ST. JOHNSBURY — Rural Edge has a plan to convert a long-time jailhouse on Cherry Street into affordable housing units.

“The Cherry Street Hotel” is a nine-unit housing proposal set to go before the town’s Development Review Board later this month. The name comes from an old postcard that pictured the on-site brick building during the time it was housing jailed inmates, said Patrick Shattuck, Rural Edge executive director. The postcard took a sarcastic jab, referring to the jailhouse as the “Cherry Street Hotel.”

The jailhouse hasn’t had inmates since the state opened the Northeast Regional Correctional Facility on Route 5 in St. Johnsbury in 1982. The jail building and an adjoining house have served multiple purposes since the inmates left, but have been unoccupied for over a year. For several years prior it served as Aerie House, a transitional housing residence for women, but that use ended in January 2020.

The property, listed as 108-114 Cherry Street is across the road from the back parking lot and playground of the Good Shepherd Catholic School. Also nearby on Cherry Street is a daycare and Canterbury Inn.

The current owner of the property is Doug Spates. Rural Edge has a purchase and sales agreement with Spates that is contingent on the success of the application before the town to create the housing units, which will be one and two-bedroom apartments.

Shattuck said he believes the proposal for the site is well-suited for the neighborhood and in line with uses of neighboring properties.

“We’re optimistic,” said Shattuck. “We think it’s a good use; it’s certainly consistent with the uses in the neighborhood.”

The property is .42 acres. The house was built as the jailer’s house. There is a garage, parking lot and a backyard with a high fence that once featured barbed wire strung at the top. Two of the windows in the jail building still have bars.

Rural Edge’s plan calls for the redevelopment of the two buildings to create nine residential units with common laundry and green space with raised garden beds in the back yard. There will also be an office space for tenant services.

As required in a previous Historic Preservation directive, a jail cell must remain in the former jailhouse building, said Shattuck. He said one of the apartments created for the Cherry Street Hotel will include a cell.

The current asphalt parking lot is much larger than it needs to be, said Shattuck, so some of the parking areas will be converted into grass. “We want to give it some curb appeal,” he said.

A construction permit application has been filed with the Vermont Division of Fire Safety. The projected building redevelopment costs, together with electrical and plumbing work needed, total just under $1.3 million.

Shattuck said the need for affordable housing is high and Rural Edge will be looking to move quickly on getting the Cherry Street property ready for occupancy.

“This one can be accomplished very quickly,” he said. “The goal is to be under construction this summer with completion at the end of 2021.” He predicted tenants will be moving in by early 2022.

“This one is going to be faster than lots of buildings,” said Shattuck.

He said Rural Edge has had its eye on the property for a couple of years since it worked on Pearl Street apartment properties it owns just below the Cherry Street site.

“We said ‘that’s a real prominent building it would be nice to get in there,’” Shattuck said. “Given the shortage (of available housing) and the dire need for housing it seemed to make sense.”

Rural Edge’s DRB pitch is scheduled for May 27. It will be part of a full agenda for the board. The town’s zoning administrator H. Paul Berlejung said there’s has been a high number of zoning applicants in town so far this year.

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