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Tesla Plans to Open Its First Vermont Dealership in South Burlington


Published October 24, 2022 at 6:13 p.m.
Updated December 20, 2022 at 2:45 p.m.

Tesla Supercharger station at Healthy Living Market & Café - DAN BOLLES
  • Dan Bolles
  • Tesla Supercharger station at Healthy Living Market & Café
Electric car manufacturer Tesla hopes to open its first Vermont dealership in a former grocery store in South Burlington.

But zoning for the former Hannaford property, which has been vacant for four years, does not allow auto sales, a designation reserved for properties with frontage directly on the busy Shelburne Road corridor.

As first reported by the Burlington Free Press, the company requested the property be rezoned, and the South Burlington Planning Commission is holding a hearing at 7 p.m. on Tuesday to consider it. The meeting will take place at 180 Market Street and can be viewed via Zoom.

If the commission supports the change, city council approval would still be required, said Paul Conner, the city’s planning and zoning director. Tesla made the request earlier in the year, but the commission proposed something slightly different, Conner explained.

Instead of simply rezoning the Hannaford site, the commission is proposing to also rezone the Lowe’s Home Improvement building just to the south. That's because both large retail properties are set back somewhat from Shelburne Road, Conner explained.

Both properties would be rezoned to allow auto sales, but the commission is proposing to restrict dealerships on certain other properties along Shelburne Road where they would otherwise currently be allowed.
  • Courtesy: Transportation Climate Initiative
The proposal is meant to support Tesla’s request while containing the expansion of land-intensive auto dealerships along Shelburne Road. Some properties could be more suitable for mixed-use projects with housing, Conner explained.

“I think the Planning Commission felt this was a good reuse of existing land and was looking to the future,” Conner said.

Tesla’s request was made by the Burlington law firm MSK Attorneys. Reusing an existing building is in keeping with the company’s corporate goal of resource conservation,  attorney Liam Murphy wrote to the city.

The company cannot locate within the auto-friendly zone along Shelburne Road because “there are no suitable properties in that district which are not already owned or controlled by an automobile dealership,” he wrote.

Electric vehicle sales in the state have remained robust despite hiccups in the supply chain for crucial parts such as semiconductors, said David Roberts, who coordinates Vermont's Drive Electric program. In the first six months of 2022, the state added 1,175 new EVs, bringing the total on the road to around 7,500 or 6.2 percent of sales, Roberts said.

Once dominant, Tesla has slipped to second position, with 210 new sales in the period, lagging behind 228 Toyotas, he said. 
South Burlington Planning Department - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • South Burlington Planning Department
The state's charging infrastructure continues to expand, as well, with a network of 350 public chargers. Tesla currently has six dedicated fast-chargers, called Superchargers, which can top off a battery to 80 percent in less than an hour.

Like many states, Vermont has not allowed vehicle manufacturers to also operate dealerships, requiring them to be owned by franchise holders.

This has previously proven an obstacle for Tesla’s direct-to-consumer business model. But a 2021 legal change created an exemption for any “non-franchised zero-emission vehicle manufacturer that directly owns, operates, and controls the warranty or service facility.”

This would apply to Tesla as well as other EV makers, including Rivian and Lucid.

The arrival of a showroom and service center would be a boost for the brand in Vermont, Roberts said. “The best thing about this to me is that, if this happens, there will be a local service option for Tesla owners,” he said.

While Tesla had a mobile service option and can update software remotely, owners with more significant needs currently have to travel out of state for service in New York or Massachusetts, he said.