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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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Burlington-Area Hotel Rooms Are in Short Supply, and Prices Are Up

Posted By on Fri, Jul 23, 2021 at 10:51 AM

Lisa and Roland Gaujac at the Old Lantern - CALEB KENNA
  • Caleb Kenna
  • Lisa and Roland Gaujac at the Old Lantern
Vermont’s hopping with visitors this summer, and nowhere is that more evident than the Burlington area, where hotel rooms are scarce and room rates have risen steeply.

“I’m suddenly inundated with people because there’s no lodging,” said Lisa Gaujac, who owns the Old Lantern Inn and Barn in Charlotte with her husband, Roland Gaujac. “There’s so much lodging normally in the Burlington area that I don’t usually have people calling and saying, ‘Do you have a room available?’”

Hospitality business owners have been living with uncertainty since COVID-19 restrictions closed them down in March 2020. While they were allowed to reopen at limited capacity a few months later, it was difficult for them to book guests for this summer without knowing what the pandemic restrictions would be.

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Thursday, July 22, 2021

Essex Police Change Course After Charging Black Man Involved in Fight

Posted By on Thu, Jul 22, 2021 at 10:52 PM

  • Alain Lacroix | Dreamstime
Following public scrutiny, the Essex Police Department on Thursday apologized to a Black man and withdrew a felony assault citation it had issued him for his role in a brawl last week.

In a lengthy written statement Thursday, released an hour after activists were scheduled to protest outside the police station, Chief Ron Hoague said his officers were too quick to cite Brandon Williams.

The department "has been working with community members this past year in an effort to better serve everyone in our community, especially those most impacted by racism and inequity," Hoague wrote. "We have engaged our public in conversation and efforts like never before and we realize that incidents such as this indicate we have more work to do."

Williams was the only one charged of at least four people involved in the July 13 fight, which police said took place at the home of a man who Williams had hired to repair a motorcycle. Police had previously said their investigation was not over and that additional charges could follow.

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Music Festival to Buy Marlboro College, Ending Ownership Dispute

Posted By on Thu, Jul 22, 2021 at 5:31 PM

  • Calebjc / Wikimedia Commons
Marlboro Music will buy the former Marlboro College campus from Democracy Builders, the higher ed nonprofit whose former leader was arrested earlier this year.

The deal puts the scenic hillside campus, known as Potash Hill, under the control of its longtime summer tenant, which hosts the annual Marlboro Music Festival there. It also resolves a legal dispute between Democracy Builders and a mysterious cryptocurrency entrepreneur who had laid his own claim to the property.

“We are delighted to announce this historic agreement enabling us to protect Potash Hill and our use of the campus,” Christopher Serkin, Marlboro Music’s president, said in a press release.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

U.S. Won't Open Border to Canadians Until at Least August 21

Posted By on Wed, Jul 21, 2021 at 6:17 PM

Jackson's Lodge in Canaan - ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • Jackson's Lodge in Canaan
The United States won't open its border to visitors from Canada until August 21, the White House announced on Wednesday — dealing a blow to hospitality and other businesses that have long relied on tourists from Canada.

“I’m sure the congressional delegations and governors of every border state to the north are probably furious right now, and rightly so,” said Jeff Lawson, who is vice president of tourism and marketing at Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce. “I’m pretty upset about it.”

Northern state governors and members of Congress have been pushing the White House for weeks to open the border. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has shown impatience with the White House, especially after the Canadian government this week announced that travelers would be able to enter Canada from the United States on August 9 without quarantining in a hotel “provided the COVID situation is under control.” Scott said he has asked the White House to reciprocate, saying it is now safe to do so.

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Monday, July 19, 2021

Canada to Open Border to Vaccinated Americans on August 9

Posted By on Mon, Jul 19, 2021 at 4:38 PM

Canadian Customs station in Canaan - ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • Canadian Customs station in Canaan
The Derby Cow Palace, a restaurant that raises its own buffalo to serve to diners, was expecting its highest tour bus traffic ever in 2020 — 32 buses bound to Québec from the U.S.

Hundreds more travelers were expected to make the journey by car, stopping to eat at the popular 160-seat restaurant in Derby and to hand-feed the friendly elk pastured next to the parking lot.

COVID-19 put the kibosh on those trips, and the extended closure of the Canadian border has deterred travelers from plying the busy route through Derby to Québec. Manager Melissa Nelson said Monday she hopes that Canada’s decision, announced Monday, to start letting American citizens and residents into Canada will get that traffic flowing again.

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Friday, July 16, 2021

Brian Boland, Renowned Hot Air Balloonist, Dies at 72

Posted By on Fri, Jul 16, 2021 at 7:21 PM

  • Courtesy of Jim Block
  • Brian Boland
Brian Boland, a hot air balloon pilot with an international reputation for do-it-yourself balloon building, died on Thursday after falling from his balloon near the Connecticut River in Bradford. He was 72.

Boland and four passengers took off  on Thursday evening from Post Mills Airport in Thetford, where Boland lived with his partner, Tina Foster. Some time later, the balloon touched down in a field. The basket tipped over, causing one of Boland’s passengers to fall out. As the balloon rose again, Boland became entangled in the gears below the basket, fell to the ground and was killed, according to Vermont State Police.

The balloon drifted across the Connecticut River, landing in a copse of trees, where the remaining three passengers climbed out unharmed.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident.

Boland had been building and flying his homemade aircraft for more than five decades. In 1971, he constructed his first hot air balloon for his master’s thesis at the Pratt Institute in New York City. After graduating from Pratt, Boland became an art teacher at Farmington High School in Connecticut, where Paul Stumpf, a balloon mechanic and builder who now lives in Andover, was one of his students. Under Boland’s tutelage, Stumpf found his own passion for ballooning.

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Thursday, July 15, 2021

Applications to Some Vermont Colleges Are Up Sharply This Year

Posted By on Thu, Jul 15, 2021 at 10:38 PM

The University of Vermont campus - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • The University of Vermont campus
The University of Vermont could see its largest incoming class ever this year, as applications rose nearly 40 percent compared to last year.

Other institutions reported big numbers, too: Champlain College saw an 83 percent increase, while Middlebury College and Vermont Law School each saw a bump of 30 percent.

"Increasing enrollment when we couldn't bring prospective and admitted students to campus is quite an achievement," said Stephanie Kloss, media director at Champlain College. 

The surge comes a year after enrollments at colleges and university dropped steeply as students chose to sit out rather than enroll in remote classes or hybrid systems. But the numbers for some colleges are also higher than in 2019.

Most colleges are reopening this fall with fewer health restrictions, though many are requiring students to be vaccinated.

Another added boost: UVM and Middlebury, like other colleges around the country, dropped the requirement that students submit standardized test scores. That decision “all but guaranteed a surge in applications from students who otherwise wouldn’t have applied,” Eric Hoover wrote of the national trend in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Institutions of higher education usually don’t report the size of the class until a few weeks after the fall semester has started, but UVM is confident it will be a record year.

“We expect it to be the largest, best-prepared and most geographically diverse class,” said Enrique Corredera, UVM’s director of news and public affairs.

UVM received a record-high 25,500 applications in 2021, Corredera said — a 38 percent increase over 2020 and a 32 percent increase over 2019. The class that entered UVM in 2017 was the largest so far, with 2,642 students. That's slightly more than the number that entered in 2019.

Corredera said the "yield rate" for accepted students, or the proportion of accepted students who choose to attend UVM, appears so far to be higher than usual.

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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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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Report: Average Vermont Wages Lag Well Behind What Renters Need

Posted By on Wed, Jul 14, 2021 at 9:30 AM

A rental in Lyndonville - ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • A rental in Lyndonville
A Vermonter would need to earn more than $23 per hour to afford a typical two-bedroom rental, according to the latest report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. But renters in Vermont make on average about $14 per hour.

“Low-wage workers struggled in the pre-pandemic status quo and will continue to struggle unless serious investments are made in our housing safety net infrastructure,” the coalition said in its 2021 Out of Reach Report, released Wednesday.

“An affordable rental home is out of reach for millions of low-wage workers and other low-income families.”
Housing reform has been a top priority for state lawmakers for several years. This year, the Legislature passed a bill, S.79, created by a landlords’ group, affordable housing advocates, and others to address some of the problems behind the statewide housing shortage.

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