A zoning application to build a new three-story brick office building with a bank drive-through window at 105 State Street in Montpelier, the location of the former Gulf service station, was filed with the city on April 10 and will be the subject of a Design Review Committee hearing May 4 and a Development Review Board hearing May 18, according to Montpelier Planning and Zoning Administrator Meredith Crandall.
The proposed building is nearly 8,000 square feet with a bank on the first floor, which is at an elevated level due to flood plain regulations, and professional offices on the second and third floors. The plans call for a drive-through bank window at the rear of the building, three on-site parking spaces, and an elevator.
The project’s developer, former Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon, said he had had some doubts about the $3 million project after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but he and his wife Karen concluded that at this time of uncertainty “there could not be a worse time to pull back.”
“We need to do this,” he told The Bridge. “Central Vermont has been very good to us, and we wanted to step up like other successful Vermont business people have done at difficult times in the past.”
Lauzon, an accountant who has invested in real estate throughout Vermont as well as out of state, is also a member of Gov. Phil Scott’s new Economic Mitigation and Recovery Task Force.
The site, located across Gov. Davis Avenue from the state’s Pavilion office building, has been used as a parking lot since the old service station was torn down. The relatively small size of the lot has raised concerns among city officials about automobile circulation on the property.
The lot is bounded on the north by the former Thrush Tavern building, now the home of Pho Capital restaurant and offices, owned by John Russell, and to the east by a building owned by Associated Industries of Vermont that was previously the site of the now-defunct Vermont Federal Bank, which had its own drive-through window on the west side of its building. The three lots share an access drive, which is proposed to remain two-way.
The aesthetics of the building—which Lauzon said is in a “special location”—were important to him. “We considered a four- or five-story building, but it wouldn’t fit appropriately in the area,” which is in both the city’s Historic District and Design Review District, he noted.
Lauzon said he included a significant amount of granite in his building plan despite the cost. The zoning application estimates construction costs at $2.4 million, but Lauzon said he expects that number to rise. He previously paid for the lot itself and the cost of tearing down the Gulf station, including removing the buried gasoline tanks.
According to an April 10 cover letter from DeWolfe Engineering Associates filed with the application, the project is located in the Urban Center zoning district (UC1) where banks and offices are permitted uses. “A bank drive-through is a conditional use in the district” and will not have an undue adverse impact on traffic, the letter said.
According to the letter, the proposed project does not include renewable energy systems at this time. “The proposed building will have a flat roof and will allow for the future installation of solar panels,” it said.
City officials have raised some issues and questions about the project. In an April 15 email to city staff, Tom McCardle of the Department of Public Works said he thought a “drive-through bank will generate significantly more traffic than the former service station land use with a greater probability of vehicle conflicts that could spill into the sidewalk and State Street as motorists attempt to maneuver for space. “
McCardle said the two proposed “stacking spaces” where cars can wait to pull up to the drive-through window “may not be sufficient and could result in a conflict within the shared access if motorists choose to stack and overflow within the lane.”
He also said the applicant should explain how and where building staff and visitors will park, given that there would only be three spaces on the site. “The DRB should at least understand the magnitude of parking demands generated by this new land use,” McCardle wrote.
Lauzon said parking was not a huge concern for him as most people should be able to park elsewhere and walk to the building. He predicted that “ultimately” a new parking garage will be built in Montpelier.
Zoning Administrator Meredith Crandall said that Montpelier’s zoning for this district does not require on-site parking be provided by a developer, but that where building visitors and staff will park is an issue because it could impact traffic in the area.
Lauzon said he was excited about the project and hopeful about starting construction. He estimated city permitting could be completed as soon as May.
Crandall said the Design Review Committee meeting May 4 would be held via Zoom, but open to the public. The Design Review Board (DRB) hearing on May 18 will be a bit different, though.
“The plan is for the DRB hearing to be offered via Zoom, and for all Board members and applicant representatives to attend remotely,” she said by e-mail.
“However,” she continued, “given the need to allow for broad public comment, we’re currently planning to allow members of the public to attend in-person at the Council Chambers with strenuous social distancing measures in place, but remote attendance via Zoom or pre-submission of written comments will be HIGHLY encouraged.”
She clarified in a later phone conversation that whether the public will be allowed to attend at City Hall will depend on the status of Gov. Scott’s stay-at-home order, currently set to expire May 15.