Village Steering Committee Comments on Hannaford Project

February 14, 2011 - Review comments from the Village Steering Committee to the Development Review Board/Planning Staff
Re: Hannaford’s Application

DRB Members:  The Hinesburg Village Steering Committee would like to present commentary as regards certain aspects of the Hannaford Store application currently before the Board. Specifically we will address the issue of

  1. fit and compatibility with the setting
  2. scale, proportion and size
  3. character of the site design and landscaping
  4. lighting
  5. storm water and wetlands,
  6. traffic and impact on the Village
  7. the quality of the project and it’s possible contributions to the growth and quality of life in the Hinesburg Village. 
  8. the official map and public use of the site

After close review and attendance at all of the hearings to date, our Committee’s sense is that this one story project as proposed is too large for the selected site. This project is analogous to a person attempting to fit into a piece of clothing that is too small …. All this in the hope that somehow we’ll manage the fit.  We feel that the project would have to lose much of it’s bulk in order to have a chance at fitting into this site. As currently configured we feel that this is the wrong project for the wrong site.  This becomes most evident when assessing the quality of the site plan and attendant landscaping.

It is this difficulty of fit that lies at the heart of the steering committee’s concerns .... despite earnest effort and a reputable team of professionals, this project does not belong on this site .... we feel that it belongs somewhere else.

In partial measure that is why this site has been identified for public use on the official map .... the site is appropriate for public and natural uses and not for the kind of intense commercial use represented by the Hannaford’s application.

We would like to identify the following .....

1. The issue of “fit” and compatibility with the setting (photo of Hannaford’s front entry):

a. The confusion over the front of the building .... 4 weeks past brought us extensive discussion as regards the “front” of the building ... despite the legal definitions, this building does have a front and that front faces a parking lot. Prior to this debate we had a description of compatibility with the neighborhood .... one has not to look far to see how this application addresses the issue of frontage and neighborhood compatibility .... We will digress further .... my mother taught me to face people that I address ... she did that quite emphatically ..... buildings are much the same ....they should address our streets and public rights of way .... to do less, as my mother would emphatically say, could be seen as rude..... this building as currently configured on its site is rude (site plan photo)..... all of the other structures in Commerce Park front the street ........ the bank, the post office, the vet clinic all play politely by the same set of rules ... they front the street. Even the most humble of these structures ..... the Firehouse Plaza and the Storage yard front the street.

The Hannaford’s application presents this wall to the Mechanicsville Road ...... this wall to Commerce Street and this wall to the Giroux lots to the west. The front faces the parking lot ..... this is not the behavior of a compatible neighbor and not the way a new 36,000 sf, one story structure should behave ... especially as a prospective newcomer to our Town.

b. Many buildings have multiple fronts and points of entry .... architecturally this is not difficult .... look at our Lantman's store ... a nice front to 116 and yet an accommodating side entrance. Not unlike City Market in Burlington or our own Town Hall ...... or even the community school .... all suggest a far more enlightened design approach to the issue of frontage and neighborhood compatibility....

 

2. Size, Scale and Proportion ….. By Hinesburg Village standards the Hannaford’s building is a large structure. In part that size is accentuated by virtue of  ordinary geometry and it’s one story, box-like configuration. The lack of windows combines with the size of the building to leave the proposal devoid of any human scale. While we have other large buildings in town, most such as the Community School and NRG are broken into smaller pieces and are multiple stories. They have many windows and give a clear indication of human activity both within and outside of those buildings. The proposed Hannaford’s building does none of these things. It lacks any human scale or any graceful proportions.

We also just question the common sense of the proposal’s size. The application calls for a 36,000 sf grocery store with 144 parking spaces, an extensive area dedicated to truck access and a drive-through drug store. Our community of 5000 currently supports a grocery store that is 17,000 sf and has 70 parking spaces that serve not just Lantmans but multiple other uses near the building. Even in Burlington a city of 40-50,000 people, City Market, the lone downtown grocery store is a mere 16,000 sf and has 60 shared parking spaces. The new Market in Richmond, a community similar in size to Hinesburg, is 12,000 sf and has 35 dedicated parking spaces and another 30 that are shared. These stores are scaled and sized to match their respective communities …. The DRB is being asked to approve a new Hannaford’s store that would make the combined food retail area of Hinesburg over 53,000 sf …. This does not make any sense. 12,000 sf for Richmond …. 53,000 sf for Hinesburg. This sounds to us like a prescription for building abandonment … and what is Hinesburg to do with abandoned buildings?

 

3. The character of the site design, landscaping and how our village grows:  Let's describe how the Hannaford’s proposal will adjoin other lots nearby ..... let’s also discuss the parking lot proposed for the east side of lot 15 and try to envision the future growth of our Village as regards the Giroux lots to the west of lot 15 along Route 116.  And make no mistake, all new project proposals should be rigorously required to consider and anticipate the future. If alternatively, the Hannaford parking were situated to the west of the proposed store, the parking could at least share and work with the Giroux lots to the west. Hannaford’s could even have access from the west and route 116.  This parking and access could ultimately be to the rear of future buildings along 116 ..... instead we have a Hannaford’s that backs so close to the western boundary of lot 15 that a 3-7 retaining wall is required to resolve severe grading issues between the sites ..... this is not a constructive way to work with adjacent properties and plan for the future of this part of town. This is hardly an effective invitation for connectivity between neighboring properties.

Existing Pedestrian amenities on the site: (slides of Commerce Street elevation and the site plan) The existing canal and path on the south side of Lot 15 comprise a very pleasant link from the heart of our village to the post office and beyond. The application before us clearly disregards this community amenity. See again what one views when you cross the bridge …. A blank wall of 200 feet in length …… and as one progresses further east to the post office that blank wall is displaced by a sea of parked cars. This is not the way to design a site ….. this is not in our mind, design compatible with existing structures and pedestrian amenities.

Trees and Landscaping: When we analyzed the extent of new landscaping on this very naturally defined site we found little new planting of substance. Large parking lots are typically heat sinks and good design practice addresses a phenomena known as heat island effect with large canopy shade trees.  This shading of the parking lot is commonly addressed as part of the LEED certification process. We would advocate greater attention to this valuable design feature. We would also advise that the applicant and the DRB heed the advice of numerous other individuals in our community knowledgeable about essential plant life and the attributes of this on a site such as Lot 15.

 

4. Lighting: This neighborhood is a commercial neighborhood. (photo of adjoining neighborhood) Nevertheless the site adjoins multiple residential areas. At night the light level from this project will have a very dramatic impact on adjoining neighborhoods, probably the most dramatic impact of any single feature of this proposal. We have measured lighting levels at sites familiar to many of you ….. and compared this with the level of night lighting at the Hannaford’s in South Burlington. At a distance of 30-40 feet from a light standard we compared this with the proposal before you and several other sites. Hannaford’s as proposed, projects light levels of 8.5 foot-candles; Hannaford’s in SB is at 7.5 fc; the Mobil lot is .2 fc; Estey’s is .2; Lantman’s is .2; the Town Hall lot is .2; even my office parking lot in downtown Burlington is .2. Go and stand in the middle of the lot in SB and you will get a sense of the impact of the lighting in the proposal before you ….. compare that with a clear, moonlit night, snow on the ground with a fc rating of ….2.

 

5. Storm water and on site wetlands: In 2001Krebs and Lansing Engineers delineated an area of wetland on Lot 15 that constituted approximately 35% of the site. (map of wetlands in 2001)

In 2010 (a mere 9 years later), the Hannaford’s proposal indicates a wetland area (2010 wetland map) that is reduced to only 10% of Lot 15. This is confusing and should be thoroughly reviewed by those having jurisdiction in these matters.

At the last meeting Hannaford’s civil engineers, O’Leary and Burke, explained in sleepy detail the complex design required to shed storm water from the site in the event of a variety of storm levels. While admirable at some levels, the storm water design in question exempifies the issues with the selection of this site for a large grocery store. What the existing wetland on the site does naturally cannot be effectively replaced by a man-made system of high complexity. Chemicals and toxins and salts cannot effectively be prevented from entering our natural waterways no matter the sophistication of a complex storm water management system. (show engineers plan for storm water management) The very complicated design lies at the heart of the issue with the examination of this application …. The site was not made for a development of this size and the applicant is having to go to extraordinary levels in an attempt to make it work …. We would suggest that the site be utilized for another, more natural purpose.

 

6. Traffic and site impact: Emergency access ….. This site is accessed by a small lane from Commerce Street and this appears to be the only access into the site. Not only is this circumstance potentially dangerous during emergencies but the condition also speaks to the lack of connectivity required to make good towns and villages. Most viable towns have a network of roads and lanes that are interconnected and enable easy movement between major town resources … such vehicular and pedestrian ways of accessing places enable the kind of social, civic and commercial connections that distinguish our towns from more rural areas. In this case we have what will likely be one of the largest commercial enterprises to come to Hinesburg, situated at the terminus of a dead end lane. This is hardly the kind of connection that such a project both needs and requires …. And this is also an emergency access as well …. It would seem inadequate in both respects.

Furthermore, in the absence to date of a presentation on the impact of traffic on our community, we would suggest considerable scrutiny be given to the enlargement of our road system as a result of this application. We as a town have decisively declared the importance of pedestrian movement through our village areas. This kind of movement becomes extremely tenuous when confronted with 4 land roadways with lengthy stacking lanes. We would be surprised if the road scene at Commerce Street and Route 116 does not resemble an engorged intersection with steroid sized lane lengths that fly in the face of the kind of pedestrian village we have all envisioned. Close assessment of the implications of increased traffic as a result of the Hannaford’s application is required.

Lastly, Hannaford’s, if realized, would likely add substantially to the car and truck traffic present in and through our village. By selecting this site on the east side of Route 116, the likelihood of congestion is greatly increased. Potential shoppers, on their way home from direction Burlington/north are most inclined to shop near the end of the day. This would mean a left hand turn into Commerce Park and another left hand turn back onto Route 116, either at Commerce Street or the Mechanicsville Road, as exiting shoppers continue on their way south. This is a troubling prospect for vehicular traffic in our Village.

 

7. By virtue of its size, presence and use …. This Hannaford’s proposal has an inherent responsibility to our community ..... this is a one story, 36,000 square foot project ..... one of the larger buildings to be built in our community in recent decades and a structure that is much larger than any in the immediate neighborhood .... It is also a structure of considerable social significance .... witness the social and community activity that goes on in Lantman's currently ...... when NRG (slide of NRG) created a large structure to the north they very responsibly broke the building into well scaled segments and created a building that is renowned throughout the United States for it's responsible approach to energy consumption and the creation of a very enlightened work environment. We now have a large Belgian multinational corporation that proposes a building that is situated in an ill suited location .... a building and attendant parking much too large and ungainly for it's site ..... a structure of such potential importance owes much more to this community and needs to be of a far higher quality than the content of this application presents.

 

8. The Hinesburg Official Map and public amenities on the site: Early in 2009 the Select board voted to identify a variety of land parcels and rights of way on the Town’s Official Map. (slide of Official Map) This zoning tool has it’s roots in the defining patterns of growth established in such cities as Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Savannah, Georgia and Montreal Canada. These communities were small towns when long-term planning decisions were enacted. The pattern of growth and celebrated public spaces such as the New England Town Greens, Central Park and the Fenway Park system owe their origins to the foresight of our predecessors. By way of Hinesburg’s Official Map we too have the opportunity to plan the form and content of our wonderful Town.  The State of Vermont has a statute that has enacted official maps and we as a community must have the courage to utilize this planning tool for the betterment of our community.

In 2007 the Hinesburg Village Steering Committee identified Lot 15 as a site of significant public importance for use as a Town Green. The central location of this lot within the newly expanded village district can be seen on this air photo. (air photo of Village area) The site is equidistant from CVU and the HCS and sits amidst several nearby residential neighborhoods. The Steering Committee has conceived a plan for Lot 15 that fulfills the planned vision of our town and creates a central gathering place that works with the limitations and characteristics of the site. This is in sharp contrast to the Hannaford’s application that attempts to subjugate the site and it’s natural features. We show an illustration of our plan for Lot 15. (plan of the new Town Green)

To date the Hannaford’s application has not acknowledged the Town’s designation of Lot 15 on the Official Map. In fact, the application makes no mention of any public amenity anywhere on the site and none is shown.

This failure to acknowledge the importance of the Official Town Map when combined with the design deficiencies that we identify within this presentation has pointed us to a very clear conclusion. As designed, the application before the Hinesburg Development Review Board does not show a proposal that fits on this site …. This proposal cannot be made to work on this site, despite the best efforts of competent professionals.  We would hope that members of this review body come to the same conclusion and reject this proposal.

Respectfully                                                  

Hinesburg Village Steering Committee