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Monday, October 29, 2018

South Burlington to Vote on Project to Anchor a New Downtown

Posted By on Mon, Oct 29, 2018 at 7:50 PM

Rendering of proposed South Burlington community building - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Rendering of proposed South Burlington community building
South Burlington residents who go to the polls November 6 will face a $21.8 million question. That's the tab for a proposed building that would house a new city hall, public library and senior center.

The long-discussed project would help anchor the suburb's hoped-for downtown, known as City Center. The building would be constructed at 180 Market Street, a short walk from the Blue Mall on Dorset Street, and across from Rick Marcotte Central School.

Approval could build momentum to create a pedestrian-oriented downtown in the suburban community. So far, the envisioned $300 million mix of housing, retail and office space has stayed mostly on the drawing board.

The community building renderings depict a three-story structure with an auditorium, meeting rooms, library, activity rooms for seniors, and office space for planning, zoning and the city clerk.

The new structure would replace the cramped municipal building at 575 Dorset Street and provide South Burlington's public library a permanent home. City officials moved the library temporarily to the University Mall last year after it outgrew its shared space with the South Burlington High School library.

If voters approve, construction of the community building would begin next spring, with completion expected in 2020. Much of the project would be financed with revenue from a city property tax that funnels money to a City Center reserve fund.

Other funds would come from tax increment financing. A portion of tax revenue from new housing, office and retail development at City Center would be used to pay off the structure. Voters have already authorized such funding for the reconstruction of Market Street and for park improvements in the downtown area.

Property taxes would not be affected, according to city handouts about the project. City forecasts assume private development will generate new tax revenue. If the actual tax revenue is lower than forecast, though, the city and its taxpayers would still be on the hook.

The city would allow the South Burlington School District to lease the existing municipal building at 575 Dorset Street and buy it after three years for a nominal fee.

Four articles on the ballot are related to the new City Hall project financing and related property easements. 

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Friday, October 19, 2018

Arkansas Man Gets Probation for Scamming Developer Don Sinex

Posted By on Fri, Oct 19, 2018 at 1:34 PM

Michael Marshall - KATIE JICKLING
  • Katie Jickling
  • Michael Marshall
An Arkansas man received one to two years' probation Friday for his role in a scam that defrauded Don Sinex and the Burlington Town Center of nearly $30,000.

Michael Marshall, 61, pleaded no contest to possession of stolen property worth more than $900, a felony. Two other charges, identity theft and false impersonation, were dismissed.

Marshall's attorney, Margaret Jansch, argued that Marshall had unwittingly been swept up in a more complicated scam targeting the Burlington developer.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

After Buying Airport-Area Homes to Raze, Burlington Wants to Save Some

Posted By on Tue, Oct 16, 2018 at 3:09 PM

Lily Lane condos - SASHA GOLDSTEIN
  • Sasha Goldstein
  • Lily Lane condos
Burlington officials spent $2 million for a cluster of condos that they intended to demolish near Burlington International Airport, but they now hope to save the structures.

Owners vacated the homes when the airport bought them in 2016 and 2017 after federal noise standards deemed them uninhabitable. The seven Lily Lane condos in South Burlington are now owned by the City of Burlington, which had intended to demolish the homes or move them from the zone.

Instead, people who work at the airport now live in them rent-free, as Burlington officials work to convince the Federal Aviation Administration, which funded the purchases, to allow the condos to remain standing. Gene Richards, BTV’s director of aviation, said Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger encouraged him to “exhaust every opportunity there is to have the homes stay where they are.”

Why the change in plans?

A Federal Aviation Administration grant program required the airport to give 39 homeowners near BTV the opportunity to sell their homes in 2016. All of the Lily Lane owners took advantage of the offer; the last one sold in June 2017.

As part of the FAA program, about 145 houses near the airport have been removed since 1997. But most were “older and in disrepair” compared to the Lily Lane condos, which are well-constructed, energy-efficient units that were built in 2010, Richards said.

“We’re really hoping we don’t have to remove them,” he said. “It’s a unique and special situation.”

The airport workers who live in them now serve as “security caretakers,” according to Richards. Their presence prevents the kind of looting and vandalism that plagued other homes emptied as part of the program, he said.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Developer Has Not Sought Foundation Permit for Massive Burlington Project

Posted By on Tue, Oct 9, 2018 at 6:46 PM

City Place Burlington construction site on Tuesday - KATIE JICKLING
  • Katie Jickling
  • City Place Burlington construction site on Tuesday
When developer Don Sinex pleaded to the Burlington City Council on August 27 that he needed to get started on foundation work for the huge CityPlace Burlington project, he portrayed the situation as urgent.

The downtown site was ready for the work, Sinex told Seven Days in an email. Not moving forward would delay the project up to three months and would mean higher costs for construction, he told reporters before the council's vote.

The council gave Sinex permission to lay the foundation of the proposed 14-story building before all the project's funding and contracts were in place. Sinex said at the time that he planned to start the foundation work within two weeks.

Nearly six weeks later, he has not filed the paperwork to get a city permit for the foundation, according to Burlington's Department of Public Works.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

To Restart Construction, Burlington Amends CityPlace Agreement

Posted By on Tue, Aug 28, 2018 at 12:27 AM

The vacant Burlington Town Center construction site - KATIE JICKLING
  • Katie Jickling
  • The vacant Burlington Town Center construction site
The backhoes and crane have been quiet at the site of the mostly demolished Burlington Town Center. Developer Don Sinex has lacked the construction financing necessary under a development agreement with the city to move ahead with the next step: pouring the foundation for the 14-story CityPlace Burlington.

The Burlington City Council voted 8-2 Monday to alter that agreement in order to get things moving again. Mayor Miro Weinberger had requested in a letter late Friday that the council allow Sinex to build the foundation before he has a contract for the rest of the project.

City councilors raised questions in interviews Monday about what the changes would mean for the project, and whether approving the changes would put the city at greater risk if the project were to fail.

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Survey Says: Burlingtonians Want to Renovate, Restore Memorial Auditorium

Posted By on Thu, Aug 23, 2018 at 9:20 PM

Memorial Auditorium - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Memorial Auditorium
The results are in: Queen City residents appear enthusiastic about a full-scale renovation of Memorial Auditorium, even if there's a sizable price tag.

Burlingtonians who responded to a survey this summer want the 91-year-old building dedicated once again to its historic uses as an entertainment venue, civic gathering space and farmers market. Eighty-five percent of respondents also said they would "definitely support" or "probably support" the renovation of the building.

Jerry Lindsley, president of the consulting firm hired by the city to conduct the survey, presented the findings Thursday to about two dozen people at Burlington City Hall.

"There's an affinity for this building," said Lindsley, of the Center for Research & Public Policy, in summarizing the survey results. "It appears [a bond vote] would be successful."

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Walters: State of Vermont Settles EB-5 Civil Cases

Posted By on Thu, Jul 12, 2018 at 4:32 PM

The Hole in downtown Newport - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • The Hole in downtown Newport
Gov. Phil Scott and Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan announced on Thursday the settlement of civil lawsuits against Ariel Quiros and Bill Stenger, the two key figures in the EB-5 scandal. The deal will net at least $2.1 million for economic development efforts in the city of Newport and the Northeast Kingdom, the places most impacted by the failure of Quiros' and Stenger's real estate ventures.

Scott, Donovan and numerous other officials announced the settlements at a press conference on Newport's City Dock, on the shore of Lake Memphremagog. "This is a major step forward as we continue to recover from the effects of the EB-5 developments," said Scott. "The dark cloud that's been hanging over us is beginning to lift."

The settlements will clear the way for an independent investigation of the role played by officials in the administration of Peter Shumlin, who was governor when Stenger and Quiros' abuses of the EB-5 program took place. Auditor Doug Hoffer will lead the probe; he gave no timeline for its completion, noting that his staff will be sorting through more than a million pages of documents.

The closing of the civil cases should also allow Newport to explore opportunities to develop "The Hole," an entire downtown block that was razed to make room for one of the Quiros/Stenger projects, and which has remained a blight on the city's streetscape. "We are now moving forward with the development of Main Street," said Newport Mayor Paul Monette. "We can start over and create our own destiny."

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Friday, June 29, 2018

Colchester Causeway Reopens After Storm Damage Repairs

Posted By on Fri, Jun 29, 2018 at 6:24 PM

The Colchester causeway in April 2018 - FILE: SASHA GOLDSTEIN
  • File: Sasha Goldstein
  • The Colchester causeway in April 2018
Bikers will be able to cross Lake Champlain from Colchester to the islands this Fourth of July weekend. The Island Line Trail is back open following a May storm that caused severe damage.

Gov. Phil Scott helped reopen the causeway at a press conference on Friday where he praised the "can-do attitude" of the workers who helped get the trail back up and running.

The bike ferry, which is operated by cycling organization Local Motion, will also start running, transporting bikers across the 200-foot cut to South Hero.

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Monday, June 25, 2018

Burlington Officials Lay Out Vision for Memorial Auditorium Process

Posted By on Mon, Jun 25, 2018 at 9:06 PM

Memorial Auditorium - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Memorial Auditorium
The city of Burlington will move forward with a public process to determine the future of Memorial Auditorium. It could result in a bond vote to pay for renovations to the dilapidated auditorium as early as November, according to acting Community and Economic Development Office director Neale Lunderville.

CEDO has hired a consulting firm to send out a postcard to every Burlington resident this month, urging them to take an online survey to weigh in on the purpose and design of the building at the corner of South Union and Main streets.

"We want to see what the public thinks is the highest and best use for the building," Lunderville said Monday during an interview with Seven Days.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

South Burlington Motel Residents Worry About Its Planned Demolition

Posted By on Tue, Jun 19, 2018 at 1:08 PM

Gasoline mogul Skip Vallee wants to demolish the extended-stay Maple Leaf Motel on Route 7 in South Burlington to make way for a large service station and convenience store — leading residents to fret about where they'll live.

Some say they'll have nowhere to go, given the shortage of affordable housing in Chittenden County.

"They are going to make us homeless," predicted Jamie Thompson.

Thompson works as an aide for a special-needs child and has lived in a one-bedroom efficiency at the motel for three years, she said. She pays $500 a month, and so does her roommate, who Thompson said works at a gas station and a Dunkin' Donuts.

It will be very difficult to find an equivalent $1,000-a-month rental anywhere nearby, Thompson said.

"I don't know what's going to happen," she said. "I really don't. It's a scary thing."

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