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Friday, July 23, 2021

Tax Bills Set Off a Second Round of Sticker Shock for Burlington Homeowners

Posted By on Fri, Jul 23, 2021 at 6:11 PM

  • Matt Mignanelli
The tax man cometh.

Burlington residents received their fiscal year 2022 tax bills this week, nearly three months after a citywide reassessment recalculated their home values. The results have sent some Queen City taxpayers into sticker shock.

"I took a very deep breath. It was like, 'Oh, my God,'" Meryl Goldfarb, 62, said of receiving her tax bill. "I literally lost sleep that night, because I was like, I don't know how I'm gonna get through this."

Before the reassessment, the city valued Goldfarb's three-bedroom condo in the city's South End at $218,600; today, that value has jumped to $353,900, a 62 percent increase. Her tax bill increased 16 percent, or about $1,000.

Goldfarb isn't alone. Many of her neighbors have complained about their new valuations; others have taken to Front Porch Forum and social media to air their grievances.

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Thursday, July 15, 2021

Redstone to Drop Lawsuits Against CityPlace Burlington Project

Posted By on Thu, Jul 15, 2021 at 6:56 PM

A rendering of CityPlace Burlington on Cherry Street - COURTESY OF FREEMAN FRENCH FREEMAN
  • Courtesy of Freeman French Freeman
  • A rendering of CityPlace Burlington on Cherry Street
Updated on Friday, July 16, 2021.

Redstone has dropped its lawsuit against the City of Burlington and has also agreed to drop its lawsuits against the beleaguered CityPlace Burlington project as part of a global settlement between the parties.

The agreement says the city will pay Redstone $400,000 in tax-increment financing funds for an easement to build a road underneath the company’s building at 100 Bank Street, which is adjacent to the CityPlace site. The easement, for 4,000 square feet of Redstone’s property, will allow the city to reconnect a portion of Pine Street that was lost to the former mall.

The city also agreed to provide Redstone with up to 200 parking spaces in city-owned garages, at the city’s prevailing rate, for at least five years. The settlement is the result of two mediation sessions between the city, CityPlace team and Redstone.

“I initiated and led this mediation because it was clear that Redstone and the developers of CityPlace were on a path of serious and deepening disagreement that threatened to delay or terminate the long-anticipated, transformative downtown project,” Mayor Miro Weinberger said in a statement Friday. “I am grateful that the two sides set aside their differences and worked hard to get to this agreement that will do so much good for the community.”

The agreement still must be approved by both the Burlington City Council and, because TIF funds are involved, the Vermont Economic Progress Council.

Once final, the agreement will resolve Redstone's four legal challenges against the project, the first of which was filed last summer. That civil suit claimed that the 2018 teardown of the former mall damaged 100 Bank Street, and that Redstone had to "accept less in rent than it otherwise would" because of the gaping pit left behind.
In May, Redstone appealed CityPlace's zoning permit to the Vermont Superior Court's Environmental Division, claiming that the developers failed to analyze the project's impact on traffic and stormwater. Redstone also argued that the city should have reviewed the project under former zoning regulations that would have required additional parking spaces.

In June, Redstone ramped up its opposition with two additional lawsuits, including one in U.S. District Court, that named the CityPlace team, city planning staff and members of the volunteer Development Review Board. Redstone argued that the project permit violated its property rights by allowing Pine Street to be rebuilt underneath its Bank Street building.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Burlington City Councilor Is Accused of Sexual Assault

Posted By on Tue, Jul 13, 2021 at 4:42 PM

  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Councilor Jack Hanson
Updated at 7:56 p.m.

An anonymous person has accused Burlington City Councilor Jack Hanson (P-East District) of sexual assault stemming from a night in 2017 while both worked for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

Hanson, who was not on the council at the time, denied the allegations. He published an account of the evening in question on Facebook on Monday evening.

Shortly afterward, at the council’s first in-person meeting since March 2020, two people alluded to the accusations during public comment. Some people in the audience held signs that read, “Abolish Vt Prog Men,” “Abolish VPIRG,” and “Believe Survivors.”

“We’re here because we want to hold a city councilor, in particular, accountable for his actions,” said a woman who later declined to provide her name to Seven Days. “When you do harm, it comes at your doorstep — or it comes to city hall.”

“Jack Hanson has trampled all over the work of Black femmes in our community,” said Will Keeton, who sat next to the woman. “We’re really done with the political games to protect the reputations of politicians,” he added.

“Whose side are you on?” the woman said. “Don’t be silent. You have the name, so do something about it.”

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Monday, July 12, 2021

Burlington City Council Will Consider Decriminalizing Sex Work

Posted By on Mon, Jul 12, 2021 at 11:26 PM

Councilor Perri Freeman (P-Central District) at Monday's meeting - SASHA GOLDSTEIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Sasha Goldstein ©️ Seven Days
  • Councilor Perri Freeman (P-Central District) at Monday's meeting
The Burlington City Council voted unanimously on Monday to consider eliminating ordinances that prohibit prostitution and will consider charter changes that could decriminalize sex work in the city.

The 12 councilors and Mayor Miro Weinberger met in the auditorium at Burlington City Hall, the first in-person meeting of the body since March 2020.

Introduced by Councilor Perri Freeman (P-Central District), the resolution asks the council's Charter Change Committee to examine a section that empowers the council "to restrain and suppress houses of ill fame and disorderly houses, and to punish common prostitutes and persons consorting therewith."

The committee will consider a possible repeal of the section, along with possible amendments to protect sex workers, including decriminalization.

The committee is expected to report back to the full council with a recommendation by October 25.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Burlington Airport Director Gene Richards Placed On Leave Following Complaint

Posted By on Tue, Jul 6, 2021 at 12:37 PM

  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Gene Richards
Updated at 4:25 p.m.

Burlington International Airport aviation director Gene Richards is on administrative leave pending an investigation, Burlington city officials confirmed Tuesday.

The city's human resources office received a complaint against Richards and began investigating "immediately," a city spokesperson said in a brief email response to an inquiry by Seven Days. He was placed on paid leave June 30.

The city would not provide any information about the nature of the investigation until it concludes, said Samantha Sheehan, a spokesperson for Mayor Miro Weinberger. Richards did not return several requests for comment. A bounce-back message from his government email address said he would be out of office without access to phone or email from July 1 to July 6.

City leaders had not told members of the Burlington City Council or the Burlington Airport Commission of the ongoing investigation. Reached Tuesday afternoon, commission chair Jeff Munger said he learned of it by reading Seven Days.

Commissioner Helen Riehle, who represents South Burlington, said she would have expected the city to alert the advisory board if the director was on administrative leave, especially “if it's been a whole week.” Riehle said she “can't even guess” what the complaint might be about.

“Generally speaking, I think he's a very good administrator,” she said.

Burlington City Council President Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) said he heard of the complaint on Monday night from someone unconnected to the Weinberger administration. Tracy called the city’s Human Resources director, Kerin Durfee, on Tuesday morning and asked that she inform the rest of the council. Durfee subsequently sent a “very general” email to councilors on Tuesday afternoon, Tracy said.

Tracy criticized Weinberger for not sharing the news with councilors until prompted. He likened the situation to when the mayor chose not to tell councilors in summer 2019 that former police chief Brandon del Pozo had been placed on administrative leave for anonymously trolling a department critic on Twitter. Only his subsequent medical leave was publicized.

“The lesson I took from that was that we need to inform the council, to make sure that we all know,” Tracy said, adding that councilors should know “whenever a department head is placed on administrative leave.”

Sheehan said Tracy's criticism was "way off base." The mayor acted swiftly, she said, and councilors were notified "long before any potential Council action is required, or even anticipated." The administration will brief councilors on the investigation at the next city council meeting in executive session, she said.

Weinberger appointed Richards interim director in 2012. He became the permanent director the following year upon approval by the city council.

In addition to his role at the airport, Richards is a longtime landlord and CEO of Spruce Mortgage.

Deputy director of aviation Nic Longo is serving as acting director of the airport.

Courtney Lamdin contributed reporting.

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Monday, June 28, 2021

Burlington City Council Approves $87.5 Million Budget

Posted By on Mon, Jun 28, 2021 at 10:40 PM

  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Mayor Miro Weinberger
The Burlington City Council on Monday unanimously approved an $87.5 million spending plan for the 2022 fiscal year, which begins on Thursday, July 1.

The budget is about $9 million more than the current year's, which amounts to an 11.5 percent increase. The final figure is slightly higher than the version Mayor Miro Weinberger presented earlier this month because the administration made a few additions and other minor changes.
The council also approved a municipal tax rate of $0.67, which is about 4 percent higher than the current year. The rate itself was adjusted downward to compensate for the higher property values that resulted from the citywide property reassessment.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Burlington GOP Council Candidate's Transphobic Tweets Resurface

Posted By on Tue, Jun 22, 2021 at 10:17 PM

Christopher Aaron-Felker - COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Christopher Aaron-Felker
At his campaign launch on Tuesday, Republican Christopher-Aaron Felker promised to rebuild city sidewalks, hire more police officers and find ways to reduce housing costs if he’s elected to the Burlington City Council in August.

The 40 people who gathered in Battery Park cheered when he vowed to help the city  “unite as a community” and “build a better Burlington together.”

But some city residents say Felker hasn’t been practicing what he’s now preaching. Shortly after Seven Days published a story about Felker’s candidacy last week, Twitter-users called him out for his transphobic social media posts — some of which were directed at the very people he now wants to represent.

He has since deleted his Twitter account, @UrOrwellianLife, and his Facebook profile, but Seven Days used the Internet Archive, a nonprofit that catalogues old versions of websites, to dig up Felker’s old tweets.

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Saturday, June 19, 2021

With Song, Food and Fellowship, Burlington Celebrates Juneteenth

Posted By on Sat, Jun 19, 2021 at 9:00 PM

Members of the Judie Emanual Family Band lead the crowd in a dance - BEAR CIERI
  • Bear Cieri
  • Members of the Judie Emanual Family Band lead the crowd in a dance
The sonorous tones of gospel music rang out in Burlington's City Hall Park on Saturday morning.

Dressed in sun hats and brightly-patterned clothing, revelers clapped and sang along to "We Have Come Into This House" as the Lake Champlain Mass Choir and Band performed under a white tent. One couple joined hands and danced near the city hall steps. Unmasked friends shared meals and hugs on the green surrounding the stage.

Such was the opening scene of the Queen City's first-ever celebration of Juneteenth. A portmanteau of June 19, the event marks the day in 1865 when enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Earlier this week, President Joe Biden signed legislation making the day a federal holiday.

Burlington's daylong festival offered free music, food, panel discussions and more in locations all across the city. The city chipped in $100,000 toward the inaugural event, and private sponsors kicked in another $150,000.

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Joe Magee Wins Progressive Nomination for Ward 3 Special Election

Posted By on Sat, Jun 19, 2021 at 8:58 PM

  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Joe Magee
Joe Magee clinched the Vermont Progressive Party's nomination Saturday evening for the upcoming Ward 3 city council election with just one vote more than his closest competitor.

A total of 169 Progs cast ballots in the ranked-choice election, which lets voters rank candidates in order of preference. The lowest vote-getter is eliminated in each round until one candidate surpasses 50 percent.

Magee squeaked out 50.3 percent, or 75 votes, after four rounds, narrowly defeating Julie Macuga, who had 49.7 percent of votes, or 74 total, according to the party's official results.

"I'm very grateful to the candidates that ran in the caucus, and I'm looking forward to building a strong campaign for working families in Ward 3," Magee said. "It's just really great that we had such an impressive turnout in the caucus, and it speaks to the strength of the party in Ward 3 and definitely a strong start going into the special election."

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Friday, June 18, 2021

Burlington GOP Nominates Ward 3 Candidate in Last-Minute Caucus

Posted By on Fri, Jun 18, 2021 at 9:29 PM

Christopher-Aaron Felker - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Christopher-Aaron Felker
Burlington Republicans have nominated Christopher-Aaron Felker to be their candidate in the upcoming Ward 3 city council election.

About a dozen members of the Burlington GOP unanimously endorsed Felker, the party's only candidate, during a meeting on Zoom on Friday evening.

The vote comes just three days before candidate petitions are due for the August 17 contest. The special election was called when former Progressive councilor Brian Pine stepped down last month to run the city's Community & Economic Development Office.

Felker said he plans to make the most of the quick, two-month race.

"We have a solid ground campaign, and it's about working and building a better Burlington together, and we can do that," Felker said. "We're going to unite our community."

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