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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Overflowing Crowd Attends Burlington Mall Presentation

Posted By on Wed, Jan 6, 2016 at 10:07 AM

View of St. Paul from Cherry Street. - DEVONWOOD
  • Devonwood
  • View of St. Paul from Cherry Street.
The underground parking garage is gone and so is the rooftop park. Those are a couple of changes in the latest design for the makeover of the Burlington Town Center mall, which was unveiled Tuesday night at a packed meeting that drew more than 200 people. There were so many that they overflowed from the space on the lower level of the downtown retail center, which could see a $230 million demolition and rebuild starting next year.

The proposal for a work-shop-live-eat-and-have-fun complex has changed significantly since last spring: The new design would restore the connection between Bank Street to the south and Cherry to the north and create a regular block of St. Paul Street between them. It would provide access to pedestrians, bikes and cars and become a public street.

Also planned: Three levels of above-ground parking with 948 spaces, nearly doubling the 575 spaces at the garage on Cherry Street that now serves the mall. The proposal includes 274 units of housing, 350,000 square feet of office space and 218,000 square feet of retail space, almost twice as much as there is now.

Two of the new buildings would be 14 stories tall — about 150 feet — and require a zoning change to raise the city's current height limit. That detail, which has been under discussion since the spring, has not changed.

Some of the new infrastructure, including the new block of St. Paul street, would be paid for under a tax increment financing (TIF) agreement, if voters agree to a bond for the money at the polls. Tax revenue from the project would then be used to repay the bonds. 

click to enlarge The latest design for redevelopment of the Burlington Town Center shows new housing and a movie theater on Cherry Street, facing west. - COURTESY OF DEVONWOOD
  • Courtesy of Devonwood
  • The latest design for redevelopment of the Burlington Town Center shows new housing and a movie theater on Cherry Street, facing west.
The crowd was mostly supportive of the redesign. City residents attended, as well as a large contingent of city politicians, architects, construction industry execs, merchants and business boosters. During a question-and-answer session, numerous people praised city officials and mall owner Don Sinex for responding to public comment on the proposal.

Twenty percent of the housing units would be reserved for lower-income earners under the city's inclusionary housing ordinance, and some in the crowd wanted assurances that this portion of the project would actually happen. "Sometimes when projects are done in stages, they never reach fruition," said Joyce Oetjen, a Burlington resident. 

Mayor Miro Weinberger insisted that the city would make sure the units were built if the project goes forward and that the promise for affordable housing would not be an empty one. "That will not happen here," he said. 

Sinex made the same promise.

After the meeting Oetjen said she wants to see the commitment spelled out in writing, but added that she's happy with the latest design. "It seems like they are listening to people," Oetjen said. 
Proposed Pine Street arcade. - DEVONWOOD.
  • Devonwood.
  • Proposed Pine Street arcade.
Others in the crowd offered varying views after the presentation. Adrienne Donohue of Burlington has reservations about increasing the height limit: "I think 14 stories is pushing it." If the city allows the limit to go up for this project, will it have to do the same for even taller buildings, she wondered, adding, "I'm concerned about view corridors and the impact on surrounding neighborhoods of buildings that are higher than what exists now."

Her husband Tom Donohue wants permitting decisions to be made in a green- or red-light fashion, and not a yellow-light approach that leaves downtown Burlington with a half-built "monstrosity." If the project is not built in a timely way, "it's a disaster for downtown," he said. 

The earliest that construction could start would be 2017. Uncertainty about the future of the mall has contributed to multiple store closings, with Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barn being among the latest to announce their departure. The development would go up in phases, lasting into 2019 at least. But first the project needs to clear permitting and other hurdles that could take a year. These include city review, possibly state Act 250 environmental review, state approval for the TIF and approval by the voters on bonding for the TIF. That vote is likely to come in November; the amount has not been decided yet.

At the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Weinberger thanked the big crowd for coming out to weigh in on redevelopment of the aging mall in the heart of downtown. A successful transformation won't happen without involvement by the public, he said. "I take the strong interest tonight as at least a sign that people are paying attention." 

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Molly Walsh

Molly Walsh

Molly Walsh is a Seven Days staff writer.

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