BERLIN — Owners of the Berlin Mall are seeking preliminary approval for a mixed-use project that involves the construction of the 30 units of affordable housing and what would be central Vermont’s first free-standing Starbucks.
Filed with the town on Monday, the application doesn’t mention Starbucks by name — referring to it as “short-order restaurant with a drive-through component.” However, Ken Simon, vice president of real estate for mall-owner Heidenberg Properties provided the detail in a press release late Monday afternoon.
In the past, Simon has said Heidenberg Properties was in conversations with a “restaurant” interested in building on a portion of the mall property near its entrance off of Route 62. On Monday, he indicated Starbucks is that restaurant.
“Starbucks will be an important building block for our ongoing collaboration with the Town of Berlin to create a town center that meets the needs of all community members whether they are seeking employment, housing, health and wellness, goods and services or just a place to meet friends and neighbors while enjoying a great cup of coffee,” Simon said, in a release announcing the freshly filed application.
Zoning Administrator Tom Badowski confirmed the application was filed earlier in the day and noted that while there is no specific reference to Starbucks, that piece of information was consistent with rumors he has heard.
Badowski said the town’s Development Review Board would consider the application, which details plans to construct an internal road network on undeveloped property to tie together an affordable housing project that has been dubbed “Fox Run” and the restaurant Simon revealed as Starbucks.
Badowski stressed the preliminary nature of the application, which will focus on proposed streets, sidewalks and a new multi-use path that — like the buildings — don’t currently exist in an area that has received conditional “new town center” designation from the state.
That designation will require an extra level of review in a town where things like sidewalks and on-street parking are rarely required, but must be incorporated in projects proposed in the new town center.
A collaboration between Downstreet Housing and Community Development and Evernorth, Fox Run is on a faster track than Starbucks. However, because both projects will share the same internal street network, determining the layout in advance is important.
Fox Run was awarded roughly $4.6 million in requested funding by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board last month and will provide a broad range of affordable housing options, according to Julie Curtin, chief operating officer for Downstreet.
“With the hospital, mall, elementary school, and bus stops nearby, we’re building so much more than 30 new apartments,” Curtin said. “We’re building access to jobs, transportation, health care, and education. We’re building community.”
The proposed three-story building would be constructed across the mall drive from Chestnut Place — a privately owned 98-unit senior housing facility that is well under construction and slated to open early next year.
Chestnut Place and, presuming they are permitted and built, Fox Run and Starbucks, are the latest examples of the Heidenberg Properties looking to diversify uses on the mall’s 65-acre campus. Others include the expansion of Walmart to accommodate its grocery store and adding Planet Fitness and Passumpsic Bank to what was largely a retail complex for many years.
Most recently, the Heidenberg Properties allowed Central Vermont Medical Center to convert the storefront abandoned by one of the mall’s original anchor tenants, JCPenney, into COVID-19 vaccination hub.
Heidenberg Properties originally pitched and has since partnered with the town on the new town center concept it believes will “further the evolution of the mall into a mixed-use property where people will shop, live, work and receive care.”