BARRE — Meeting for the first time under newly adopted zoning regulations the Development Review Board bent the new rules to accommodate the aesthetic preference of Barre’s busiest developer while retroactively approving some work he has already done.
In a decision released Friday morning, the board approved a pair of sign variances Thomas Lauzon requested — one belatedly — for the downtown building best known locally as the long-time home of a department store run by Homer Fitts Co.
The board also approved Lauzon’s plans for a side entrance on Pearl Street that was installed by cutting through the building’s brick wall nearly a month ago.
Lauzon last month deferred a scheduled hearing on one of the two sign variances in order to revise his application to include the door he subsequently installed without permission. He since added a request to “re-purpose” a sign – a remnant of Homer Fitts – on the rear of the building to the evolving application the board considered during its Thursday night meeting.
Lauzon was joined at the hearing by his wife, Karen, and artisinal meat manufacturer Pete Coleman. Coleman has rented the building to house his growing business – Vermont Salumi – and a separate enterprise to be named later.
Lauzon did most of the talking acknowledging it might seem “odd” to be asking for permission for work he had already done, while assuring the board the door he installed – right down to where he installed it – was the subject of extensive discussions with other city officials.
“It wasn’t anything we did without the city’s knowledge,” he said, conceding the board would be within its rights to require him to remove the door that opens out on the decorative pedestrian way that is now under construction.
Lauzon said concrete work associated with that project prompted him to install the door without a permit last month. That concrete work hasn’t yet started and won’t until at least next week, but Lauzon said getting the door out of the way in advance avoided a potential conflict.
Though the door Lauzon installed doesn’t match the “black aluminum” one described in his application, Permit Administrator Heather Grandfield said Friday the board’s approval will require it be replaced.
Meanwhile, the board granted both sign-related variances requested by Lauzon, including one that will allow him to have twice as much front signage as is allowed in the zoning regulations that went into effect last month.
The ordinance allows for up to one square foot for sign for every linear foot of shopfront up to a maximum of 80 square feet.
Lauzon wants to install two 80-square-foot signs – one for Vermont Salumi – and one for a separate business board members were told was still in the conceptual stage.
Lauzon argued one 80-square foot sign, or two 40-square foot signs, would “get lost” on the building’s 600-square-foot sign board. Borrowing description he attributed to Coleman, Lauzon said adhering to the zoning regulations would create a sign that “… looks like a hot dog in a hallway.”
“This size sign would fit 95 percent of the buildings downtown,” he said. “It just doesn’t fit ours.
Lauzon bought the building in 2011 and leased it to P&S Furniture. It has been vacant since that store closed three years ago.
With work on the Pearl Street Pedestrian Way and an adjacent city-owned parking lot now underway, Lauzon said he was happy to have filled the vacant storefront with a growing business.
“We’re just excited to be a small part of the changes going on down there,” he said.
Lauzon provided board members with a wealth of information about the history of the building, Coleman’s business and his plans to bury its propane tanks and his offer to supply water and electricity for the city-owned pedestrian way outside the new side door. He didn’t address the variance criteria and wasn’t asked to by a board Grandfield said found he satisfied all of them during their deliberative session.
That includes a finding that but for the variance unique “… physical circumstances or conditions prevent the property from possibly being developed in strict conformity” with the regulations.
Lauzon indicated in his written application that was not the case, while noting his desire was to create “an attractive and proportional storefront.”
“It’s a unique building,” he said. “We’re trying to make it as attractive as we can.”
The board granted the sign variance for the front facade and a separate variance for “re-purposing” a year sign that is a remnant of Homer Fitts, which closed its doors in 2006. Lauzon proposed “re-skinning” the aluminum sign and creating a new for the freight entrance at Vermont Salumi.
Grandfield said that variance was also approved, though the board has asked Lauzon to submit a proposed color for the front facade to her for approval before painting it.
At Thursday night’s meeting Lauzon said he was debating between a “gold-ish color” and red-brick.
Lauzon’s won’t be the last request for a sign variance. The owners of Barre City Place have requested one for the state Agency of Transportation but asked the it be deferred until next month.
In other business Thursday, the board approved Washington County Mental Health Service’s plans to reconstruct and upgrade a gravel parking lot it owns off Pearl Street Extension.
Jeffrey Tuper-Giles participated in both hearings, but before going into to deliberative session asked fellow board members whether they had a problem with him taking part in deliberations involving Lauzon’s request. Lauzon and his wife own the Reynolds House Inn and Tuper-Giles and his husband, Eric, operate that business. Board members unanimously agreed they didn’t see a conflict before discussing the applications the closed-door session that followed the public portion of the meeting.