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Parking lot gets thumbs up, second driveway denied

BARRE — Neither project was popular, but the Development Review Board (DRB) has unanimously approved plans to demolish an occupied Seminary Street apartment house to make room for a parking lot, while narrowly denying a second driveway requested by the owners of an Orange Street duplex.

The decisions, released Friday morning, were reached during a deliberative session that followed a pair of well-attended virtual hearings Thursday night.

Permit Administrator Heather Grandfield confirmed the board approved Capstone Community Action’s safety-based proposal to acquire and raze an apartment house next to the former Brook Street School in order to construct a new parking lot to accommodate the planned expansion of its Learning Together Center on a 7-0 vote. However, in a split decision that will have many Orange Street residents breathing more easily, Grandfield said a motion to approve the second driveway proposed by Michael and Mollie Lannen, failed when only three of the members present voted to grant the required variance. Five affirmative votes are needed to approve any request that comes before the nine-member board, which was shorthanded Thursday night.

Board members who did make it — including two who arrived late because of internet issues — had plenty of company because neither application enjoyed broad support.

Even one of the applicants — Capstone — acknowledged it wasn’t wild about a proposal that was advanced after other locations to house its expanding Head Start programs were explored but ruled out as result of issues ranging from flood plain to contamination.

The fall-back option contemplates growing in place to satisfy the increased demand for infant and toddler care. With limited on-site parking at the old neighborhood school Capstone purchased from the city nearly 25 years ago, Capstone focused on the adjoining property that is owned by Al Flory and Keith Clark.

Board members were told two of the apartment building’s three units are currently occupied and the third was taken off the market when the tenant left earlier this year in anticipation of the project they were being asked to approve.

Alison Calderara, chief of programs and advancement, at Capstone told the board the agency would do whatever it could to assist in relocating the remaining tenants and acknowledged the irony of an organization that has consistently advocated for more affordable housing demolishing some that exists.

“This was not taken lightly,” she said, describing a “painful” decision that was driven by a “deep fear” that maintaining the status quo was an accident waiting to happen.

“I think it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt down there,” Calderara said

Calderara’s comments came after others expressed reservations about the proposal and concerns about the current conditions — from the lack of on-street parking to pedestrian problems — were read into the record.

Planning Commissioner Michael Hellein said those concerns were an accurate reflection of the conditions that exist

“They are saying exactly what’s happening,” he said, suggesting the proposal before the board would solve the problem for Capstone, but not the surrounding neighborhood.

“The city is completely abdicating its responsibility to create a safe environment for everyone,” he said.

Hellein predicted razing the building to make room for a parking lot would have a detrimental effect on the neighborhood and do little to resolve the underlying issues.

“I am heartsick about this problem,” he said, adding: “This is the most reasonable solution that Capstone can get tomorrow, but it’s a terrible idea.”

For different reasons, local landlord Samantha Hiscock agreed.

Hiscock questioned the logic of tearing down a “safe, habitable” residential building at a time when demand for affordable apartments is high.

“Demolishing high-quality housing is tone deaf to the current climate,” she said.

The board also heard from Councilor Jake Hemmerick, who echoed some of the sentiments expressed by Hellein and noted the project would degrade the city’s Grand List by replacing an apartment building with a parking lot that won’t generate nearly as much property taxes.

Board members discussed the testimony privately and ultimately voted to grant the requested conditional-use permit they noted wasn’t needed for the demolition, but for the proposed parking lot.

While the board was united on Capstone’s proposal it was divided on the Lannens’ request for a variance needed to allow the installation of a second driveway at the duplex they own on Orange Street.

That proposal provoked push-back from several neighbors — some who attended the virtual meeting and others who submitted letters objecting to a driveway they argued was unnecessary, potentially unsafe and would set a precedent that would be exploited by others who own properties where parking is tight during winter months.

Hellein, who lives on Orange Street, said local zoning regulations set a limit of one curb-cut per lot to protect the character and safety of neighborhoods.

“Granting the (Lannens’) application would compromise both,” he said, noting allowing an additional curb-cut would eliminate a shared on-street parking space in order to accommodate the owners of an already developed lot in a well-established neighborhood.

Jessica and Brandon Vest — the nearest neighbors to Lannens’ property — said one driveway was enough for every other home on the street, including other duplexes, and objected to a proposal they said would unnecessarily change the character of the neighborhood of predominant owner-occupied “generational homes.”

Jessica Vest said its why her family chose to settle on Orange Street and why she was concerned with a proposal that was at odds with the city’s regulations.

“Ask yourself if this is in the best interest of maintaining the iconic nature and desirability of Orange Street and in turn the greater good of all of Barre?” Jessica Vest told board members.

Brandon Vest said a portion of the existing driveway for the Lannens’ property had been converted into a patio, there is a garage that isn’t used and ample parking to accommodate tenants, even if that creates some inconvenience at times. The property, he said, is the same as it was when the Lannens bought it five years ago

Others objected to the proposed driveway and while the Lannens and their tenants — including one who just moved in — favored the additional driveway, the board was divided on a request that required them to find, among other things that the property could not reasonably be developed because of some unique physical characteristic.

The property is already developed and there are no unique physical characteristics that impede its reasonable use.

Grandfield said board members Jeffrey Tuper-Giles, David Hough and Richard Deep voted to grant the variance, while Chair Linda Shambo joined members Denise Ferrari, Katrina Pelkey and Jessica Egerton in voting against the request.

david.delcore @timesargus.com

Dozens of sign thanking teachers and staff decorate the lawn outside Thatcher Brook Primary School in Waterbury.

In appreciation

Hiker aims to break Long Trail record

Jeremy Howard will turn 50 in about three weeks. If all goes as he hopes, he might be breaking the record for hiking the Long Trail, unassisted, right around then.

Howard, of Little Compton, Rhode Island, said Friday that he’d planned to undertake his extreme hike this weekend, but put it off to recover from a health issue he developed while training.

The current fastest known time for hiking the Long Trail unassisted is held by Jeff Garmire, who in 2019 finished the 273-mile journey in five days, 23 hours and 48 minutes, according to fastestknowntime.com, a website Howard says many in this community look to for tracking such records.

He’s doing it to raise awareness and funds for The Play Brigade, a nonprofit founded by Dawn Oates, of Brookline in Boston, whose daughter, Harper, suffered an injury during birth that left her disabled. Howard met Oates through past charity events. Howard himself has family members who have disabilities.

Howard plans to start his run at the Long Trail’s northern end, by the Canadian border, on June 20. He won’t sleep for more than four hours a day, and will likely space that out into a pair of two-hour naps.

Born in Arizona, Howard spent his formative years in South Africa. When he returned to the United States, he lived in several places before settling in Rhode Island. His work had him traveling a great deal, and for the sake of his physical health he started running marathons, then ultramarathons.

“I haven’t done anything quite like this before,” he said. “This will be a little new. I’ve section hiked pieces of the Long Trail, enough to have immense fear and respect for it.”

There are different categories of Long Trail runs. One lets a hiker have a support team to carry some supplies, another allows for a little less. Howard said his run will be completely unassisted, meaning he’ll have to carry his own food and water and more or less look out for himself. He’s decided to start on the northern end, when his pack will be heaviest.

“The terrain kind of holds you back, so it makes sense to get that over with first,” he said. “That’s one theory. People have different theories on what’s the best way to go, but I want to get that over with. It’s also the more interesting section.”

His biggest concern, besides weather, is the Appalachian Gap, in Camel’s Hump State Park.

“First of all, I’ve learned the word ‘gap’ on the Long Trail means bad things,” he said. “It’s some sort of a high mountain pass, but the approach on either side is some of the most insane vertical climbing that you’ll see on the entire trail.”

Once he passes the “App Gap,” as some call it, he thinks he’ll be all right.

Oates said Friday that The Play Brigade — playbrigade.com — has had much success over the years and been able to expand its efforts into areas outside playgrounds by getting people to think more about those with disabilities when they design things.

“The world is not set up for people to have disabilities,” she said. “Unless you’re affected by it, or you know a family member or friend, you’re not really conscious on a day-to-day basis of the obstacles people with disabilities face.”

She decided to form the organization while caring for Harper in her early years, and discovering that much of the usual children’s play activities weren’t open to her. She said the Brigade’s mission is really to make things so people with and without disabilities can play, compete, and act together.

Howard ran in the “Fearless Girl Relay” which was organized by Oates to raise awareness about accessibility to public art. Oates said she once took Harper to see the Fearless Girl statue, famous for being situated next to the Charging Bull statue on Wall Street, but couldn’t get Harper’s wheelchair onto the platform where most people stand for photos. The statue was ultimately moved to a more accessible location.

keith.whitcomb @rutlandherald.com

Karen Kane, of East Montpelier, secures umbrellas decorated by artist Jane Wass, as she and other volunteers prepare for the annual Adamant Black Fly Festival on Friday. The festival runs through Sunday with ongoing drive or walk through viewing of humorous black fly decorations on buildings in the town. Saturday is highlighted by a bake sale and live music concert from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Break out the flyswatters

Our House to enter temporary stipulated receivership

Rather than see its license to provide nursing home-level care revoked, a local residential-care business has agreed to allow another entity to manage it, temporarily.

Monica White, interim commissioner of the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living (DAIL), which oversees licensing for elderly care facilities, said that Our House of Rutland has agreed to enter into a stipulated receivership, allowing Mark Stickney, of SpinGlass Management, to assume all of its legal and operational responsibilities with the goal of getting the business to a point where it is consistently meeting all of its regulatory obligations.

White said that two weeks ago, DAIL and the Office of the Vt. Attorney General sought to revoke Our House’s license to provide nursing home level care, after a pattern of noncompliance with regulations as documented in routine surveys.

Our House consists of four residential care homes for people with dementia. It currently houses 47 people, with 21 of them needing nursing home-level care. White said residential homes can be granted variances to provide this level of care, and it was these DAIL sought to revoke.

Rather than do that, White said, the receivership option was undertaken. It allows the people living at Our House who have the higher level of need to remain there while getting the care they need.

White said she expects this will last six months, but if the receiver decides the facility can manage on its own, it might end early.

According to the DAIL website, it conducted a survey at Our House in late April and found several issues related to staff being allowed to work without adequate training. A survey conducted in 2018 showed no issues. A survey from 2016 recorded staff-training issues, while a 2014 survey turned up nothing of significance.

“I’m optimistic that this will enable the facilities to strengthen their operations to be able to provide the level of care that they need to be providing with the licensure that they have,” said White.

Our House is paying for the receiver, she said.

According to White, there are no issues with the buildings themselves, and they appear to be well taken care of and comfortable to live in.

White said the receivership will become official once a Rutland Superior Court judge signs off on it, which was expected to happen Friday.

Paula Patorti, owner of Our House, said she’s hopeful that by the end of this, the company will be in a better position.

“We care for a very special population of residents and their families, as we’ve done for the past 20 years, in honor and in memory of my mother-in-law, Angelina (Innone), and her journey through dementia,” said Patorti on Friday. “Today would be Angie’s birthday. Our residents need us, and we need them, and that hasn’t changed, and we’re looking forward to the best outcome for our residents and their families.”

She said staffing has been a challenge at Our House, adding that staffing has been tough all across the health care industry, and every industry as of late.

Patorti said Our House families have been notified of this development. She expects to begin working with the receiver early next week and working alongside them to solve the issues.

keith.whitcomb @rutlandherald.com

Sports teaser

At long last

Spaulding baseball advances to the semifinal round for the first time since 2004. B1

Pansies make a colorful and delicious addition to summer salads.

The author holds up a largemouth bass taken from Lake Champlain. The Vermont bass fishing season opens June 12.