Friday, October 9, 2015

Burlington Landlords Say City Broke the Law When Assessing Property Taxes

Posted By on Fri, Oct 9, 2015 at 5:24 PM

Some prominent Burlington landlords contend that the city violated state and federal law when it reassessed their properties last spring. They allege that Burlington's assessor gerrymandered tax districts, unfairly targeting their properties — and putting upward pressure on rents. 

The case is scheduled to go before Burlington's Board of Tax Appeals on October 13.

The group, including Redstone Commercial Group, Green Castle Group, Bissonette Properties and Offenhartz, has hired the law firm Sheehey Furlong & Behm to challenge the recent assessment. They say it affected roughly 2,000 rental units in two tax districts in the Downtown and Hill sections of the city, raising taxes by an average of 30 percent.

Sheehey Furlong & Behm sent what the firm called a white paper to the city last May outlining the landlords' objections. Prior to the reassessment, the city redrew the districts under debate, and, the paper states, "unlike every other tax district within the city, the two new districts are highly irregularly shaped."

Within these geographic regions, the city assessed only buildings with four or more units. Describing this as a new approach, the document states, "it appears to have been invented solely for the purpose of imposing higher tax burden on property owners who may not reside and vote in Burlington, as well as on renters for whom the connection between housing costs and property taxes is less apparent." 

Erik Hoekstra is a partner at Redstone. His company only had two properties affected, but, he said, "We’re worried about the precedent it sets."

"Vermont statutes and case law say that when you reassess property, it has to be fair and rational," Hoekstra continued. "When you draw an entirely new map that you just made up and only reassess certain apartment buildings that are of a certain scale, that doesn’t really pass the smell test."

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

South Burlington Kmart to Close

Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2015 at 3:40 PM

  • Dreamstime
The Kmart store in South Burlington will close in mid-January, meaning a half-empty shopping plaza will be entirely vacant unless a new tenant jumps in.

The store at 947 Shelburne Road is closing as part of a cost-cutting effort, according to a corporate spokesman. Some of the store's 66 employees will be offered severance. Some could be offered jobs at other Kmart stores or at Sears, which is owned by the same company.   

"Store closures are part of a series of actions we’re taking to reduce ongoing expenses, adjust our asset base and accelerate the transformation of our business model," Howard Riefs, director of corporate communications at Sears Holdings, wrote in an email.

A liquidation sale will start October 25. Kmart's stores in Bennington and Rutland and the company's Sears store in South Burlington will stay open, according to Riefs. 

Neighbors have long complained that the Kmart plaza is an eyesore with acres of pockmarked parking, boarded up retail spaces and graffiti. Last summer, fresh concerns arose over truckers who were using the lot as a free, unauthorized campground.  

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Friday, September 11, 2015

GlobalFoundries Offers Buyouts to Employees in Vermont, New York

Posted By on Fri, Sep 11, 2015 at 2:35 PM

GlobalFoundries' Essex Junction manufacturing facility - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • GlobalFoundries' Essex Junction manufacturing facility
Updated at 5:47 p.m. on 9/11/2015 to include comments from a GlobalFoundries spokesperson.

Less than three months after it acquired IBM’s chipmaking division, GlobalFoundries is offering buyouts to employees at its Essex Junction and New York facilities.

During the months leading up to a long-rumored sale, Vermont employees and officials feared that a change in ownership could lead to layoffs at the Essex Junction plant, which employs 4,000-plus people. IBM, which had been losing money on its chipmaking division, paid GlobalFoundries more than a billion dollars to take over the operation. At a press conference held in Essex Junction in July, executives with the Emirate of Abu Dhabi-owned company made assurances that they had no plans to reduce the workforce.

That's since changed. Gov. Peter Shumlin's administration confirmed Friday that it was notified of buyout offers being made to employees at the Essex Junction plant. GlobalFoundries spokesperson James Keller said the "Voluntary Separation Program" was initiated Friday to save costs amid a downturn in the semiconductor industry. Each facility has an undisclosed "cost-savings goal," according to Keller, which, in the U.S. facilities, requires reducing the workforce.

Keller declined to say whether the company would pursue layoffs if not enough employees accept buyouts. "At this point, we are just focused on a 'voluntary' separation program. After this runs its cycle, we can assess the results and determine if further cost-savings actions are required," he wrote in an email.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Sleek Tech Expansion in South Burlington

Posted By on Thu, Aug 13, 2015 at 9:05 PM

Mingling at Logic Supply Thursday - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • Mingling at Logic Supply Thursday
They sell computers rugged enough to operate in mine shafts. But there's nothing rough about the expanded headquarters of Logic Supply in South Burlington, which celebrated a sleek $4 million makeover Thursday that added 21,000 square feet to the building at 35 Thompson Street. 
Politicians, business leaders and friends of the company gathered to toast the business and tour the redesigned facility, where "blah" is definitely not part of the corporate ethic. Think purple rugs, turquoise chairs and orange walls. The company café and event space could pass for a hipster New York City restaurant dining room, and yes, that espresso machine in the corner is for employee use.

Big windows show the green fields next to the building off Hinesburg Road. With a general absence of clutter in the office spaces, the Logic building seems designed to invite clear thinking. 

"We're neat and tidy people," joked Lisa Groeneveld, chief operating officer, who founded the company with husband, Roland Groeneveld, and brought it to Vermont in 2004.

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Captain Phillips Talks Pirates, Captives at Insurance Conference

Posted By on Thu, Aug 13, 2015 at 8:13 PM

Captain Richard Phillips - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • Captain Richard Phillips
Never give up, work with your team and, if you have a chance, learn to operate an AK-47 before you get kidnapped on the high seas by gun-toting pirates.

That was the lesson from the talk Captain Richard Phillips delivered Thursday to about 1,000 people at the Vermont Captive Insurance Association's annual conference in South Burlington.

While the crowd was assembled to network about the self-insurance market known as "captive," Phillips talked about a very different kind of captivity — the type where Navy SEALs come to the rescue instead of accountants and lawyers.

His message applied to all aspects of life: Don't quit. "Nothing is over until we choose to give up," Phillips said.

Dressed in a blue blazer and button-down shirt, Phillips could almost have passed for one of the many bankers, CPAs, lawyers and insurance gurus gathered at the Sheraton.

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Report Says Feds Investigating Dozens of EB-5 Projects

Posted By on Thu, Aug 13, 2015 at 12:55 PM

AnC Bio Vermont, an EB-5-funded project, under construction in Newport - FILE: DON WHIPPLE
  • AnC Bio Vermont, an EB-5-funded project, under construction in Newport
A federal immigration program used by Jay Peak Resort and Vermont developers to court foreign investment is uniquely vulnerable to fraud, according to a new Government Accountability Office report. And while the federal agency in charge of the program has stepped up enforcement in recent years, the GAO found it still "faces significant challenges in its efforts to detect and mitigate fraud risks."

The report, released Wednesday, documents for the first time the breadth of investigations into development projects funded through the EB-5 immigrant investor visa program. The program grants permanent residency to foreigners who create at least 10 jobs by investing $500,000 in qualified businesses.

As of May 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission and other federal law enforcement agencies had 59 open investigations relating to EB-5 projects, 35 of which "primarily involved securities fraud issues," according to the report. The SEC received more than 100 "tips, complaints and referrals related to possible securities fraud violations" between January 2013 and January 2015.

The report does not identify the targets of those investigations. But as Seven Days reported last week, the SEC has been reviewing Vermont's $750 million Northeast Kingdom Economic Development Initiative, which is supported by EB-5 investment, for at least 15 months. The federal agency has subpoenaed records from the project's developers and the state of Vermont, according to multiple sources. Developer Bill Stenger, the president of Jay Peak, told the paper he and two partners were interviewed by SEC officials in Miami in May 2014. 

Stenger said Thursday that he welcomed the GAO's report — and the news that the SEC's reviews were widespread.

"I do appreciate the fact that they're looking into a broad range of projects around the country," he said. "That just tells you the federal authorities are doing what they're supposed to — and that's revealing stuff."

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Friday, August 7, 2015

Efficiency Advocate Feliciano Loses His Job at Keurig

Posted By on Fri, Aug 7, 2015 at 3:04 PM

Dan Feliciano during the 2014 gubernatorial campaign - FILE
  • File
  • Dan Feliciano during the 2014 gubernatorial campaign
Dan Feliciano, who ran for governor last year on a platform of greater efficiency in government, was among the 200 Vermonters who lost their jobs Thursday at Keurig Green Mountain.

Feliciano said Friday he saw the move coming and understood the rationale behind it. His job as a production manager at the company’s Waterbury offices ended Thursday, he said.

“It’s business,” he said. “It’s absolutely OK.”

Keurig laid off 330 people companywide and about 200 in Vermont a day after the company announced sales had declined by 5 percent. Company officials said they expect the job reductions to save $300 million during the next three years.

Feliciano, who won 4 percent of the vote in the 2014 gubernatorial race as a Libertarian, is considering running for governor in 2016 as a Republican. 

The Essex resident said he’s not worried about his future. “I have a lot of options,” he said. “I have a other consulting opportunities.”

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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Keurig Green Mountain Lays Off 200 Vermont Workers

Posted By on Thu, Aug 6, 2015 at 6:11 PM

  • File
Keurig Green Mountain gave about 200 of its Vermont employees layoff notices on Thursday.

The layoffs are part of a 5 percent reduction in workforce company-wide, which amounts to 330 employees overall, said Suzanne DuLong, vice president of corporate communications for Keurig Green Mountain.

Most of the Vermont employees losing their jobs work on Keurig’s "hot system production" in Waterbury, DuLong said.

Some of them will be able to apply for 75 vacant positions within the company, she said. About 60 of those are in the "cold-system production facility" in Williston.

Keurig Green Mountain has about 2,000 employees in Vermont — roughly a third of its workforce, she said. The company declined to provide specific numbers.

Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Thursday that the state Labor Department is holding a job fair September 10 at the Sheraton in South Burlington with 100 Vermont employers participating.

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Environmental Groups Ask Board to Kill Massive Randolph Project

Posted By on Mon, Aug 3, 2015 at 4:14 PM

Proposed plan for the Green Mountain Center - FILE
  • file
  • Proposed plan for the Green Mountain Center
Environmental groups have asked state regulators to reject a massive development proposed for off Interstate 89 in Randolph that would, if built, be one of the largest projects ever in Vermont.

In a letter to the District 3 Environmental Commission, the Conservation Law Foundation and the Vermont Natural Resources Council say that Connecticut developer Jesse "Sam" Sammis has repeatedly failed to show that his proposed Green Mountain Center complies with Act 250 protections for farmland and open space.

Sammis wants to transform 178 acres of forest and farmland into a development with 274 homes, a 180-room hotel and conference center, more than 500,000 square feet of office and light industrial space, a 10,000-square-foot fitness center and an interstate rest stop with an attached retail outlet. 

“This sprawling project is a enormous waste of agricultural soils,” said Brian Shupe, executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, in a prepared statement. “If this project gets approved, in this location, no farmland in Vermont is safe.”

"The applicant utterly failed to show that the proposed project meets the clear Act 250 standards for protecting valuable farmland," said Sandra Levine, senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, in the same statement. "The appropriate action is to dismiss the applicant's request."

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Regulators Want 'More Compact' Development Proposal in Randolph

Posted By on Mon, Jul 27, 2015 at 2:03 PM

Proposed plan for the Green Mountain Center
  • Proposed plan for the Green Mountain Center
Updated at 5:20 p.m. with statement from Exit 4 Open Space.
State regulators have dealt a blow to a Connecticut developer's plans for a massive commercial and residential project off Interstate 89 in Randolph.

In a ruling last week, the District 3 Environmental Commission asked Jesse "Sam" Sammis to scale back a project in order to protect several open fields where he proposed to build apartments and other structures.

Sammis wants to transform 178 acres of open land around Exit 4 into a development of 274 homes, a 180-room hotel and conference center, more than 500,000 square feet of office and light industrial space, a 10,000-square-foot fitness center and an interstate rest stop with an attached retail outlet. 

"At present, the commission is not persuaded that the project as designed is compact enough to satisfy [land-use regulations]," commission chair Tim Taylor wrote. "We invite the applicant to present a new plan showing a more compact design."

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