Elodie Reed, St. Albans Messenger
ST. ALBANS — The long-halted development of the Village at Franklin Park may get a jumpstart within a month.
The upscale housing development, located just east of the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail behind the Franklin Park West industrial park, has received an extension of its Act 250 permit until 2020. The property was foreclosed on in 2014 and sold in auction in April.
The new owner and developer, Patrick Malone of Malone Properties of Montpelier, filed an application for an amendment to the Act 250 permit awarded to GSD Development in 2004 to construct 92 condos on the lot. So far, only 26 have been built.
Cross Consulting Engineers prepared the amendment application. Malone Properties is a Vermont-based real estate investment, management, and development firm with an investment portfolio exceeding 1 million square feet, according to its website.
Malone most recently received press attention for purchasing three homes, demolishing them and building the Trader Joe’s in South Burlington in 2014.
The amendment was approved Wednesday by the Natural Resources Board, and it will be finalized following a 30-day appeal period. Given the pending status of the permit extension, Malone chose not to comment when reached by the Messenger yesterday.
Malone is not only the owner of the Village at Franklin Park, but of Franklin Park West; the two properties total almost 107 acres. According to property transfer documents provided by St. Albans Town, Malone purchased the housing development property for $225,000 and the industrial park for $450,000.
In comparison, previous Messenger stories have noted that each condominium in the Village at Franklin Park was valued at $250,000.
The entire 55-acre Village at Franklin Park was auctioned on April 24 by Thomas Hirchak Company with the sale finalized in July, and documents show that the industrial park was purchased in March.
Malone became the new owner of Franklin Park West and the Village at Franklin Park after the former developer, GSD Development co-owned by Phil Gerbode and Mary Samson, went bankrupt.
GSD envisioned the Village at Franklin Park as housing for 55-year-old and older people who lived an active lifestyle. The idea was hatched by Samson and Gerbode in 2001 and Act 250 permits were earned in 2004. Roadways and other infrastructure were built to connect the development with Franklin Park West, and 25 condominiums, plus one single family home were completed.
Between 2005 and 2007, a number of the units sold, but then several things happened: GSD’s contactor was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and the legal firm hired to draw up the deeds didn’t follow the most recent state condominium rules – one condo owner wouldn’t comply with the corrective legal work, meaning no more units could be sold.
Then there was the economic crash of 2008.
GSD couldn’t pay its loans, and between 2010 and 2012 it borrowed a combined $3.8 million from Peoples Trust Company. The bank foreclosed the two properties in 2014.
The housing development and industrial park could not be sold, however, until GSD complied with an Assurance of Discontinuance issued by the Natural Resources Board, since GSD was not in compliance with its Act 250 permit.
Violations included use of different materials for streetlights, improper stormwater infrastructure, lack of plumbing for a pavilion and restroom facility on the rail trail, poor erosion control. In addition to remedying these issues, GSD had to pay a fine of $1,500 and $837 to reimburse the state for the cost of the investigation.
While waiting through the appeal period, the Village at Franklin Park sits as it has for years: unfinished but a well-kept neighborhood. The road snaking its way from Franklin Park West to the housing development does have a new coat of blacktop, and on a windy and rainy Wednesday, signs reading “Build to Suit: Malone Properties” lined roadside grassy, open lots.
From the rail trail, the Village itself looked quiet, with its “private property” sign intact. One older resident drove her car to retrieve her mail, and though she declined to give her name, she did tell a reporter that she’s cautiously optimistic about her housing development’s future.
“I hear he’s very nice,” she said of Patrick Malone. “I think when he gets all the permits he needs, he will meet with us and work with us.”
Malone already has begun working with the Town of St. Albans. At the selectboard meeting Monday night, town manager Carrie Johnson said Malone had notified the town – as required by law – that he applied for the Act 250 permit extension.
Down the road, Johnson said, the Village at Franklin Park will most likely ask that their road become public up to the rail trail.
In addition to a more complete housing development, Malone Properties’ future may also hold another big project: Energizer.
Franklin County Industrial Development Corp. executive director Tim Smith told the St. Albans Town Selectboard in April that a purchase and sale agreement was being negotiated for the former flashlight and battery factory. Listing agent Yves Bradley of Pomerleau Real Estate in Burlington confirmed the potential buyer was Malone.
Malone declined to comment on this topic yesterday, but according to Bradley and Smith, the purchase is in the negotiation phase. In April, there was a question of who would be liable for Brownfields mitigation.
“Still under contract … and moving slowly,” Bradley wrote in an email Wednesday.
Sitting right next to Franklin Park West on U.S. 7-North Energizer closed in September 2013 and went up for sale with an asking price of $6.9 million. The building is 200,000 square feet and sits on a 65-acre parcel.
The building originally began operations as a flashlight manufacturer in 1947 under Union Carbide. In the 1990s, the company came under new ownership with Energizer Holdings, Inc.. In November 2012, Energizer announced as part of its global reconstruction plan that the St. Albans plant would close the next fall, which resulted in a loss of 165 jobs.
The “for sale” sign was still posted in front of the building yesterday.