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Thursday, March 12, 2020

Amtrak Trains Will Be Kept in the Rail Yard in Burlington

Posted By on Thu, Mar 12, 2020 at 7:29 PM

Union station in Burlington - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Union station in Burlington
A controversial plan to park Amtrak passenger trains overnight in a busy section of Burlington's waterfront has been derailed.

The trains will instead be parked just to the south in the Vermont Rail System rail yard, the Vermont Transportation Agency announced Thursday afternoon.

That's good news to critics who said trains should not be allowed to spew noise and fumes overnight in a heavily visited section of Burlington's redeveloped, recreational waterfront. The area between Maple and College streets had been under consideration.

"My faith in humanity has been restored," said Melinda Moulton, CEO of Main Street Landing, who lobbied for restoring passenger rail service to Burlington but wants the trains to park in the rail yard.

The train service is expected to begin in 2021 with Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express, which currently runs from New York City to Rutland via Albany, N.Y. Amtrak will extend its run to Burlington after track improvements are completed and the train will arrive at Union Station, which has been redeveloped by Main Street Landing. 

“This decision represents substantial assessment and collaboration by VTrans, the City of Burlington, and Vermont Rail System, as well as serious consideration of public response,” state Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn said in a press release.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger praised the resolution.

It's a "great outcome for Burlington that achieves all the goals the City has had throughout this process,” Weinberger said in a press release. “Thanks to close collaboration between the City, the Vermont Agency of Transportation, and Vermont Rail Systems, we are restoring passenger rail service to downtown Burlington for the first time in decades, while also protecting the vibrancy of our waterfront, improving the Bike Path, and minimizing impacts on Burlington residents and businesses."

The plan will not impact existing rail yard operations, according to the press release, and the new overnight parking location means that a second track between Maple and College streets will not be needed.

A second track could have allowed fuel tanker cars as well as passenger trains to block the central waterfront, critics had worried.

"All the years that we've all worked to create this beautiful place for people was not the place to be storing and servicing trains,'' Moulton said.

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Friday, February 21, 2020

Deal to Streamline Act 250 Collapses in House Committee

Posted By on Fri, Feb 21, 2020 at 4:50 PM

Attorney Brooke Dingledine addressing the House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee - FILE: KEVIN MCCALLUM
  • File: Kevin McCallum
  • Attorney Brooke Dingledine addressing the House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee
A plan to streamline Act 250 review of development projects in Vermont fell apart Friday after lawmakers refused to fund a new statewide natural resources board to review major projects.

The powerful House Ways and Means Committee stripped from a bill proposed fee increases meant to pay an estimated $600,000 annually for a centralized, professional review board that would have taken over many responsibilities of volunteer local review panels.

“I don’t think the new professional board is a good idea,” said Janet Ancel (D-Calais), chair of the committee. “I think it's overly expensive, I think it will reduce access to the process, and I think it will result in more lawyering up.”

Even members of the House committee that voted last week in favor of the proposal seemed content to let it collapse.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Burlington Council Passes Zoning to Encourage Accessory Dwellings

Posted By on Wed, Feb 19, 2020 at 5:12 PM

An accessory dwelling unit in Burlington's South End in 2015 - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • An accessory dwelling unit in Burlington's South End in 2015
The Burlington City Council unanimously approved zoning changes Tuesday designed to encourage construction of backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments at single family homes.

Supporters including Mayor Miro Weinberger have touted the potential for so-called accessory dwelling units to boost the city's housing stock and benefit both homeowners and renters.

The changes were among several housing initiatives proposed in the wake of the mayor's 2019 Housing Summit.
Under the new rules, additional off-street parking will no longer be required for accessory dwelling units. They will also be allowed on some lots previously deemed too small, so long as stormwater treatment requirements are met.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Burlington City Arts Foundation Buys Building on Pine Street

Posted By on Tue, Feb 4, 2020 at 5:11 PM

Doreen Kraft, director of Burlington City Arts, at 405 Pine Street. - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • Doreen Kraft, director of Burlington City Arts, at 405 Pine Street.
The nonprofit that supports Burlington City Arts has closed on a $2.5 million purchase of 405 Pine Street, a building where the city organization currently offers classes and studio space.

The Burlington City Arts Foundation completed the deal on December 24, according to city records. The purchase was part of a $7 million capital campaign to make the space along the Pine Street corridor a permanent community center for the arts.

The plans call for an expansion of existing studio space for pottery, printmaking, painting and other arts, as well as classes for children and adults. The makeover would also include a large community room and a sculpture garden along Pine Street.

Another goal is "to protect long-term affordability for the arts" in the South End arts district's competitive real estate market, said the organization's director, Doreen Kraft. "We're pretty excited."

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Friday, January 10, 2020

CityPlace Burlington Developers Countersue Project Opponents

Posted By on Fri, Jan 10, 2020 at 5:02 PM

CityPlace Burlington construction site, pictured last fall - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • CityPlace Burlington construction site, pictured last fall
The CityPlace Burlington developers have countersued a group of opponents of the long-stalled downtown project.

BTC Mall Associates and Devonwood Investors argue in a December 30 court filing that the opponents — Barbara McGrew, Lynn Martin, Michael Long and Steve Goodkind, along with their attorney, John Franco — violated a prior settlement in an ongoing lawsuit involving the project.

As a result, the developers say, they incurred "substantial costs" and are asking a judge to award them attorney fees. They also want the court to nullify a provision in the settlement that the developers donate $500,000 to a charitable fund.

Franco said he's disappointed in the turn of events, particularly since he had cheered CityPlace progress in recent months. Developers presented a scaled-down version of the downtown project in October 2019, at which time Franco said he was optimistic that the lawsuit could be resolved. Any goodwill he felt has now evaporated.
"Lynn, Steve, Barb and Michael are all retirees on Social Security — that’s who Brookfield, a multibillion-dollar company, has sued," Franco said, referring to Brookfield Asset Management, BTC's majority owner. "You have a bit of an idea of what that does to the atmosphere of this case."

The counterclaim stems from a June 2017 settlement that required the developer to include more parking spaces in the project design, to not lease housing to college students and to contribute $500,000 to a charitable fund, among other agreements.
The developers argue that Franco and his clients violated that settlement by continuing to pursue a separate public records claim. The Vermont Supreme Court ruled in the developer's favor on that claim in September 2018.

The counterclaim says the opponents' litigation "constitutes a breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing" and "interfered with BTC's ability to perform its obligations under the Settlement Agreement."

As such, the developers argue, they should not have to make the charitable donation. A message seeking comment left for Jonathan Rose, a Burlington attorney representing the developers, was not immediately returned.

Franco called the counterclaim "frivolous" and plans to file a response by month's end.

Brookfield is scheduled to appear before the city's development review board in February to discuss its latest proposal. But Jeff Glassberg, who is working as a liaison between the developers and the city, wants more from the developer. He says Brookfield has reneged on an earlier promise to schedule community meetings about the project.

"Despite weekly requests for an update on that, we've seen no progress," he told the Burlington City Council on Monday.

The recent developments leave a sour taste in Franco's mouth.

"[I was] really supportive of the scaled-down project," he said. "This is a serious kick in the shins."

Read the filing below:

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Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Five-Story Hotel Proposed for Downtown Winooski

Posted By on Wed, Dec 18, 2019 at 3:34 PM

A five-story hotel is proposed for East Allen Street in Winooski. - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • A five-story hotel is proposed for East Allen Street in Winooski.
Development firm Redstone has applied for a zoning permit to build a 120-room, five-story hotel on East Allen Street in downtown Winooski.

To make way for the project, the developers have proposed demolishing two residential structures, including one at 41 East Allen that is listed on the Vermont State Register of Historic Places as a locally significant structure. The home was built in 1872 and is known for the two lions that sit on either side of its front steps.

Tear-downs are an increasingly familiar scenario in the city, where an uptick in development on major streets has come with multiple demolitions.

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Monday, December 2, 2019

Four Quarters Brewing Plans to Move Into Bigger Winooski Digs

Posted By on Mon, Dec 2, 2019 at 6:50 PM

Rendering of the Four Quarters brewery and taproom proposal at 70 Main Street in Winooski - COURTESY OF FOUR QUARTERS BREWING
  • Courtesy of Four Quarters Brewing
  • Rendering of the Four Quarters brewery and taproom proposal at 70 Main Street in Winooski
Four Quarters Brewing, a growing craft beer company that started up in 2014, plans to relocate and open a taproom with capacity for up to 200 people in the former bank building at 70 Main Street in Winooski.

The craft brewer will relocate production there from its current location a few blocks away on West Canal Street. Four Quarters is preparing to boost production from the current 1,000 barrels a year to 10 times that over the next five years.

"Our distributors want a lot more beer from us," explained Brian Eckert, founder and co-owner of Four Quarters.

The taproom will serve grilled-cheese sandwiches and pizza and periodically host live music. A garage-style door will be constructed on one wall that opens onto the former KeyBank drive-through area in the summer. It will have "a big patio and a deck and lots of seating out there and a couple fire pits and Adirondack chairs,” Eckert said. 

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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

BTV Airport Will Use $10 Million Federal Grant to Expand Terminal

Posted By on Tue, Nov 26, 2019 at 8:47 PM

Rendering of expanded terminal at Burlington International Airport - COURTESY OF BTV
  • Courtesy of BTV
  • Rendering of expanded terminal at Burlington International Airport
Burlington International Airport will use a $10 million federal appropriation announced last Friday to expand its main terminal.

If all goes as planned, construction on the project will begin next fall and be completed by 2021, according to Nicolas Longo, deputy director of aviation at the airport.

The project sets up the airport “for where we're heading in the future," Longo said, and will allow the terminal to better accommodate larger aircraft now flying into BTV.

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Monday, November 25, 2019

CityPlace Burlington to Be Fully Built by 2023, New Docs Show

Posted By on Mon, Nov 25, 2019 at 3:23 PM

New CityPlace schematics - CITY OF BURLINGTON
  • City of Burlington
  • New CityPlace schematics
Updated at 8:27 p.m.

Once completed in 2023, CityPlace Burlington will boast 318 apartments, a rooftop restaurant, a 174-room hotel and more than 530 parking spaces.

Construction on the much-delayed project will begin in August 2020 and is expected to wrap up 30 months later.

That’s according to new documents that project majority owner Brookfield Asset Management filed with the city late last week. The Burlington City Council’s Board of Finance reviewed them at its meeting Monday night and voted to allow the city to submit a “substantial change request” to the state body that oversees the tax-increment financing program.

The memos provide the first glimpse into the new design since Brookfield unveiled its scaled-down proposal nearly a month ago. The 14-story towers in the original design, which spurred lawsuits and financial challenges, were replaced by 10-story buildings.

The submitted designs don't include plans for the former Macy's building, which was not part of the original project but is now envisioned as the future home of the University of Vermont Medical Center offices.
The memos reveal that construction costs are greatly reduced now that the project has morphed from 1 million square feet to just over 730,000. When bidding on the original project ended in May, the costs came in at $190 million. The developer attempted to reduce the price tag “but ultimately determined there were not enough savings to justify starting construction,” according to a project memo.

In July, Brookfield announced that the “scope, scale, and the timing” of construction would change.

The scaled-down design uses lighter-weight steel and is now projected to cost $120 million to build, according to the documents. It should be complete by February 2023 barring any regulatory delays or legal challenges, according to Jeff Glassberg, a liaison between city and the developers.

Assistant city attorney Richard Haesler confirmed that the new project will fall slightly short of its anticipated TIF revenues. In 2016, Burlington voters approved a $21.8 million TIF bond to fix up sidewalks and rebuild streets lost to the former Burlington Town Center mall decades ago. Such debt is meant to be repaid with additional tax revenue, known as “increment,” generated by the new project.

Glassberg wrote in a memo that TIF funds from the project will pay for the reopening of Pine and St. Paul streets and "streetscape upgrades" to parts of Cherry and Bank streets that abut the project. But early estimates show the new design will only generate $19 million in increment, Glassberg said Monday.
CityPlace 2.0 will feature seven retail storefronts and other amenities. - CITY OF BURLINGTON
  • City of Burlington
  • CityPlace 2.0 will feature seven retail storefronts and other amenities.
Mayor Miro Weinberger said the TIF shortfall may be closed by other projects in the city’s Waterfront TIF district, such as the former Macy’s building and the existing mall building that fronts Church Street. That building will remain intact as part of the redevelopment.

“We haven't reached the point where we’re concluding that $19 million is where the new budget is going to be,” the mayor said.

The city will discuss the project changes on December 19 with the Vermont Economic Progress Council, which oversees the TIF program.

The memos also outline the project’s phasing and amenities. New schematics for the hotel’s southern tower show seven retail spaces on the ground level, topped off with a rooftop restaurant, community space and observation deck.

The residential tower on the north side of the site will feature 121 studios, 142 one-bedrooms and 55 two-bedroom units. The designs don’t specify the rental rates, but Brookfield has committed to making 20 percent of them “affordable” as required by Burlington's inclusionary zoning ordinance.

Brookfield also anticipates having to undergo state permitting under Act 250 because of the hotel concept. The developers say a hotel “is responsive to market demand and can contribute to the continued dynamism of downtown Burlington.”

After many delays, Glassberg said the recent updates from Brookfield show significant progress.

“The stuff they delivered to us ... is the kind of stuff we've been looking for forever,” he said. “I thought it was great news.”

Correction, November 25, 2019: A previous version of this story misstated the number of parking spaces in the project proposal.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

CityPlace Burlington Developers Unveil Scaled-Down Proposal

Posted By on Tue, Oct 29, 2019 at 12:43 AM

  • City of Burlington
  • CityPlace 2.0
The developers behind the long-stalled CityPlace project unveiled on Monday a redesigned concept intended to fill the empty downtown pit that was once home to the Burlington Town Center mall.

Presenting at a Burlington City Council meeting, executives from Brookfield Asset Management pledged to start construction next year.

Gone are the soaring 14-story structures originally proposed. In their place are two towers. One, on the Cherry Street side of the property, would rise 10 stories and hold 280 to 300 apartments — the same as the original proposal. Twenty percent would be "affordable," as required by Burlington's inclusionary zoning ordinance.

A 175-room hotel of similar height would occupy the Bank Street side of the downtown parcel. Retail space would fill the first floor of each building, and levels of parking would fit between — and below — the structures.

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