Town agrees to second round of town garage proposals

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BENNINGTON— A local brewing company and a masonry business are among the four entities that submitted proposals to make use of vacant town garage locations, however the Select Board has agreed to conduct a new round of requests for proposals in the coming months.

Although the RFP was announced in June and submissions were due Aug. 6, Community Development Director Zirwat Chowdhury says multiple other businesses approached her with interest regarding the locations after the deadline.

The first round of RFPs resulted in two proposals for each location: Depot Street downtown and Orchard Road across from Molly Stark Elementary.

Bennington-based SVT Masonry, LLC and the Bennington School District were the two entities that proposed using the Orchard Road Space, and bus tour company Green Mountain Lines and Madison Brewing Co. proposed uses for the Depot Street location.

Depot Street location

Green Mountain Lines' proposal to lease the location for $1,000 a month for up to 10 years to store two commercial tour buses was declined by community development staff since "a bus garage in a prominent downtown location was not the optimal use of the space," states a memorandum from Chowdhury.

Although their proposal for this location was declined, the company has been put in touch with the Bennington County Industrial Corporation (BCIC) about potential alternate locations which have not yet been specified.

Madison Brewing Company also showed interest in the Depot Street location to use as a downtown brewing, kegging, and canning facility with a tap room. They proposed to either purchase the property at the assessed value of $80,000, to lease it for an undisclosed amount, or to have it donated— which Chair Thomas Jacobs politely declined.

The board showed hesitancy at this proposal since Madison is already working on a new tap room at the former Carmody's location on Main Street. Co-owners Mike and Mel Madison attended Monday's Select Board meeting where the proposals were discussed to assuage the board's concerns.

Mel Madison explained that the 23 year-old company recently incorporated a new phase in which it plans to get its distribution license for Vermont, New York, and eventually Massachusetts. The company's biggest concern, according to Madison, is maximizing its current capacity.

The Madisons believe the Depot Street location would be perfect for expanding their operations since "old garages are ideal for breweries."

If the project were to move forward, the Madisons expect the project to take a minimum of a year and a half to two years to be completed.

Board Member Carson Thurber voiced support for the Madisons' proposal, reminding the board that a local business taking over the vacant building is precisely what the board originally hoped for.

"It's exactly what we wanted to do with this space," Thurber said.

Orchard Road garage

Not only did SVT Masonry, LLC, propose to purchase the Orchard Road location for $50,000 to store masonry materials, owner Reuben Harrington said he would use the opportunity to explore masonry education and training for local high school students, especially since the masonry business desperately needs more workers.

"I think we should start a CDC curriculum for masonry," commented Select Board Member Jeanne Conner.

While some board members agreed with the education aspect, a concern was that the proposal would not complement the neighboring school use or the surrounding neighborhood. Also, a zoning change would have to be made to accommodate the company.

Harrington assured board members that he would use his masonry skills to improve the exterior of the building and match the elementary school, and he also said there would not be constant loud equipment in the area. Rather, materials like scaffolding, planks, boards, and other leftover material would be stored at the location when they aren't being used at jobs.

The growing company currently has about 35 employees and operates out of a two-room garage. Moving to the new location would allow the company to expand and take more jobs. Additionally, Harrington offered to share the location 50/50 with the school and allow salt storage, which was requested in the school district's proposal.

The Bennington School District proposed a two-year lease with annual payments of $4,000 for the Orchard Road garage for the purpose of storing salt and maintenance equipment and materials. The land would be used on an as-needed basis for additional parking for the elementary school, and it also proposed a working relationship with the Bennington Rural Fire Department to allow parking for training and events.

The district voiced concern about PFOA soil contamination at this location, so Community Development staff recommended that, if the location is obtained by the district, that the district perform "the necessary analysis and due diligence for a Phase 1 study of the site during the period of the lease," according to the memorandum.

While the businesses that submitted proposals in the first round won't have to re-submit for the second round, this will give them a chance to address any weaknesses or questions in the original proposals, said Town Manager Stuart Hurd. Hurd also hopes to close the second proposal by Jan. 1 and prepare recommendations to the Select Board shortly after.

Christie Wisniewski can be reached at cwisniewski@benningtonbanner.com and at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.

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