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Burlington Councilors Consider Changes To Downtown Improvement District

Burlington's Church Street Marketplace in winter
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Burlington's Church Street Marketplace in winter

There were several charter changes for Burlington, Vermont City Councilors to review at this week’s meeting. One of the more controversial items under consideration is whether the city should expand the current Downtown Improvement District.
An adhoc committee was formed about two years ago to look into amending Burlington’s Downtown Improvement District. The city’s Board of Finance was then charged with examining an expansion of  the DID from the Church Street Marketplace to other areas  of the downtown and issued a draft proposal last Friday.  At this week’s city council meeting Mayor Miro Weinberger summarized the Board’s recommendations.  “The Downtown Improvement District already exists.  Today it is a very limited function for that Downtown Improvement District. All that special taxation district currently does is put an extra fee on those properties that partially pays for free parking, two hour parking. One of the kind of the roots of this effort and where this came from is a desire from those fee payers to get better utilization out of those special taxes essentially that they are already paying.”

Ward 8 Independent Adam Roof represented the council on the Downtown Improvement District Advisory Committee. He said he was excited that after nearly two years of work the proposal was before the council to send to the Charter Change Committee.  “From the beginning there was one real guiding principle that we knew we must operate from if this eventual proposal was going to earn the support of a majority of this council and of course the voting public. We must ensure this proposal be built upon a foundation of both common ground and common good in so far that it must deliver both economic and social vitality to our downtown for the benefit of our entire community. I believe that after a lot of work this proposal strikes that balance.”

But his enthusiasm was not shared by all councilors. Ward 2 Progressive Max Tracy felt action was being taken too quickly and as a result fundamental aspects of the plan were left undefined.  “What is defined within this proposal to my eyes is slanted towards businesses and their interests. And I think that that flows directly from the fact that they are contributing money for this and they’re going to want something for having contributed money to the downtown in terms of influence. And in my mind that influence could very much run counter to and against the broader interest of the Burlington public.”

His comments led to quick reproach from his peers on the council including Mayor Weinberger.  “It is discouraging to hear inaccurately suggested that we would be giving up the ability as a city to define the public realm and to put in the public realm what we want. We are not. In no way is that authority being given over to this Downtown Improvement District.”
City Council President Kurt Wright: “Thank you Mr. Mayor. Councilor Shannon.”
Shannon:  “This is not a proposal to let the businesses take our tax dollars and spend them as they may. This is a proposal where the businesses will generate additional tax dollars to be spent on additional enhancements beyond what we could otherwise afford.”
Wright:  “Councilor Roof.”  
Roof :  “Councilor Tracy I’m less frustrated with your response because I had those same reactions when I first started to engage in this idea.  We really did work through those items.”

The Burlington City Council approved sending the proposal to the Charter Change Committee.

Audio is courtesy of the live webstream provided by Channel 17 Town Meeting Television.