Developer gets OK for Delta expansion

Rutland Herald/November 29, 2006
By Daniel Barlow

Brattleboro -- The owner of the Delta Campus, a 130-acre property on the edge of town that will combine businesses and homes side by side, is moving forward with expansion plans, but has temporarily dropped a controversial plan to develop some open lands.

Delta Campus founder Robert Johnson, who also owns Brattleboro's Omega Optical, received approval last week amending the site's planned unit development, allowing him to proceed with plans next year to build new homes and commercial properties.

The approval from Brattleboro's Development Review Board last week switches one lot from housing to commercial and splits up another lot into two parcels. Gordon Bristol, a former state legislator who is representing Johnson for this project, said Tuesday that it will allow for further development plans next year.

"With the first phase of the project finished, I would call this phase 1.5," Bristol said. "Phase 2 will include the construction of new homes at the top of the hill, but we are moving slowly now as we gauge the conditions of the housing market."

One of the likely tenants at Delta Campus is the Maharishi Peace Palace, a school that teaches transcendental meditation. The group recently opened a center in downtown Brattleboro. The Maharishi Peace Palace is formed around the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a spiritual leader who captivated the attention of 1960s rock bands such as The Beatles.

Shirley Boncheff, the director of the local Maharishi school, said she hopes to break ground in spring 2007 on a two-story, 6,000 square foot "peace palace" at the Delta Campus.

She said the building will be constructed according to Maharishi standards, including rooms laid out according to the cardinal points to create a "harmonizing and peaceful feel."

"We love the location," Boncheff said of the Delta Campus. "We also love the people involved. And the idea of mixing commercial with residential properties is very exciting."

Johnson did drop the third part of his PUD change proposal last week which would have allowed him to develop 25 of the 90 acres of land that he had previously dedicated as open space. If that part of the plan was approved, as many as 80 new homes could be built there.

Craig Miskovich, the chairman of Brattleboro's Development Review Board, said Tuesday that the board had some concerns about that part of Johnson's plan and requested more information on it before making a decision.

Instead, the developer returned on Nov. 20 and announced it would withdraw that request.

"Open space is a valuable element of PUDs," Miskovich said. "So the board wanted to try and balance the social good of having open space with the social good of new affordable housing."

Bristol said that proposed development is still being considered and Delta Campus may return soon to the DRB with that request. He said the DRB had some questions concerning that part of the plan which he and others didn't yet have answers for.

"We decided that now was not the time," Bristol said.

Johnson, a graduate of Brattleboro Union High School, founded Omega Optical nearly 40 years ago in his garage with electronic equipment salvaged from junkyards. The $10 million company now employs about 125 people and recently moved out of a converted church in downtown Brattleboro to a 32,000 square foot headquarters at the Delta Campus.

The unique Delta Campus, along the south end of Brattleboro near the Guilford border at a former automobile dump, combines green building techniques with state-of-the-art technology, including producing its own electricity with two biodiesel generators.

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