Burlington, Vermont City Councilors received an update this week on a stalled downtown development project and also considered a resolution to move the community away from natural gas.
City Place is a development project that initially envisioned a 14-story multi-use project in the center of the city’s downtown. But it has faced litigation, delays and redesigns. So far demolition of the site has occurred. But for over a year construction has been idle.
Attorney Jeff Glassberg, who represents the city for the project, provided a quick review noting that the project goal for the city was to create mixed use retail and office space, restore two street rights-of-way, enhance tax revenues and add housing units including more affordable housing. Glassberg reported that an amended development agreement was delivered to the developer on February 18th but there has been no significant progress since. “The permit applications for the main redevelopment site as well as 67 Cherry Street, the former Macy’s property, were not submitted prior to the stay home order. Had they been submitted there still would have been delayed. Certainly COVID has had come significant impact on project progress and the response due on the proposed revision to the development agreement is unresolved. It has not been forthcoming.”
Ward 3 Progressive Brian Pine was curious about the eventual fate of the project. “If you were in our seats and your constituents asked you what’s the likelihood that this project is going to come to fruition at this point? Help us answer that question.”
Jeff Glassberg: “Oh this is still a very highly desirable site in the center of a vibrant downtown. I think the prospects for redevelopment of this site remain very high. Has this been a saga? Absolutely. Are people frustrated? Absolutely. But the basics that make that location valuable don’t change.”
Councilors discussed ongoing negotiations with the developer during an executive session.
Burlington has set a Net Zero Energy goal by 2030. To help reach that mark East District Progressive Jack Hanson sponsored a resolution setting guidelines to convert heating systems from natural gas and fossil fuels to renewable energy. “We’re not making policy right now with this. We are initiating a policy process that puts us on a path to explore options and ultimately draft an ordinance to debate around electrification and decarbonization of buildings in Burlington. The idea and the intention is that we would try to first address new development and then also begin to address existing which is going to be a much more complicated process legally and otherwise. So, yeah, this is just to really say we want to explore this, we want to develop policy to decarbonize buildings. It doesn’t predetermine how.”
During public comments a number of residents spoke in favor of the proposal, including Sarah Sciortino. “This resolution is an essential step towards making Burlington truly green. Strides have been made but renewable energy is essential in order to address the climate crisis. And as a city largely led by Progressives we have the potential to lead the way in efforts towards greening urban areas. Therefore we really do have the responsibility to do so and this includes the essential task of switching to renewable energy in all sectors.”
The resolution passed unanimously.