WTF: What's that building going up at the Shelburne Road rotary, and why is it taking so long? | WTF | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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WTF: What's that building going up at the Shelburne Road rotary, and why is it taking so long?

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: We just had to ask...


Published November 23, 2011 at 9:30 a.m.

If you regularly navigate the Shelburne Road rotary — reputed to be the most accident-prone intersection in Burlington — you may have noticed a building being erected on the rotary’s southeast corner.

Over months (or has it been years?) of monumentally slow progress, the site’s former gas station was dismantled, the building stripped to its bones, and a new structure concocted out of the old one. Now it’s finally starting to resemble something.

Wait, is that a house?

It is, confirms developer Dave Simendinger. The 3000-square-foot dwelling will be divided into three rental units. But its footprint, roofline, window arrangement and parts of its frame all derive from the original single-family home.

“This building goes back a hundred years — the whole thing was post-and-beam,” Simendinger enthuses during a stroll around the premises. Unfortunately, in stripping the building down, his crew discovered that most of the first floor’s wood had rotted. The structure had been built without a foundation; “it was just rocks and a river down there,” recalls the developer. The walls had to be rebuilt one at a time to preserve the thick roof beams and other salvageable parts.

Simendinger could have torn down the entire structure and built a new one, but he seems to have a fondness for local history. The fiftysomething developer grew up in Burlington and attended the University of Vermont. He now owns and is renovating the house where he lived as an undergrad, at the southwest corner of Maple and South Prospect Streets. It’s one of a dozen rental properties he owns around the state, along with 40 Champlain Farms gas stations and the Rotary Mart across the street from the building site.

When Mary O’Neil, an associate planner with Burlington’s Planning and Zoning Department, showed Simendinger a 1931 photo of the house on the rotary, he was thrilled. He had bought the property in 1982 when it was still Crosby’s Gulf and for years operated it as Rotary Gulf, a combined gas station and repair garage. But the difficulty of driving in and out of the site made the business impractical. He was pleased to return the spot to its original use and revive the structure as much as possible — even though, he says, “Mary determined there was no historic value.”

Planning and Zoning is presumably pleased, too. According to O’Neil, the site was always zoned for low-density residential use, “so the request to convert from a nonconforming use (automotive service station) to residential use moves the parcel toward conformity.”

Simendinger is aware that the building is taking unusually long to complete; returning a phone query, he began by joking, “So, you’re watching the slowest project in Burlington.” (He applied for a permit in March 2010 and began work on the house nine months later.) Not all the delay is due to building rehabilitation. The amount of remediation work required by the state to render a former gas-station site safe is enormous, Simendinger says. Not only do underground tanks need to be removed, but so does any soil that may have absorbed leaked fuel. Mounds of possibly contaminated dirt still border the site, waiting to be trucked to lined landfills.

Another factor accounts for the slow progress. As passersby may have noticed, workers on the site seem scarce. On a recent sunny day, there was even a handwritten sign posted beside one entrance stating “Carpenters Needed.” Simendinger explains that he’s using his “in-house” team, rather than hiring a contractor, to save money, and the men are often needed on other sites. He hopes to have the building completed by May.

The building’s renters will be taking on a mixed bag. They’ll be falling asleep to the sounds of louder and more continuous traffic than their 1931 predecessors endured. But they’ll also be within walking distance of downtown, Lake Champlain and the Spot restaurant — another converted gas station three blocks away.

Of course, the last thing on the minds of rotary drivers is pedestrians. And the property’s sidewalk directly borders the road, with no curb or green space to put walkers at ease. When asked if he will redirect the sidewalk, Simendinger looks surprised but says he’ll consider it.

As it turns out, though, the city is scheduled to restructure the rotary itself beginning in 2014. The new configuration will “definitely change the sidewalks through there,” says the Department of Public Works’ bicycle, pedestrian and environmental planner, Nicole Losch.

And what’s another three or four years to this project?

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