BURLINGTON STILL NOT FOR SALE; OPPOSE MALL PROJECT Support thoughtful, community-based planning process

This is a press release from the Burlington Progressive Committee. 

CONTACT: Charles Winkleman, 802-448-0183, BTVProgressiveParty@gmail.com

BURLINGTON – Today the Burlington Progressive Party announced its opposition to the current Burlington Town Center proposal and proposed zoning changes. Progressives understand that although the project would bring some benefits in additional housing and public amenities, its massive scale and height would overwhelm and irrevocably damage the charm and pedestrian scale of Burlington’s award-winning downtown.


“We support the work of the Coalition for a Livable City, who have helped bring to light many problems of the redevelopment process, proposed changes to the zoning ordinance, and the City’s predevelopment agreement with developer Don Sinex,” said Burlington Progressive Party Chair Charles Winkleman.


He continued, “We believe that sustainable infill development, which adheres to smart growth principles, is the best antidote to suburban sprawl. We are ready and willing to engage in a thoughtful community discussion about changing our longstanding height ordinance, but not under the gun from a developer who threatens to leave us with a dysfunctional mall, partially of his own creation, unless we do exactly what he wants when he wants it.”


Progressives insist that development and growth in Burlington should meet the needs of ALL our citizens, especially low income workers, families, and other long-time residents. It should support our local, sustainable small business economy, should consider the impact of that development for generations to come, and ensure that the development benefits all Burlington residents, not just those near the top of the economic ladder. As currently presented, this project falls well short of these goals of sustaining a healthy, vibrant city. It is unfortunate that the Mayor Weinberger’s administration seems more concerned about meeting the developer’s needs over those of our own citizens – including livable wage jobs and affordable housing at ALL income levels.


Our main concerns:


A Skewed Planning Process:


– A proposed height increase that completely ignores the public process and policy direction of PlanBTV, undermining the thousands of hours of work put into it.
– Developer’s refusal to community request to build a 3D model or to create an economic viability study until after zoning changes were pushed through the Planning Commission.
– No clear timeline of when an economic viability study will be completed, to determine whether the Administration’s jobs claim is reasonable and if the overall project is viable.
– Administration’s refusal to acknowledge zoning changes were made just for this developer, a form of ‘spot zoning’ that could be illegal under Vermont law.
– No clear reason was presented as to why the proposed overlay zoning will include allow zoning for a college campus, which puts promised future commercial tax revenues from this project at risk.
– Planning process that removes our city’s incentive-based height ordinance, granting additional heights to developers in exchange for community benefits, such as more affordable housing or greater setbacks to ensure clear view corridors to the lake.
– The public still does not have a clear understanding of Mr. Sinex and Devonwood’s business history, making it difficult to evaluate their capacity to deliver on this project and build trust between the public and these developers.


Affordable Housing benefits are over-stated:


– Affordable units should be integrated into all housing within the project, not relegated to the least desirable part of the building, with a separate, segregated ‘poor door’ entrance.
– It is disingenuous for Weinberger’s administration to support inclusionary units while also trying to weaken inclusionary requirements by revising the zoning ordinance, as it would apply to this and future downtown projects.
– Mr. Sinex and the administration cannot brag about building inclusionary zoning, when Mr. Sinex will be building only what is the legal minimum inclusionary units required of him.


Other proposed benefits are over-stated and speculative:


– Over-states how many new jobs will be brought to Burlington with this new development. (Much of the office space will be filled by relocating workers currently employed elsewhere in the city and in the area.)
– Unclear how many potential new jobs will provide a livable wage.
– Over-sells the value of $15/hr. construction jobs, according to the Vermont Department of Labor, the average Vermont construction worker already makes more than $15/hour
– No commitment that the jobs created through $20 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) will be unionized or meet our city’s Livable Wage Ordinance.
– No requirement to ensure construction workers on this project will be unionized.
– Mixing large numbers of college students and families in the same building seems ill advised, especially when considering the quality of life issues that neighborhoods with high numbers of students face.
– Unclear what benefits the City will gain by re-establishing St. Paul Street to run directly into our new CCTA transit center.


Design does not meet City’s current standards for downtown development, or future vision of a sustainable city:


– Proposed St. Paul Street reconnection design is unworkable, with grade level too steep to support safe passage for cycling or receive ADA approval.
– The reestablishment of Pine Street would require demolition or major reconstruction of 100 Bank Street, which is not owned by Mr. Sinex. It seems highly unlikely that this reconnection will occur anytime in the near future.
– Developer and administration have not provided sufficient rationale why they cannot build the project in compliance with current zoning height limit of 65 feet by right, 105 feet with bonuses, insisting on a right to build to 14 stories.
– Proposed 900+ unit parking garage is above ground and visible from the street, replicating poor design of current mall parking garage and contradicting PlanBTV goal (and City’s own Downtown Parking Assessment) of reducing and better utilizing downtown parking.
– Project will not include housing rentals that will be affordable to downtown retail workers.


The mayor and his administration claim there are no alternatives to this project, and have fully supported Mr. Sinex’s accelerated timeframe for City approvals by the end of August. In contrast, Progressives believe Burlington’s current zoning and planning standards have done much to create a livable, sustainable and culturally vibrant downtown. Current city leaders have a responsibility to city residents and future generations to take the time to get this right. We will not be rushed!

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