Brandon Divided Over New Retail Development

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(Host) Brandon residents are deeply divided over a new retail development that’s being proposed south of town. Proponents say it will provide a better grocery store, encourage economic growth and create jobs. 

But as VPR’s Nina Keck reports, critics say it will destroy Brandon’s historic village center.

(Keck) Brandon’s town green is surrounded by 19th century homes, churches and other landmarks.   

On this morning, the park is filled with the music and commerce of the weekly farmer’s market.

(Anderson) "I’m Lucy Anderson and I came here – got an apartment so that I can walk to all the services.  I can walk to the grocery store and I just hope that I can continue to do that."

(Keck) Anderson points to the Hannaford just across the street. A Rite Aid pharmacy is next door and an Aubuchon hardware store is down the block. If the grocery store relocates, Brandon resident Kevin Thornton says it won’t be long before other downtown businesses also move out.  

(Thornton) "Brandon is one of the last, truly in-tact downtowns in Vermont. That’s something that’s precious and it’s easily lost.  I think people make the mistake of thinking that any development is going to be economically productive and this is not the case with this."  

(Davidson) "I’m not sure if I agree with that."

(Keck) Hannah Davidson likes the idea of a larger food store and says the town could use some new shops. The current grocery store is just over 19,000 square feet while the proposed new Hannaford would be 36,000. Plans also call for additional 12,000 square feet of other retail space and a separate 5,000 square foot building.

(Davidson) "I feel like it could actually help the community of Brandon as far as offering more businesses and services so people don’t go to Middlebury."   

(Keck) Local resident Tom Sabatini agrees.  

(Sabatini) "I think that more people will come to Brandon from Rochester, Orwell and Shoreham, Leicester and other towns to shop here and hopefully benefit the downtown area."   

(Keck) Sabatini says the project will also generate new jobs.  But Paul Bruhn, Executive Director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont disputes that.

(Bruhn)"If you look at other communities that have a lot of retail development outside of their downtown – you can see the effects of that development."

(Keck) Which, he says, are empty storefronts. Bruhn says the Trust feels so strongly about Brandon’s situation, they’ve bought an option on an acre of land adjacent to the existing Hannaford. Bruhn says the company could purchase it and greatly expand its downtown grocery store.     

A Hannaford Spokesman wouldn’t comment on that, saying the company will honor its contract to develop a new store outside of town. Whether that development will get the green light remains to be seen, however.  

Brandon’s Development Review Board has yet to announce its decision on the proposal which must also pass the Act 250 process.   

For VPR news, I’m Nina Keck in Brandon.

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