Home News and Features 30-Unit Housing Project a First Step Toward Berlin’s New Town Center

30-Unit Housing Project a First Step Toward Berlin’s New Town Center

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Berlin New Town Center concept plan.
At a time when surrounding downtowns are still recovering from the flood of July 2023, Berlin is about to launch its “new town center” on a hill, well out of the floodplain, starting with an affordable housing complex next to the Central Vermont Marketplace (Berlin Mall).

Downstreet Housing and Community Development expects to begin construction of Fox Run, 30 units of “workforce housing,” this June, according to Angie Harbin, Downstreet’s executive director. Renters could move in as soon as September 2025, she said. The apartment building will be built on 2.3 acres across the road from Chestnut Place, a 98-unit privately owned senior housing facility next to Walmart. The purchase from Berlin Mall LLC is expected to close sometime in May or June, Harbin said.

A Starbucks, a restaurant and a store will eventually join the new housing development. The Town of Berlin has granted a zoning permit for Starbucks to proceed with construction next door to Fox Run. The town also expects an as-yet unnamed restaurant and a retail outlet to request building permits in April, according to Tom Badowski, Berlin’s assistant town administrator. All of this is on a wooded lot currently owned by the Berlin Mall, Badowski said, but it’s part of a larger town center plan that’s been in the works for 25 years.

When talking about Berlin’s new town center, Badowski regularly mentions partnerships; there’s the partnership between the Town of Berlin and the mall (which will soon include a land swap so Berlin can build an administrative building there); there’s a partnership with the Central Vermont Medical Center, a major employer nearby, and partnerships with the State of Vermont and three nearby car dealerships.

Berlin’s New Center

In 2022, Berlin became the third municipality in the state — and the only one outside of Chittenden County — to receive the “new town center” designation from the state of Vermont, Badowski said. “To me, that’s significant,” he said.

With a population of just 3,000, Berlin is home to some of central Vermont’s major employers, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont, several car dealerships, and the Central Vermont Medical Center. To date, Berlin has not had a town center, despite having a retail center. The idea for a new town center dates back 25 years, when residents developed a plan that sat on a shelf for over a decade, Badowski said. It was dusted off about 10 years ago, he said, which is about when the town decided to proceed with it. 

By the time town officials completed a new town plan, “it went from this dust-gathering 500-page small-font to large font, lots of pictures, friendly, easy to use … and won plan of the year [from the Vermont Planners Association] in 2018,” Badowski said.

One project that laid the groundwork for the new town center is building a $10 million water and sewer system where one had never existed. The town drilled four wells, Badowski said, and laid nearly 40,000 feet of pipe to connect businesses and homes to a central system. 

“It’s a system we totally built from scratch,” said interim Town Administrator and Select Board member Ture Nelson.

Badowski is quick to note that the cost of the water and sewer system was covered in part by a $2 million grant, and user fees, and has connected some of its major businesses like Blue Cross and the hospital.

The town recently updated its zoning to allow for more housing, Badowski said. Now, the town has no limit on how many housing units can go onto a lot.

“The Planning Commission has a vision of 350 to 500 (more) units,” he said. “… We are a small town, 3,000 people. We want to be 5,000 people, and have people come live here and make central Vermont their home.”

Walkability

Both Badowski and Nelson are quick to point out that siting housing so close to the mall, the car dealerships, the hospital and the school, creates an environment where people can walk more and drive less.

“The more services you have right there, you can do your clothes shopping, your grocery shopping … it’s good for the environment,” Nelson said.

Regarding the 30-unit Fox Run, Harbin noted, “From that site you can walk to the school. Also there’s sidewalks to the hospital and medical center that’s right there. Creating all of those connections right there really does make sense.”

In fact, Badowski said walkability is a big part of the new town center plan. Just last week, he said, the town heard it was likely to receive a $1.6 million grant to build a multi-use path situated away from the busy road and parking lot.


Three Downstreet Housing Projects

Fox Run is one of three Downstreet housing projects in the works in central Vermont. In Barre City, Downstreet is renovating the former Ward 5 school into nine apartments, plus community space, according to Downstreet’s executive director Angie Harbin. In Waterbury, plans call for the “Marsh House,” at 51 South Main Street to become 26 units of  “workforce housing,” like Fox Run; three are reserved for “households with intellectual developmental disabilities,” and, as in all of Downstreet’s housing, “at least 25% are reserved for people experiencing homelessness.”

—C.H.

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