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Why Is the Panda Inn Still Standing?

Local Matters


Published November 7, 2006 at 8:56 p.m.

BURLINGTON - A lot of new construction is taking place on Shelburne Road, at the outskirts of Burlington. Several old buildings have been torn down and new ones have begun to rise. Still, the abandoned, graffiti-covered Panda Inn remains an eyesore.

The former Chinese restaurant has been vacant since Davis Chan murdered his business partners there in 1999. Kinney Drugs purchased the property in 2005. In January, the chain filed plans with the city to build an 11,500-square-foot drugstore.

The city's Design Review Board approved the proposal last spring, and a large sign on the property announces that Kinney Drugs is opening a store in November 2006.

But now that Election Day has come and gone, that seems unlikely. What's the holdup?

Turns out the neighbors didn't like Kinney's plans. The Shelburne Road/Prospect Parkway Association of Neighbors (SPAN) has hired a lawyer and appealed the project. It's currently tied up in environmental court.

Lawyers for both sides have filed the necessary documents and completed two days of hearings. They're now awaiting judgment, which could come any day.

What's not to like about Kinney? SPAN representative Jeff Wick says there's nothing wrong with the Delaware-based company. "Nobody's opposed to Kinney," he says. "We're opposed to the loss of green space, and the commercial exit on Prospect Parkway."

Wick points out that the company plans to cut down some trees on the south side of Prospect Parkway to make way for its exit. He argues that the foliage reduces light and sound pollution, and "acts as a buffer" for the neighborhood.

Wick, a lawyer who lives on West Cove Road, adds that the increased traffic will hurt the community of well-appointed homes up the hill. He points out that parts of his neighborhood have no sidewalks, so anyone out for a stroll must walk in the street.

That includes his family, but he says it also includes the Rice High School track team, which runs in the area, and young mothers from the Lund Center pushing baby carriages.

Kinney's developers claim the store would not be commercially viable without the exit onto Prospect Parkway. Wick calls that "a baloney argument."

He says "an overwhelming number" of his neighbors oppose the project as it's proposed. "Clearly, we just feel that it would be a detriment to the character of the neighborhood."

But Ernie Pomerleau, president of Pomerleau Realty, which is representing Kinney, dismisses the neighbors' claims. "Frankly, I'm very pleased with the project," he says.

Pomerleau notes that plans were approved fairly quickly by the city, and points out that even though traffic will exit onto Prospect Parkway, Kinney won't be cutting down all the trees. "We're keeping 65 feet of vegetation in its natural state, except for where they're cutting through for the exit," Pomerleau says.

He's confident of the project's eventual success in court, he says. "We brought in a dozen expert witnesses. They brought in none."

Wick shares Pomerleau's assessment of SPAN's chances in court. He says he had hoped the developers would relent, but he's not surprised that they fought to keep their exit.

He says, with resignation in his voice, "That's capitalism."

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