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Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Progressives Hold Their Ground in Burlington City Council Elections

Posted By on Tue, Mar 1, 2022 at 7:40 PM

Progressive Ali House - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Progressive Ali House
Updated at 10:26 p.m.

Burlington Progressives held on to their six council seats on Town Meeting Day, cementing the party’s influential voting bloc for another year.

The Progs notched wins in Wards 1 and 8 despite hard-fought campaigns by Democratic opponents who sought to frame the election as a referendum on post-George Floyd cuts to police.

Incumbent Progressive Zoraya Hightower earned about 57 percent of the vote to beat political newcomer Rob Gutman in Ward 1 by a tally of 585 to 442, according to unofficial results. In Ward 8, Prog Ali House earned 54 percent of the vote to defeat fellow University of Vermont student Hannah King by a tally of 321 to 278.

The party also held on in Ward 3, as incumbent Prog Joe Magee handily bested Republican Christopher-Aaron Felker, 795 to 304. Voters also elected Progressive Gene Bergman, who ran unopposed in Ward 2.

“This result is a strong show of support for the issues we have been fighting for over the past two years,” Vermont Progressive Party director Josh Wronski said in a statement. “We are eager to get to work moving the City forward on issues like housing affordability, renters’ rights, climate change, transforming public safety, and meeting the basic needs of all our community members. We hope the Administration will join us as a willing partner.”

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Friday, February 25, 2022

Burlington Seeks a Makeover for Main Street With TIF Bond

Posted By on Fri, Feb 25, 2022 at 2:42 PM

A conceptual view of Main Street - CITY OF BURLINGTON
  • City of Burlington
  • A conceptual view of Main Street
Imagine Burlington’s Main Street with wide sidewalks, protected bike lanes and a luxurious tree canopy. Art installations, rain gardens and cafe-style seating would line the streets, and wooden swings would give visitors a place to watch sunsets over the lake.

Such an urban paradise could be possible, city officials say, if voters pass a $25.9 million bond on Town Meeting Day. If approved by a majority, the spending plan would revamp a six-block stretch of Main Street — from South Union to Battery Street — in the city’s downtown tax-increment financing district. The bond would also pay to either relocate or rehab the city’s 160-year-old “ravine sewer” line at the corner of Main and South Winooski Avenue.

Unlike other money items on the ballot this year — a 4-cent tax rate increase and a $23.8 million capital bond — the TIF bond wouldn't raise residents’ taxes. TIF allows municipalities to borrow money with the expectation that the infrastructure improvements created in the district will generate revenue to repay the debt.

With a March 2023 deadline for Burlington to take out loans for TIF projects in this district, officials say the bond question is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to transform downtown — without raising taxes, to boot. But some opponents have suggested that the promise is too good to be true, and have argued that the conceptual design doesn’t wholly address safety concerns.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Burlington City Council Passes New Rules Limiting Short-Term Rentals

Posted By on Wed, Feb 23, 2022 at 12:45 AM

A local Airbnb offering - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • A local Airbnb offering
Updated at 2:57 p.m.

The Burlington City Council voted on Tuesday to clamp down on short-term rentals in an effort to make more housing available to people who need a permanent place to live.

The new rules, which the council passed by an 8-4 vote, will severely restrict how people can operate short-term rentals such as Airbnbs in the city. The ordinance allows people to use their permanent residence for the rentals, meaning they can rent out single bedrooms in the house or — if they leave temporarily — the whole property. Under the new limits, homeowners can rent out up to three bedrooms at a time.

The rules will curtail the practice of buying homes and apartment buildings as investment properties and using any or all of the units as short-term rentals. And they will stop homeowners from using accessory dwelling units on their property as short-term rentals.

"It's not exactly what I wanted, not exactly what a lot of us wanted," said Councilor Zoraya Hightower (P-Ward 1), who voted for the ordinance.

"It is what most of us supported at some point this year," Hightower said. "I think that moving forward with something most of us were willing to support even a month ago is much better than not moving forward with anything at all."

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Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Burlington Will Allow Indoor Mask Mandate to Expire Next Month

Posted By on Tue, Feb 22, 2022 at 11:33 PM

Mayor Miro Weinberger - FILE: COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Mayor Miro Weinberger
Burlington will allow its indoor mask mandate to expire next month as coronavirus cases continue to decline.

Starting March 3, people will no longer have to mask up when entering public buildings in the Queen City. City councilors voted unanimously Tuesday night to discontinue the mandate, which has been in place since early December.

State lawmakers passed legislation late last year that allows municipalities to adopt mask mandates for 30-day periods through April 30. Burlington twice extended its mandate during the Omicron surge.
Since the variant’s peak in early January, however, case counts in Vermont have dropped by 84 percent; hospitalizations have also decreased. The city’s wastewater monitoring program has also seen a “drastic decrease” in concentrations of the virus at all three treatment plants, a memo from city officials said.

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Friday, February 18, 2022

Burlington's Just Cause Eviction Bill Clears House — With Changes

Posted By on Fri, Feb 18, 2022 at 1:17 PM

KIM SCAFURO
  • Kim Scafuro
The Vermont House on Friday gave preliminary approval to a charter change in Burlington that would ban no-cause evictions.

The chamber advanced the bill with a 98-49 vote. The legislation will have one final vote in the House next week before being sent to the Senate for consideration. Nine of 10 Burlington representatives voted in favor of the bill. House Speaker Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) did not vote, as is custom.

"Just cause policies are intended to promote residential stability," Rep. Barbara Rachelson (D-Burlington) said. "Renters who are meeting all the requirements of their lease need assurance they can remain in their home."

Vermont law allows renters to be evicted from their units for no reason at all, or simply because their lease is ending. The bill, H.708, would ban these no-cause evictions in Burlington by requiring landlords to have a valid reason for displacing their tenants. The bill provides some examples — nonpayment of rent, breaking a lease — but the details would be fleshed out in a new city ordinance.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Tyeastia Green, Burlington's Racial Equity Director, to Resign

Posted By on Tue, Feb 15, 2022 at 4:20 PM

Tyeastia Green - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • Tyeastia Green
Updated at 7:53 p.m.

Tyeastia Green, the City of Burlington’s first-ever director of racial equity, inclusion and belonging, is resigning after nearly two years on the job.

In a statement Tuesday, Mayor Miro Weinberger said Green is leaving the city next month to “pursue other opportunities.” Green wouldn't comment on her departure, but several people who spoke to her about the decision did — and said Green is leaving because she feels unsupported in her role. Her last day is March 10.

“There were conversations that made her feel truly unwelcome and that made it clear the systemic change she was trying to bring was unwelcome,” said Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale (D-Chittenden), a friend of Green’s. “I frankly don't know how she stayed this long.”

City Council President Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) placed the blame squarely on Weinberger, alleging that the administration threatened to slash Green’s budget and to move management of the department’s marquee event, Juneteenth, to Burlington City Arts.

“Everything that she’s tried to do since Juneteenth has been a battle, has been a fight,” Tracy said. “For people who declared racism a public health emergency, it seems like they've done everything they can to stall progress on racial justice.”

Seven Days planned to ask the mayor specific questions about Green's tenure, including the incidents mentioned by Tracy and Ram Hinsdale, during an interview scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday. But Weinberger's office canceled the interview and later sent a press release about Green's impending departure.

“Tyeastia has been a tireless, fearless leader throughout her time in Burlington and I will greatly miss having her perspective and candor on the City’s Leadership Team,” the mayor wrote. “Racial equity work is challenging and it will be even harder without Tyeastia here.”

Around 5:30 p.m., the mayor's chief of staff, Jordan Redell, sent Seven Days an email responding to Tracy's allegations, calling them "pure fiction."

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Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Burlington to Build 'Shelter Pods' for Homeless, Review Encampment Policy

Posted By on Tue, Feb 8, 2022 at 12:29 AM

A sign at the former Sears Lane encampment - FILE: COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • A sign at the former Sears Lane encampment
The City of Burlington will use federal coronavirus relief funds to build a community of "shelter pods" for unhoused residents.

The nearly $3 million plan, which won unanimous support from Burlington city councilors Monday night, also calls for hiring a new city staffer to help end chronic homelessness.

"I just hope everyone shares the sense of hopefulness and belief that we can make progress on this long-standing challenge," Mayor Miro Weinberger said. "I'm hopeful we're on the cusp of making a big step forward."

The proposal was one of two resolutions introduced Monday night aimed at helping the city's homeless population. The second, a proposed update to the city's ordinance that bans camping on public lands, also passed unanimously.

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Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Burlington Council Votes Down Murad's Appointment as Police Chief

Posted By on Tue, Feb 1, 2022 at 2:17 AM

Acting Police Chief Jon Murad - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • Acting Police Chief Jon Murad
By a 6-6 vote on Monday, the Burlington City Council rejected Mayor Miro Weinberger's pick for the city's next police chief.

One of two finalists in the city’s monthslong search, acting Chief Jon Murad was unable to win over any of the six council Progressives, who painted him as unwilling to lead the city’s police reform efforts. The councilors also expressed concern about Murad’s reportedly strained relationships with some police commissioners.

“The willingness for engaging in meaningful police reform is what I have wanted to see,” Councilor Jane Stromberg (P-Ward 8) said. “Character comes before credentials, no matter how many a person has.”

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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Burlington Councilors Poised to Block Murad's Appointment as Police Chief

Posted By on Thu, Jan 27, 2022 at 5:42 PM

Acting Police Chief Jon Murad - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • Acting Police Chief Jon Murad
Updated at 8:52 p.m.

Burlington city councilors are poised to block Mayor Miro Weinberger’s nomination of acting Chief Jon Murad as the Queen City’s next top cop.

Just hours after Weinberger announced Murad’s appointment on Thursday afternoon, the council's six-member Progressive caucus issued a statement saying they'll vote against Murad at Monday’s meeting.

“We want to make it very clear that Mayor Weinberger does not have the votes in the City Council to confirm Acting Chief Murad as Burlington’s permanent Chief of Police," the Progs' statement says, calling the appointment divisive and controversial.

"Burlington needs a permanent Chief of Police who demonstrates a commitment to transforming public safety in Burlington," the statement continues. "Right now, Jon Murad is not that candidate."

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Weinberger to Name Jon Murad as Burlington's Next Police Chief

Posted By on Thu, Jan 27, 2022 at 10:52 AM

Mayor Miro Weinberger and acting Chief Jon Murad - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • Mayor Miro Weinberger and acting Chief Jon Murad
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger is expected to appoint acting police Chief Jon Murad as the Queen City's next top cop.

Four people with knowledge of the mayor's decision, but who were not authorized to speak about it, confirmed the news to Seven Days. The mayor has scheduled a press conference to announce his decision on Thursday afternoon.

Murad has been the city's acting chief since June 2020. He was one of two finalists in Burlington's search for a new chief — a position that's been filled on a temporary basis since December 2019, when former chief Brandon del Pozo resigned amid a social media scandal.

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