Future of downtown Winooski redevelopment project up in the air

Local News

After the Winooski Development Review Board’s first in-person meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the future of a revitalization effort near Winooski High School is up in the air.

In late 2018, Sisters and Brothers Investment Group of South Burlington applied for a permit to re-develop 401 Main Street in Winooski. That’s the home of the now-demolished former Simon’s gas station.

The developers have told the city they want to put up a three-story mixed-use building. The top two floors would be filled with apartments. On the ground floor, there would be two commercial tenants, one of which would ideally be a drive-through Dunkin’ franchise location.

Two months ago, the city conditioned approval for the project on either eliminating the drive-through window entirely or keeping it closed on weekdays until after 8:30 a.m.

Joe Handy of Sisters and Brothers has filed an appeal, which the board heard Thursday evening. A South Burlington-based traffic consultant Handy hired told the board that the project would boost traffic from 74% of what the neighborhood can handle to 75%.

“Can it handle the additional volume that might come with this use? That’s part of the analysis, and what we’ve determined is that yes, there’s an impact there, but it’s very modest,” Rick Bryant of Stantec Consulting Services said.

Bryant acknowledged there are concerns about the property accommodating the drive-through line. However, he said the 200 feet available on the parcel to accommodate a line eight cars long should be enough.

“Will all the cars fit on-site, or will they spill onto Normand Street and make it difficult for people to get to school and work? That’s a valid question, and it’s something we analyzed extensively, concluding that it will not be a problem,” he said.

Jon Rauscher, Winooski’s public works director and co-interim city manager, made the case for denying the appeal. He pointed out that when school is in session, Normand Street already serves two purposes each morning.

“It’s a public street, but it’s really a school entrance,” he said. “So you’re layering on, what’s already a really high-peak traffic generation, another really high-peak traffic generation.”

Sisters and Brothers would reduce the existing two driveways on the site to one. That remaining driveway would be right-turn-only onto Main Street.

“There’s no relief valve for that,” Rauscher said. “You can’t go on — you can’t come back into Normand Street. You can’t go onto school property. There’s only one way out.”

He added that there’s also no way to know right now just how VTrans’s nearby Interstate 89 Exit 16 Diverging Diamond Interchange project will affect Main Street. That construction project will begin next year.

Board chair Kevin Lumpkin summarized the issue near the conclusion of the meeting by saying, “We have to issue a decision in writing within 45 days. Stay tuned.”

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