While a debate over a complaint filed against the Burlington City Council’s use of executive session dominated Monday evening’s meeting, a number of other items were on the agenda. As WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley reports, the meeting included an update on the stalled downtown redevelopment project.
CityPlace is a plan that Burlington leaders hoped would bring new retail, office and apartment space to the center of the downtown. Developers razed the former Burlington Town Center two years ago and then nothing happened. A dirt-strewn gap remains in the middle of Burlington’s downtown business and shopping area. Last week city officials announced a lawsuit against the developers claiming breach of contract. During this week’s City Council meeting city attorneys provided an update on the lawsuit. Attorney Mark Heath says BTC Mall Associates cannot unilaterally terminate the agreement with the city. “Our position is the development agreement very clear that the developer has an obligation to provide the public improvements and those are the connection of the streets, you know St. Paul and Pine Streets, reconnect those and to make further improvements along Cherry and Bank Streets. That's in the development agreement. That is irrespective of whether or not the private improvements are constructed. We also want it clear that the city’s obligation to reimburse the developer for these public improvements is subject to very specific conditions which it appears the developer’s not going to be able to meet. So that’s what’s been filed. Since then there have been some preliminary discussions with counsel for BTC Mall Associates about perhaps having a mediation session.”
The city council also held a public hearing on an ordinance that would amend the city’s downtown parking requirements. The hearing occurred late in the evening and only Ward 3 resident P.O. Murphy participated. “I’m here to speak in my role with CarShare Vermont to offer our support for the elimination of the minimum parking requirements and the introduction of new requirements to support more sustainable transportation options among tenants and employees at new developments in the city. I believe that taken together these really provide a solid foundation for the development of a longer term city-wide mobility plan that can work toward greater transportation equity, housing affordability and more justice generally.”
The council heard a presentation updating the years-long effort in the city to reduce opioid-related overdoses and deaths. Mayor Miro Weinberger described the formation of CommunityStat and the hiring of an opioid policy manager in 2016 as the first attack in the opioid challenge. “We were feeling quite hopeful about all this collective work through the end of 2019. Chittenden County saw a reduction of about 50 percent in fatal overdoses related to opioids from 2017 to 2018 and basically maintained that improvement in 2019. 2020 in the opioid crisis like in so many things has been a troubling and unsettling year where we have seen after years of improvement the numbers going the wrong way.”
The report was followed by Ward 6 Democrat Karen Paul introducing a resolution that starts the city on a path to create an Overdose Prevention site. “The resolution asks for the city attorney to do a legal analysis identifying specific legal strategies for overcoming any barriers to creating such a site. This resolution is incredibly important because it firmly expresses this council’s support and endorsement of overdose prevention sites and our commitment to operating such a site when legally allowed. The resolution asks for the city’s Opioid Manager to work in consultation with Safe Recovery and the Howard Center to create that vision of what a site would look like so that we can begin to prepare for those needs.”
The resolution passed unanimously.
Burlington councilors had planned to debate a resolution that would place Ranked Choice Voting on the city’s Town Meeting Day ballot. Deliberation on the resolution was postponed until the next council meeting on September 21st.