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New England News

City Council Gives Preliminary Approval To Downtown Redevelopment

The Burlington City Council this week gave preliminary approval to a plan to redevelop the Burlington Town Center Mall in the heart of downtown.
The $200 million, 1.3 million-square foot mixed-use redevelopment includes apartments, retail and office spaces. Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger released in late April the draft predevelopment agreement between the city and developer.  The project is expected to create more than 500 construction jobs and more than 900 permanent retail and office jobs.  At least 270 new housing units will be created including affordable homes and 110 units of student housing.

Burlington City Councilors this week approved the predevelopment agreement. Central District Representative and City Council President Jane Knodell says it makes sense to approach the project in two stages.    “The predevelopment agreement settles many large issues but then leaves other issues to continue to be worked on. Then everything will be laid out in the development agreement. Now, the predevelopment agreement allows the developer to take the next step in talking to investors and lenders. He needs to line all of that up before he can actually put a shovel in the ground which he hopes to do in January of 2017.”

Knodell adds that she and others feel the current downtown mall is no longer an asset and the city needs to reinvest to remain attractive to residents and visitors.   “We're going to be reinvesting in our downtown and opening up the street grid. The project must meet a market feasibility test which is:  can all this space that he is proposing to build, office space, retail space, housing space, can it all actually get rented at prices that will cover the costs of constructing and operating this building. The council and administration has not yet seen that market feasibility study. We need to have it and have time to look at it before there is a vote on the final development agreement.”

Burlington Business Association Executive Director Kelly Devine says there is currently a suburban-style mall on 5 acres of the city that must be redeveloped.   “PlanBTV, which was not only our planning document, but a document that did quite a bit of study in terms of what the city needs and how the city can grow in terms of office space and retail clearly indicated that there was opportunity to grow both office space and retail in downtown Burlington.  We have a desperate need for housing. The fact that is a mixed use development makes it a very good fit for what Burlington needs today and what we're going to need going forward in the coming decades.”

Ward Two Progressive Max Tracy was the only councilor to vote against the predevelopment agreement and tried to get a two-week delay on its consideration.  While he concurs that the current mall needs redevelopment, he is concerned about the process.  “This agreement had only been out for twelve days before we were asked to vote on it. It had changed substantially during that time. So I felt that the public didn't have the necessary time to get their feedback into the agreement. But I also felt like the agreement contained several provisions that contemplated approving zoning changes before they went through the process. The height is really a big issue for folks and we didn't really have a chance to see how that height would look because they didn’t provide a 3-D model. Additionally the housing was not adequate in the sense that there was only the minimum of affordable housing provided.  And that didn't seem fair given that we’re about to invest $21 million of public money in the project.”

The agreement requires the city’s Planning Commission to review zoning and return a draft ordinance to the City Council for final approval within 120 days.

 

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