbors also submitted a petition of opposition that contained 37 signatures, which was added to after that meeting.

Appeal uncertain

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It could not be determined Thursday whether area residents might mount an appeal to the Environmental Court. They have 30 days from the July 21 vote to appeal.

Kim Likakis, whose mother lives a few blocks from the site, said she hadn't heard whether an appeal is planned.

However, she said she believes the development "is transforming to a degree the nature of the neighborhood."

She questioned whether student housing could be considered a good fit for a residential district, adding that the site also is "incredibly wet" and subject to chronic surface runoff issues

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Mary McGuinness, who lives in the neighborhood, said Thursday that possible appeals are being considered by residents, but no decisions have been made at this time.

It also remains unclear whether the college buildings would be tax exempt as a function of the school. Planning Director Daniel Monks said that would depend on the exact designated use and would be determined by the assessor's office when the housing is occupied.

According to the plan, the development would be called the Dr. Gray Allison Village and would be built out over three or four years.

The developer sought planning and zoning permits and Planned Residential Development approval, which was granted after the July 21 DRB meeting.

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

The Baptist college also has its Charles & Pauline Hogue Library in the former Paradise Restaurant building off West Main Street, just east of the intersection with Convent Avenue.

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

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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