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Burlington Officials Approve Proposal For Revised Downtown Improvement District

Burlington City Hall
Burlington City Hall

The Burlington City Council approved a charter change resolution that would revise Burlington’s Downtown Improvement District.  Although councilors moved the measure forward, they also made sure they could make changes before the public vote on Town Meeting Day in March.
The charter change proposes amending the city charter to expand the Downtown Improvement District from the Church Street Marketplace “..to properties contiguous to the existing DID…” and create a non-profit management entity for the new district. A special assessment fee would also be extended to the new areas of the district.

During the public comment period, opinion was split on whether councilors should approve the changes.  ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain Executive Director Phelan Fritz said the nonprofit supports the DID revisions.  “It’s really important for all of the city whether it’s residents, whether it’s tourists, I think it’s critical to our downtown. I think it’s especially important for its ability to create a consistency between Church Street and the waterfront. And then finally this really about bringing the whole town together.”

“Hello my name is Emily Reynolds and I am the co-chair for Burlington Housing Justice.  Our four goals are to decrease rent and create housing as a social good, unionize tenants, increase the housing quality in Burlington and increase the housing stock. We believe that the DID is in firm opposition to these goals. The DID represents the landlord and developers’ agenda to privatize the city, raise the rent and develop the city into a neo-liberal hellhole. In other places where DID’s have been created property and rent has increased 15 percent. We cannot afford another 15 percent in an already unaffordable city. Another major concern we see with this proposal is the way it will disproportionally affect the homeless population.”

Charter Change Committee Chair Joan Shannon, a South District Democrat, moved that the resolution be adopted and noted that a number of trends are threatening the sustainability of the current marketplace.  “The baseline question for everyone is why should we expand the DID and change the governance? The history of our very successful Church Street Marketplace is one that involves a lot of federal funds from its inception and even into the recent past. Those funds are running dry and with further investments needed we need to determine who will be responsible for this next infusion of money that is needed. The marketplace was never envisioned to be sustained by only 40 fee payers the way it is today.  A much larger Downtown Improvement District was envisioned from the start. But we have never made that update until now. We need to collaborate with businesses to provide a structure that works both for them and for the city.”

Central District Progressive Jane Knodell was uncomfortable that many questions remain regarding how an expanded DID would be managed.  “It’s clear to me that there are benefits from expanding the Marketplace to include the side streets. My question was really what are the benefits of setting this up as a nonprofit as opposed to continuing to operate it as a department of the city? It is the question I would like to have seen us address. But we don’t have time to do that for the March ballot.  I’m not I haven’t been convinced that we should switch to a nonprofit model.”

The resolution passed 9 to 3.  Public hearings on the proposed charter amendment will be held January 22nd and 28th.

Audio from the Burlington City Council meeting is courtesy of Channel 17 Town Meeting Television.

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