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Burlington City Council Postpones Action On Development Agreement And Criticizes UVM

The Black Lives Matter flag flies in front of Burlington City Hall
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Burlington City Hall (file)

The Burlington, Vermont City Council postponed consideration of a settlement agreement with developers of a downtown project and also chastised the University of Vermont during Tuesday evening’s meeting.In December, the University of Vermont Dean of Arts and Sciences, by direction of the college president and provost, announced that three departments, 12 majors, 11 minors and four masters programs would be eliminated due to budget shortfalls and low enrollments.  The cuts to the liberal arts programs has enraged some faculty, students and staff. At Tuesday night’s Burlington City Council meeting a resolution was offered calling on the college administration to reverse the actions. Ward 1 resident Eliza Fairs, a UVM student, echoed the sentiments of those who commented.   “These barbaric cuts are justified by our administration and Board of Trustees as necessary steps in reducing the deficit caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. These justifications are false. The cuts are a strategic move by the administration to remove the Liberal Arts from UVM and invest instead in entrepreneurial and job oriented disciplines.”

Ward 8 Progressive Jane Stromberg, a graduate of UVM, sponsored the resolution to condemn the cuts.  “I can’t think of a more disrespectful and heartless expression of disregard than the cuts that we’ve seen towards faculty and staff. And all these departments are critically crucial departments within the university. What has UVM leadership demonstrated with these acts? We need to hold the largest institution in our city accountable.”

The resolution passed unanimously.
City councilors were also set to review a revised development agreement between the city and BTC Mall Associates. The agreement could mean that CityPlace, a delayed development project in the center of downtown, may progress.  Public comments were mixed as to whether the council should approve the deal. Several construction and labor representatives including Vermont AFL-CIO President David Van Deusen criticized the new agreement.  “We want to build CityPlace. But here’s the thing. We need it to be built with union jobs. There is nothing in this agreement before you not one word that would provide even one hour of union labor on this project. This is a major project.”

Former councilor Kurt Wright was among those who said the agreement should be approved.  “It is critical to our  downtown. This deal is going to allow us to take back the streets. Businesses are hurting. Taxpayers want to make sure that our taxes can be stabilized going forward. These are things that are going to happen with this.”  

Others felt the council should take more time and delay action on the agreement.  Councilors agreed. Ward 6 Democrat Karen Paul offered a motion to postpone.  “Despite the amount of time that we have been talking about CityPlace this is a complex and multifaceted project. We’re being asked to vote on a settlement that is important and I think it’s important that everyone have as much time as we can to really absorb, ask questions.”

Mayor Miro Weinberger, a Democrat seeking his fourth term on Town Meeting Day March 2nd, cautioned the council not to delay for long.  “This is a matter of active litigation. We have essentially the court on hold. We have invested tens of thousands of dollars to get to this point. We need to make a decision as to whether we are going to continue with that litigation or we are going to take this other alternative. The administration has gone out and secured a settlement that meets everything the council has indicated it wants in a settlement agreement.”

The council tabled action on the settlement agreement pending a special session to be called by the mayor.

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