In 2011 the city of Burlington formed a task force to begin making long-term improvement plans for the park adjacent to City Hall. Fencing went up this week to begin renovations. But opponents sought an injunction to stop any work by claiming the permits had expired.
In March the Burlington City Council approved a contract up to $5.2 million to rebuild City Hall Park. The project includes cutting and replanting dozens of trees, creating a rain garden, putting in new seating and a new fountain, and refurbishing sidewalks.
Opponents on Thursday filed a new motion for an injunction to stop the project from moving forward after the city placed fences around the park in preparation to start work. Keep The Park Green attorney James Marc Leas says they are trying to enforce permit conditions. “The permit says right on its face that it becomes invalid if work does not commence by March 22, 2019. They just put up fencing to start work three months after the deadline. They haven’t done any work in the park during the entire first year of the existence of that permit. So it expired. There’s no legal basis for the city to start doing work.”
Mayor Miro Weinberger issued a statement countering that the permits are valid. The Democrat was unavailable for comment but wrote that the the city has been “…actively engaged in work to advance the project. Further, contaminated soils in the park required a Corrective Action Plan, which was approved on May 27, resetting the permit clock.”
Judge Helen Toor denied the request by Keep The Park Green for an injunction. In her ruling she notes that “The court has already ruled that the replacement of older trees with younger ones, and the plaintiffs' sadness at seeing the changes in the park, do not meet the legal definition of irreparable harm."
Burlington resident and member of Keep the Park Green Jack Daggitt lives across the street from the park. He says his opposition to the renovations is based on environmental concerns. “They want to take down I think at least 30 percent of the trees in this little park here, and the park’s not that big it’s about maybe a half an acre, and double the amount of pavement in the park. I know a small park in terms of the overall environmental degradation is not going to be that significant but if nothing else it’s symbolic.”
Daggitt also sees the renovation as an effort to gentrify the downtown. “There’s a class issue here. The park is used for people to gather and a lot of those people are homeless. Some of them are indigent and teenagers. And I think the changes that they’re making are trying to make the park so inhospitable that people won’t use it that much anymore.”
Burlington City Council President Republican Kurt Wright says the park is overdue for renovation and meetings have been held for years over how to accomplish the changes. “There are a lot of trees that are in bad shape. Most people agree that the park needs a serious renovation. There were meetings over really a period of years, many many meetings you know with the public was involved and the plan came together. And we actually created a different committee last year to look into saving a few more of the trees that were in question. And we did save a few more. And the council ended up voting to move forward and you know it’s time to move forward on it.”
On Friday, attorney Leas filed a request for reconsideration of the decision.