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Monday, May 3, 2021

Holy Ale: 'Dirt Church' Craft Brewery Prepares to Open in Essex County

Posted By on Mon, May 3, 2021 at 3:45 PM

  • Dirt Church Brewery
  • Anna Cronin
When Vermont evolved into a craft-brewing Mecca, somehow Essex County, population 6,000, was left out. There doesn't seem to be a microbrewery to be found in the state’s remote northeastern corner.

But couple from Connecticut is working hard to fix that, with plans to start serving up microbrews from their new Dirt Church brewery in tiny East Haven on July 4.

Bruce Lindsay and Anna Cronin have spent the latter half of the pandemic renovating a 900-square-foot church that Lindsay bought in September for $85,000. The church came with less than an acre of land and a dilapidated former Grange hall that the two have replaced with a post-and-beam seven-barrel brewhouse. Lindsay is a longtime homebrewer.

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Monday, April 19, 2021

Demand, Prices Drive Construction of Multifamily Homes in Chittenden County

Posted By on Mon, Apr 19, 2021 at 10:30 PM

A worker at a construction site - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • A worker at a construction site
Patrick O’Brien, a senior manager at S.D. Ireland construction company, got a call a few weeks ago from a woman in Montpelier who was hoping to draw the company’s attention to central Vermont.

She was seeking a home, and she knew other people were, too. There are fewer than a half dozen homes for sale in the Vermont capital — one priced at over $1 million.

“She was looking for something where potentially she could age in place,” said O’Brien. “But her general statement was that Montpelier is in dire need of housing of all sorts.”

O’Brien was a logical person to call, because Williston-based S.D. Ireland constructs about 100 units of housing each year. But the company builds only in Chittenden County, and O’Brien said the company has no plans to expand its range. Salaries in the rest of the state aren’t high enough to support the rents landlords would charge, and it’s too expensive to enter an unknown political and permitting landscape, he said. And the company already owns land in Chittenden County.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Burlington High School Could Be Demolished After More Contamination Found

Posted By on Wed, Apr 14, 2021 at 8:20 PM

Warnings at Burlington High School - FILE: COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Warnings at Burlington High School
A series of tests have revealed extensive chemical contamination on Burlington High School’s campus that could necessitate a complete tear down.

At a school board meeting on Tuesday, superintendent Tom Flanagan said that cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been detected in the buildings’ window caulking, block and brick walls, floor-tile adhesive and concrete foundation — as well as in the air and in the soil under and surrounding the school.

“Unfortunately, at each step of the process, we find more materials with PCBs,” Flanagan told the school board. “I’m growing increasingly uneasy about the extent of PCB contamination.”

He said that remediation of the chemicals would cost an estimated $7 million to $12 million — and even that might not reduce the levels of airborne PCBs to below what the state has deemed safe.

The chemicals were found last year as the district prepared for a voter-approved $70 million project to overhaul the high school and the tech center.

But the district shuttered much of the campus, located off of North Avenue in the city’s New North End, the day before classes were to begin last September after testing showed PCBs in some of the buildings.

Queen City high schoolers learned almost fully remotely until March, when they began attending classes two days a week at a former Macy’s department store downtown. The school district funded a renovation of the building and is operating there under a three-and-a-half-year lease it signed in December.
Once a Macy's, now a school - FILE: CAT CUTILLO ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Cat Cutillo ©️ Seven Days
  • Once a Macy's, now a school
Initially, district leaders thought it would take until late summer to figure out the extent of the PCB contamination and decide how to move forward. But Flanagan said that the latest testing results should spur the board to make a decision as early as next month.

“The purpose of tonight really is to make very clear that there’s a serious problem in this project, and we need to take action sooner rather than later,” he told the 12-member school board on Tuesday.
Board members expressed their concerns about the most recent findings.

“Obviously we’ve been trying to patch a sinking ship, so what is it going to take for you guys to let us know this is actually the Titanic?” said school commissioner Jean Waltz. “It just seems like it’s getting worse.”

Commissioner Jeff Wick flagged the high costs for PCB mitigation and suggested that it was time to “stop the bleed” by abandoning the $70 million renovation and moving forward with a plan to build an entirely new high school.

Unclear is whether a new school would — or could — be built on the current campus, or at a different city location.

“I’m sitting here having an anxiety attack because I’m thinking, Where would we go?” commissioner Martine Gulick said. “Maybe you all have information that I don’t have, but that scares me.”

Tom Peterson, a consultant hired to oversee the $70 million renovation project, suggested it could be problematic to build a new high school on the current site. Even if PCB mitigation can be handled cost-effectively, the Institute Road campus is 57 years old and, with PCBs in the soil and in the air, there would be long-term costs for monitoring the buildings and potentially additional remediation.
Building a new facility at a different location would be “a huge lift,” he said, but “at the end of that, you will have a beautiful new high school.”

Flanagan capped the discussion by addressing the board. “It’s no one’s fault that we’re here,” the superintendent said. “We learned about this problem through doing our due diligence.”

As leaders, he said, the school commissioners are being tasked with making hard decisions.

“There are ways out of this and into a high school that we can be proud of,” said Flanagan, “and we need to stay positive and optimistic and know that it’s our responsibility to keep our community safe, and to keep doing this work together.”

The school board’s Building Construction Oversight Committee is scheduled to meet at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday to discuss the issue further.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Senate Passes Measure to Regulate and Inspect Short-Term Rentals

Posted By on Tue, Mar 30, 2021 at 12:03 PM

Phineas Swann Inn in Montgomery Center - COURTESY OF DARREN DREVIK
  • Courtesy of Darren Drevik
  • Phineas Swann Inn in Montgomery Center
Darren Drevik, who co-owns the Phineas Swann Inn and Spa, says he pays $500 in state fees each year to offer 10 rooms and serve meals. He’d like short-term rentals to do the same, and he’s hoping a bill that's headed to the House will make that happen.

The Senate on Tuesday approved S.79, a wide-ranging bill that aims to improve enforcement of health and safety standards for apartments around the state. The measure would include short-term rentals such as Vrbo and Airbnb in that registry. Owners of conventional lodging have said for years they’re competing on an uneven playing field.

Drevik noted that when the state shut down all inns, hotels and B&Bs last year because of the pandemic, it had no way of knowing who was operating an Airbnb.

“We had state troopers literally coming to our door and checking to make sure that there were no cars in our parking lot from out of state and no guests in our inn,” said Drevik. “And then we had short-term rentals in my town with cars from New York and Massachusetts.”

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Friday, March 26, 2021

Housing Bill Advances Despite Water Pollution Concerns

Posted By on Fri, Mar 26, 2021 at 6:43 PM

A sign in Vergennes after a storm in 2019. - KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
  • A sign in Vergennes after a storm in 2019.
Vermont senators advanced a bill Friday to encourage the construction of more affordable housing over the objections of water quality advocates who say it will increase the amount of untreated wastewater flushed into waterways during rainstorms.

Lawmakers have been deluged in recent weeks with concerns from environmental groups and residents who worry that streamlining wastewater permits for new housing projects would only further pollute the state’s streams, rivers and lakes.

One of the most controversial provisions of the bill would delegate the state's authority to issue new water and wastewater permits to municipalities, replacing the current “redundant and costly” system, Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint (D-Windham) said.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Deemed Not Historic, Burlington's Midtown Motel Is Demolished

Posted By on Wed, Mar 24, 2021 at 2:45 PM

The site of the former Midtown Motel - COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • The site of the former Midtown Motel
The space where Burlington’s landmark Midtown Motel once stood is now an empty lot.

Property owner Jeff Nick tore down the 1950s-era motel last month, hiring a crew trained in asbestos removal to discard the remnants safely. The process took six weeks.

The cordoned-off lot is now filled with gravel, but Nick plans to convert it into a grassy space that he hopes will spur redevelopment of the so-called “gateway block” to the Queen City.

“Hopefully when COVID’s over, everybody can refocus and figure out what should happen on this block,” Nick said, referring to the area contained by Main Street, South Union Street and South Winooski Avenue. “It’s prime even in today’s market.”

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Friday, March 19, 2021

$105 Million COVID-19 Relief Package Wins Unanimous Senate Support

Posted By on Fri, Mar 19, 2021 at 7:52 PM

Vermont Senate - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Vermont Senate

A broad COVID-19 recovery bill that would plow $105 million into everything from business grants to affordable housing to free diapers advanced toward approval Friday afternoon.

The Senate unanimously approved H. 315, setting it up for a final vote next week. The bill is lawmakers’ latest attempt to ensure a combination of federal and state funds are spent as soon as possible on programs that will help the state “build back better,” as Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia) put it.

“It seems like this bill has touched just about every committee in the Senate,” Kitchel, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told her colleagues.

The bill still needs to return to the House for final reconciliation with the Senate’s numerous changes. But House leaders have been in close communication with their Senate colleagues and are committed to ironing out any differences quickly, said Connor Kennedy, spokesperson for House Speaker Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington).

“We’re probably at the five-yard line, to be honest,” Kennedy said.

About $80 million of the money is coming from $1.25 billion Vermont received from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Some funds are left over from last year's federal CARES Act. The balance will be from state funds, which are flush thanks to a surprise $210 million largely from higher-than-expected tax revenues.

The bill includes funding for a number of key Democratic priorities, including affordable housing, grants for struggling businesses, environmental cleanup and workforce development.

One of the largest chunks is $15 million to help schools address indoor air quality, a significant concern as children have returned to the classroom during the pandemic. There’s also $14 million to help clean up and redevelop some of the state’s numerous contaminated industrial sites, or brownfields. Another $10 million would help affordable-housing developers get projects moving that would help hundreds of homeless people still living in motels around the state, Kitchel said.

The Senate also increased to $10 million funds for “gap grants” to businesses that didn’t qualify for previous funding, such as for new businesses that couldn’t demonstrate previous revenues. Outdoor recreation would also enjoy a big boost, with $5 million going to the Agency of Natural Resources for trail work and another $5 million dedicated to the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative, an economic development effort around recreation businesses.

The bill includes a number of education initiatives, including $3 million to train teachers to improve how they teach literacy, $1.4 million to train new nurses in collaboration with nursing homes, and $1 million to help schools find students they’ve lost track of during the pandemic, a phenomenon she referred to as "ghosting."

"We're really going to have to make some concerted effort to reconnect students with schools," Kitchel said.

Not all expenditures are big-ticket items, however. The Senate also set aside $25,000 for an audit of state deputies, and increased by $82,000 the funds set aside for needy families with children to pay for diapers.

Senate Minority Leader Randy Brock (R-Franklin) asked whether what was characterized as one-time spending would result in programs that the state would need to continue paying for when federal relief dollars dry up. Kitchel said her committee was "absolutely vigilant" to make sure that wasn't the case.

The bill references holding $20 million in reserve to help solve the state’s pension crisis, but Kitchel said her committee didn’t have the time to drill down on that issue and will have to return to it later in the session.

“We intend to address this problem before we leave this year,” she said.

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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Leahy Reintroduces Bill to Clean Up EB-5 Foreign Investor Program

Posted By on Thu, Mar 18, 2021 at 7:31 PM

In 2016, then-Department of Financial Regulation commissioner Susan Donegan pointing to a chart detailing suspected EB-5 fraud - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BROEDER
  • In 2016, then-Department of Financial Regulation commissioner Susan Donegan pointing to a chart detailing suspected EB-5 fraud

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is co-sponsoring a new bill to clean up the scandal-plagued federal program that resulted in what officials have called the largest financial fraud in Vermont history.

Leahy, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is again teaming up with fellow committee member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to introduce a suite of reforms to the EB-5 investor program.

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Monday, March 8, 2021

Want to Live at Shelburne Farms? Here's Your Chance

Posted By on Mon, Mar 8, 2021 at 5:56 PM

  • File: Shelburne Farms/Orah Moore
  • Shelburne Farms area
Shelburne Farms is raising money to buy back a 4.5-acre lot in the heart of its farmlands on Lake Champlain.

The parcel, which is listed on Trulia for $3.3 million, includes sweeping views of the Adirondacks, access to two lake beaches, and an interest in 27 acres of neighboring agricultural land.

The former hayfield is one of four long-term residential leases that the Shelburne Farms nonprofit, created in 1984, sold the following year to raise money for restoration work and programs on its now 1,400-acre property. The buyers in 1985 paid more than the appraised value for three of the leaseholds as a way of helping the new nonprofit, said Alec Webb, a fourth-generation member of the family that established Shelburne Farms and the president of the nonprofit.

The lot is now owned by a Lintilhac family trust, according to Shelburne town records.

Shelburne Farms in recent years borrowed money from other conservation groups to purchase two other leaseholds in that area, known as Windmill Hill.

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Friday, March 5, 2021

Dispute Over Parking Could Delay CityPlace Burlington Construction

Posted By on Fri, Mar 5, 2021 at 6:21 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
The redesigned CityPlace Burlington project won unanimous approval from the city’s Development Review Board this week, but a group of opponents is already planning to appeal the permit.

Burlington-based attorney John Franco is representing four residents — Steve Goodkind, Michael Long, Lynn Martin and Barbara McGrew — in the pending appeal. He says the 422 parking spaces planned for the project aren’t enough to support 426 residential units, let alone vehicles from shoppers and downtown workers.

“I call it the ‘more cows than people’ problem,” Franco said, referring to the saying that Vermont’s bovines outnumber its humans. “That’s why we’re appealing. This will be a disaster for the downtown.”

Once the developers have the permit in hand, Franco said, he’ll file an appeal in Vermont Environmental Court.

The news comes as CityPlace developers last week finally settled a legal challenge brought by the city last fall. They aim to start construction late this summer or early fall, but the appeal could derail those plans, said Dave Farrington, one of the project partners.

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