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Signs of New Life, Again, at the Panda Inn

Local Matters


Published January 11, 2006 at 4:14 a.m.

BURLINGTON -- The soy sauce bottles may finally be cleared off the tables at the Panda Inn. On January 3, Pomerleau Real Estate delivered architectural drawings and a building proposal for the Shelburne Road property to Burlington's Planning and Zoning Department. The plans show an 11,500-square-foot Kinney Drugstore on the site.

The Design Advisory Board will discuss the proposal at its meeting on January 17 at 3 p.m. Ernie Pomerleau, president of Pomerleau Real Estate, which is representing Kinney, says the company would like to demolish the building and begin construction this summer.

The Panda Inn building has been vacant since Davis Chan murdered his business partners there in 1999. Kinney Drugs bought the site last summer. The Delaware-based company had optioned the land to build a drugstore two years ago, but the deal fell through after neighborhood opposition.

Kinney learned from that process, Pomerleau says. "We've really taken seriously the comments." He notes that the new plans, for example, make the building more accessible to pedestrians on Shelburne Road. Unlike many drugstores, which feature entrances tucked back by the parking lot, the entrance to this building will be on Shelburne Road. The architects have also cut back on parking, added brick columns in the front, and changed the color scheme and window treatments to fit the streetscape. Pomerleau calls it "a more urban design."

He stresses that it's important the building be inviting not just to commuters but to neighbors and passersby. That corner has long been a community gathering place, Pomerleau says. Many Burlingtonians still remember it as the old Howard Johnson's. Pomerleau certainly does. He was involved in an altercation there as a teenager. "I was trying to protect a fellow member of Rice High School," he explains, "and somehow I got thrown through a plate-glass window."

Pomerleau says that Kinney, a family-owned company, recognizes the building needs to fit in with the neighborhood -- hence the modifications. "It won't look like every other drugstore in the world," he says. "At least that's my hope."

But even the new design may not make the neighbors happy. Kathy Sweeten, who lives near the site on Prospect Parkway, opposed the project the first time around. She says the developers have been good about following up with neighborhood concerns, but she worries that they haven't addressed the main one -- a proposed driveway that would steer traffic from the drugstore parking lot onto her street. The new plans still show an entrance from Prospect Parkway.

Sweeten says she plans to attend the DAB meeting on the new proposal. "I do think we need a drugstore in that space," she says. "But not with an entrance on Prospect Parkway."

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