by Carla Occaso
MONTPELIER — Atop College Hill at the corner of Sibley Avenue and Sabin Street is the site of a proposed 16-unit apartment building with underground parking. If the project moves forward, it would replace a grassy lawn-type area with a fence-protected garden.
“The idea was to make a net-zero building,” said property owner Win Turner in a telephone interview May 5. “We would utilize, as best we could, solar energy products.” His engineer, Jamie Hansen, and his energy consultant, Andy Shapiro, designed the building, the plans of which depict a structure larger than most on the upper part of Sibley, but comparable in size to some of the multi-family dwellings down over the cliff on Barre Street. Turner said he is trying to work as closely as possible with the neighbors to address their concerns, which are mostly about the scale of the building and traffic impact.
Turner admits he feels a little nervous about creating such a large, brand-new building in his own neighborhood, but he has heard that in Montpelier housing is in high demand. Although he is a clinical psychologist by profession, Turner looks to construction and renovation as a hobby. He has renovated several properties — including two in Montpelier — that he rents out. This one is different, though, in that it is new and would transform the immediate older, spread-out traditional neighborhood made up of one- to two-family homes with individual yards into a more tightly-packed, modern, almost urban-type housing project. However, Turner said he hopes to retain as much of the green space as possible around the building. Whether he will rent out apartments or sell the units as condos has not been decided, but rents or fees would stay in line with other rents and fees in town. And this kind of project fits in with some of the new zoning ideas being drawn up in Montpelier City Hall.
“It is in the high density district,” said Mike Miller, planning director for the city of Montpelier by telephone recently. The Bridge asked when would be the earliest time frame for construction to begin and Miller said, “Assuming they (the board) approved it that night and had no questions, there is a 30-day approval period — the absolute earliest would be the middle of June if there were no problems or objections.”
A digital copy of the application was circulated among residents who live nearby and was obtained by The Bridge. When asked what comments he has received from neighboring property owners, Miller said, “I have gotten a couple of people saying they were concerned because it is so big.”
Currently 25 Sibley Ave. is classified by the city as an “open lot,” according to the permit application filed with the Department of Planning and Community Development on April 17. The overall lot size is 32,820 square feet. The structure as presented would be a multi-family residential apartment building with a parking lot below. The 15-space parking lot will have a 7,669 square-foot floor area, and five parking spaces would be outside the building, to include one parking spot per dwelling unit. Three of the outdoor spots would be reserved for apartments across the street.
The unit would be three stories tall on the east end and four stories tall on the end sloping downward on Sibley Avenue. Solar panels are planned for the roof, which might require a waiver as they might cause the building to slightly exceed the 45-foot height once affixed to the roof.
Lighting will include street lights, security lights and “architectural accent” lights.
In addressing the sprinkler system requirements, the application notes that there would be two possible solutions if the existing 4-inch water main has too small a capacity. First, the main could be upgraded to one that is double the size, or, “worst case scenario,” the contractors could provide “on-site water storage and pumping facilities to meet the fire suppression demands.”
Stormwater would be managed using “a subsurface StormTech chamber detention system beneath the driveway/parking area,” according to the application. The system is designed for use under parking lots.
But for now, the only hint of things to come is a big red “Z” on a stick in the grass to notify the public of basic details, such as the address, type of project and public hearing date and time. The hearing date is scheduled for May 11 at the city council chambers at 7 p.m.
Sibley Project: Traffic Impact
Since traffic seemed to concern people in the neighborhood, The Bridge reached out to Tom McArdle, director of Public Works, to learn his reaction.
“My impression is the likely traffic volumes to be generated by this development would not rise to the level that would trigger the requirement to conduct a traffic study,” McArdle wrote in an email. “In our role as technical advisors to the Development Review Board, we did not offer a suggestion that a study would assist the DRB in their deliberations during the permit consideration process. The reason is that the numbers didn’t seem to warrant it.”
McArdle went on to state that during a 2012 study, daily traffic on lower Sibley Avenue (connecting College and Barre streets) had 2,700 vehicle per day, compared to 3,100 vehicles per day on College Street. These two sections of road are main thoroughfares for people driving from the area of the County Road or Towne Hill Road, through the east side of Montpelier over to River Street (Route 2) toward Barre or Berlin. During a daily commute, McArdle estimates the new development would generate six extra trips per unit — three departing and three arriving — per week day. If residents are more inclined to commute by biking and walking, this number would be lower. The Vermont Agency of Transportation requires a traffic study if new trips reached the level of 75, but McArdle said a high estimate would be about 36 new trips during peak hours.
So, McArdle said traffic isn’t a significant problem in this area now, and he anticipates 16 new housing units would not create a remarkable traffic impact.