It’s been called a confusing array of names, but the Montpelier City Council has settled on “Country Club Road” for the development of the 130-acre parcel just off Route 2, on the east side of the city. Development of housing — affordable housing in particular — and recreational facilities continue to be at the top of the list of options being proposed for the future of the former golf course.
Montpelier City Hall was the site for an Oct. 27 virtual meeting, the third in a series of public hearings about development options for the Country Club Road property, formerly the Elks Club, purchased by the city in the spring.
Stephanie Clarke. representing White + Burke, the consulting firm contracted by the city to oversee the process for deciding what will happen on the property, explained that hearing from people in the community is essential. The community’s visions and concerns about the use, access, and impact of the development are welcomed, she stressed. Clarke’s question to the community is, “What do you want the most?”
White + Burke is currently assessing the property to identify physical aspects of the land, including access, that will need to be considered when planning development. “Costs will be identified, along with sources of funding,” Clarke said.
In addition to the potential for creating much-needed housing and possible recreational trails and playing fields, suggestions from the public have included childcare facilities, indoor courts for tennis and pickleball, preservation of wildlife corridors, a café/restaurant/tavern, and retail space.
Where the Vision Began
The potential development of the former clubhouse and golf course first proposed for the site came a year ago from a nonprofit group, The HUB. Nat Winthrop, vice chair of The HUB Board of Directors, said that The HUB continues to be interested in participating in the development review process. Prior to the city’s purchase of the property, the HUB had proposed to lease the existing buildings from the then owner and construct a new “social center” for the Montpelier community and surrounding towns.
According to The HUB’s website, that vision included “space for a restaurant and bar; childcare; a retail outlet for sportswear and rental and sales of recreational equipment; and social events, including guest speakers, music, game nights, cards, chess, crafts nights, public discussions, book clubs, dances, storytelling, competitions, and more. It will also offer a spectrum of four-season indoor and outdoor recreational activities, including racquet sports, a mountain bike pump track, bouldering/rock climbing, disc golf, bocce, horseshoes, virtual and practice golf, as well as other activities requested by The HUB’s membership and the local community.”
At the most recent meeting Winthrop said, “The HUB is holding off on negotiating with the city until the planning process is completed.” He added that the group supports housing initiatives and notes that The HUB has a grant from National Life to include childcare facilities in the five acres of the property The HUB envisions leasing for development. “We think we can be compatible with the other ideas brought forward,” he concluded.
What Are the Obstacles?
Several concerns about potentially negative impacts of development on the site also were raised during the meeting. In summary:
The distance from schools, the downtown core, and residential areas.
Lack of public transportation.
Retail development that is competitive with downtown businesses.
Loss of open space.
The current single access from Route 2.
Potential increase in rail traffic on the siding that crosses the access road.
Impact on adjacent landowners.
Impact on the development of a previously planned trail across the northern side of the property that would connect Montpelier to U-32 High School on Gallison Hill.
Montpelier resident Phil Dodd noted that the city’s need for an updated indoor recreation facility might be better solved by looking into the purchase of the gymnasium on the Vermont College of Fine Arts campus. The college recently announced its decision to sell many of the buildings on the campus as the residency sessions have been relocated out-of-state. The distance of the Country Club Road property from town has been a concern from parents whose children will want to attend after school programs.
Dodd also referenced two specific needs for housing that should be addressed in the planning. “Many of Montpelier’s older, larger homes are currently owned by people who are interested in downsizing. But there’s no suitable options for them,” he said. Dodd also noted the lack of affordable rental housing for people working at local businesses, schools, and organizations.
Deborah Messing replied that businesses in Hanover, New Hampshire and other communities across the country are creating funds through a nonprofit to support worker housing.
Meredith Kitfield asked, “What is sustainable for Montpelier’s water supply and sewer treatment capacity?’
City Manager Bill Fraser replied that earlier studies projected that the existing infrastructure has the capacity to serve 500 additional housing units.
Montpelier Alive’s interim executive director Katie Trautz said that synergy with the downtown is critical to success, noting that the COVID pandemic has left many businesses economically fragile.
Noting that the Parks Department has been in the process of negotiating with landowners in the area to create a five-mile public trail between Montpelier and the U-32 campus, Alec Ellsworth asked that planners “Keep in mind the impact the development will have on views from the trail.”
Clarke said that White + Burke will be gathering site data and cost estimates about various proposals in preparation for additional public sessions in January. She anticipates that the consultants will have a presentation of a master plan for the property in the spring of 2023.