By RUSSELL JONES
BRANDON — Nearly 60 residents showed up at a meeting of the Brandon Development Review Board on Wednesday, Oct. 23. Although two other cases were heard, the majority of those in attendance were there for the Act 250 hearing for the new location of Barn Opera.
As has been reported in this paper previously, Barn Opera is planning to move from their old location in the Brandon Music venue to a barn near the Sanderson covered bridge on Pearl Street. The meeting on Wednesday was to discuss the Act 250 ramifications of the new building.
“This is the first step in a whole bunch of steps,” said board chair Samantha Stone. “They still need to pass building codes, fire codes and all sorts of things.”
Although no final decision was reached, the board has 45 days to come to their determination. Josh Collier, artistic director for Barn Opera, along with the board of the Compass Music and Arts Foundation seemed to have most of their application in order.
The purpose of the DRB’s Act 250 hearing is to make sure that a new business does not put any undue strain on various functions in the town.
“Because there are the three really specific criteria, it gave us a great roadmap to follow,” said Collier, who presented the board with his application that had been signed off on by the Brandon Town Manager and the school district superintendent. It was later discovered that the town manager cannot sign off for the fire department or the rescue squad, but Collier will be allowed to get those signatures over the next several days to complete the application.
As far as meeting the Act 250 criteria, Collier covered several of those topics, including one goal of the town plan, which is to reduce the town’s carbon footprint.
“The town plan states the goal of becoming a net zero municipality while contributing to the state’s goal of renewable energy,” Collier said. “Our intention is to create the first carbon-neutral venue in the country.”
Green Mountain engineering has designed a parking surface that would prevent runoff and wetlands district manager Zapata Courage as well as flood plain coordinator Ned Swansburg have both signed off on the project.
It would also support the preservation of historic buildings and promote tourism in the area, both of which are included in the town plan.
That plan also states the town must balance preservation of its community and character and conservation of its resources with support of opportunities for economic growth to sustain the town’s citizens and services.
“We fully intend on doing that, as the vast majority of the 10.1 acres are wetlands,” and will be preserved. As for the enhancing community character, he noted the historic charm of the barn and the cultural amenity “will draw in tourism,”
“It’s really an idyllic place,” Collier said. “It’s like a postcard.”
As one voice of opposition, Brandon resident Sharon Stearns had put together a review of the three criteria and how she felt it would affect the town. Stearns lives near where the new site of Barn Opera would be.
“There has been thought among the neighbors that we already need additional municipal services in the neighborhood,” she said. “There is also a question of how much increased traffic there will be.”
Among her other concerns was that the town plan says there should be no intensive development in rural areas. On Oct. 17, the DRB issued a conditional use permit for Barn Opera and it was to that permit the board pointed Stearns.
“There is no settlement or development that will take place, I’d like to be clear on what is being permitted,” Stone said. “There will be quarterly events, there will be no new plumbing and a barn is being restored.”
Stearns also had a petition of 24 concerned neighbors, although Cheryl Sanderson said that while her and her husband’s names were on the list, neither had signed it nor were opposed to Barn Opera’s move.
“The list is of concerned neighbors, not opposed,” Stearns said before describing a phone call about the matter with the Sanderson’s. “I would not put someone on the list that didn’t want to be on it. I never expected that she would tell me one thing and say something else here.”
Most of those on hand seemed to be in favor of the opera moving into the neighborhood.
Michelle Kingston, owner of the Lazy Acres Equine Farm near the new site, stood up to say she was “thrilled that Barn Opera is coming,” and added that there would be no undue impact to her business.
“The permitting is very limited in what they can do,” Stone said. “There is to be no amplified noise, the barn will have insulation and there will be five events, 10 nights a year. If they wanted to do more they would have to get a new permit from the town.”
After the hearing ended, Collier said he “was pleased that facts are being presented and not conjecture.”
The DRB will issue its findings soon and then Barn Opera will go through a full Act 250 review with the state.