Business owners unhappy with certain zoning changes (Sept., 11, 2008)

Existing warehouse space may need to be converted

Sept. 11, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

A recent change of uses in two key zoning districts is not sitting well with two business owners.
Chris Cornell, co-owner of Cornell Holdings, and Al Senecal, a local developer who owns Omega Electric Construction, told the Planning Commission at its Sept. 2 meeting that recent changes are making it difficult, if not impossible, to lease out certain properties.
Cornell is hoping to lease out his clothing and accessory company’s 50,000 square-foot building — much of it designed for warehouse use — on Hurricane Lane for warehouse space. Senecal said he is looking to do the same with his warehouse property on Harvest Lane, in what used to be the Hertz Rental Company building.
But under the recent zoning changes, the Cornell and Senecal buildings would not be able to be leased for warehouse usage. Hurricane Lane was rezoned into the Gateway South Zoning District and Harvest Lane was rezoned into the Mixed Use Commercial Zoning District when the Selectboard approved certain interim bylaws earlier this year. Retail, office and residential units are allowed in these zones, but not warehouses or industrial spaces.
Cornell said he wanted the new interim bylaws to change so his building could be used for what it was intended for.
“We don’t understand why the change was made,” said Celia Daly, Cornell’s lawyer, at the commission’s meeting.
Senecal said if he wants to lease the former Hertz building, he would have to convert it to either more retail space or a hotel, according to the new interim bylaws.
“More flexibility to a multi-tenanted building is to your advantage, and to my advantage as well,” Senecal told the commission.
Planning Commission Chairman David Yandell said much of the re-zoning around Harvest Lane was to create a mix of uses, including residential space and retail space.
“We felt we were responding to a need that was expressed to us,” Yandell said after the meeting. “My guess is we missed the mark.”

Hurricane Lane


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
New zoning regulations may prevent Cornell Holdings from leasing the existing warehouse portion of its building on Hurricane Lane, pictured above.

Cornell said at the meeting he was led to believe some of the zoning changes were brought about because of concern over large trucks on the road, as well as trucks pulling onto Route 2A near an already busy intersection.
“When you think about it, a 40,000 square-foot warehouse might employ seven people, while a 40,000 square-foot office space might employ 20 people,” Cornell said. “You’re adding car traffic tenfold as opposed to the truck traffic.”
Cornell and his wife, April, own Cornell Holdings, an international women’s clothing and accessory company. The Williston location serves as the company’s headquarters for 29 stores in Canada, three stores in the United States — including one in Burlington — and an online store.
Cornell said there was only sufficient parking for the building’s current use of office and warehouse space.
“If I converted this (entirely) to office space, there would be no place to park,” he said.
Yandell said at the meeting that he looks at Hurricane Lane as a “success” in that it can hold several types of uses.
Yandell asked Cornell, along with his lawyer Daly and real estate agent Steven Donahue, to submit their concerns in writing and to express what exactly the building would be used for. Cornell said he hoped the process could happen quickly.
“Time is of the essence,” Cornell said. “If the process takes too long, it’s a financial burden on us.”

Harvest Lane

Williston Planning Director and Zoning Administrator Ken Belliveau said after the meeting that in writing the new bylaws, the range of uses has changed for the specified areas. In talking about Harvest Lane, Belliveau said the idea was to keep the area more retail and residential oriented instead of allowing warehouses and manufacturing.

But in doing so, Senecal said the new zoning has made development more restrictive, rather than allowing the flexibility the commission hopes to see. He said he’d been in contact with Belliveau recently to see if the Hertz building could be grandfathered in.

Belliveau said a building could only be grandfathered if a very specific use does not change when a new owner comes in. If there is any slight variation in use change, or if the site sits idle for a year, then a building cannot be grandfathered.

Senecal told the Observer after the meeting he was still trying to understand the changes and the decisions behind the re-zoning process. He said the town should let the warehouse building be until a tenant comes in and decides what  to do with it.

Belliveau stressed the bylaws are still in the interim phase. Now is the time for citizens and business owners to let planning department staff know of any problems with zoning changes, he said.

“As a staff, we encourage (people) to do that,” Belliveau said.

Yandell and Belliveau said the Cornell and Senecal properties should be re-examined in light of what was brought forth at the Planning Commission meeting. Senecal was hopeful for a positive outcome.

“I think they’ve realized they’ve made a mistake,” Senecal said.