MIDDLEBURY - A 30-unit luxury housing development rising in Middlebury's Marble Works district reflects two trends that are reshaping the residential real-estate market in parts of Vermont.
"What this says is that it has become fashionable to live in town," observes Middlebury planning and zoning chief Fred Dunnington.
The prices for the condos also indicate how expensive it has become to live in newly built housing in a prime location. A one-bedroom unit is being offered at $244,500, while a three-bed, three-and-a-half-bath penthouse with roof deck goes for $875,500. The target market consists of "empty nesters looking to live close to the center of a college town," says Peter Richardson, president of Housing Strategies, Inc. His firm is co-developing the project along with Redstone, another Burlington-based real-estate firm.
The builders appear to be hitting their monied target. Buyers with links to Middlebury College account for some of the 13 units already sold. And Richardson says he anticipates that all 30 apartments will have been purchased by the projected occupancy date in late summer of the coming year.
The Marble Works Residence sits on a ledge above the Otter Creek with views of the distant Adirondacks as well as the nearby Great Falls. The site was previously a parking lot owned by the State of Vermont, which sold the 5.8-acre property after abandoning plans to construct an office building on it.
The town's rigorous development-review process posed no obstacles to the project, even though it adjoins a historic district. "The Planning Commission was supportive, and the owners of the Marble Works were, too," Richardson says. "It was almost a collaborative effort."
The biggest challenge, he notes, "was to make the architecture consistent with what we came to call the Middlebury vernacular." Town planners believe Lemay + Youkel, a firm with offices in Burlington and Montréal, has met the challenge, Dunnington adds. He points in particular to the four-story building's parapet end walls, which are reminiscent of the chimney walls that distinguish some of the buildings in Middlebury's village center.
The design has "a Georgian quality," Richardson says. "It's kind of a classical look."
Though peerless in its pricing, the Marble Works Residence is only one element in a housing boom that may generate more than 200 new homes in Middlebury by 2008. Some of the units are being built with subsidies that keep sale and rental costs within reach of moderate-income Vermonters.
Because of the demonstrated commitment to housing equity on the part of the town and some of its wealthy residents, Addison County housing advocates such as Elizabeth Ready lodge no objections to the high-end project in the Marble Works.
Some private donors associated with the college have shown "amazing generosity" toward less fortunate locals, says Ready. The former state auditor now runs an 18-bed homeless shelter in Vergennes that's full most nights. "They've done a lot to help," she says, "so I don't begrudge them their luxury condos on the Falls."