Spectacular views of Lake Champlain, a short stroll to Church Street and little in the way of traffic or noise combine to make Lakeview Terrace one of Burlington's most desirable residential streets. But it can also be one rough neighborhood — for developers.
The Committee on Temporary Shelter could soon find that out. COTS has scheduled a briefing for local residents on Thursday evening about its plans to open a daytime services facility for homeless Vermonters and to build up to 16 low-income housing units at a site steps from the southern end of Lakeview Terrace.
Neighbors will be holding their own meeting Wednesday evening to discuss the project and to prepare questions for COTS director Rita Markley. If past experience is a reliable guide, she can expect to encounter a certain skepticism — and possibly protracted opposition.
Some Lakeview Terrace homeowners fought long and hard to block a an upscale 25-unit condominium that Mayor Miro Weinberger's development company sought to construct at the northern end of their enclave. The Packard Lofts project was completed this summer — eight years after it was proposed.
The liberal views of many residents of Lakeview Terrace could, however, result in a less hostile reception to COTS' plan than what was accorded to the Packard Lofts development. There may be reluctance to engage in a battle with an organization with a record of assisting vulnerable individuals and families.
"I want to separate fears from reality," Markley said on Monday. "I don't want what happened with Packard Lofts to happen with us."
She noted that COTS has been able to build new facilities and to carry out major renovations of existing service centers without controversy. That's in part because the organization operates discreetly, Markley said, noting that COTS doesn't emblazon its name on its buildings. "We have a large and gorgeous new building on West Canal Street in Winooski, and you'd never know it was us," she said.
COTS is able to be a good neighbor, she added, because its clients seldom cause public disruptions. The group successfully ran its daystation program at South Winooski Avenue and King Street — a short distance from Edmunds elementary and middle schools — until the facility was destroyed in flooding in July 2012, Markley noted. The city has said that the below-grade site is no longer considered safe for occupants.
COTS' administrative offices have been situated at 95 North Avenue — about 50 yards from Lakeview Terrace — since it purchased that three-story clapboard building from Burlington College three years ago. Maggie Sherman, owner of a bed and breakfast on Lakeview Terrace, says Markley indicated at that time that COTS would not be providing services at this location.
That recollection is incorrect, Markley responded. COTS said three years ago that it might offer educational and family services at 95 North Avenue, "though we also said we weren't going to operate a shelter there," Markley said on Monday.
COTS has been basing its daystation in a local church since the flooding 18 months ago, but it now needs to find a permanent home, Markley said. A search for rental or for-sale properties that would be suitable for a daystation produced only options that COTS could not afford, the director added. Space is available at the facility it already owns at the intersection of North Avenue and North Street, she noted.
Housing for low-income Burlingtonians is desperately needed now, Markley added, due to sharp cuts in the federal Section 8 program brought by the federal budget cuts known as sequestration. As Seven Days reported in August, Vermont housing officials are being forced to remove about 775 households from the program that subsidizes rents for thousands of poor Vermonters.
Burlington architect Mannie Lionni, at whose Lakeview Terrace home the Wednesday evening meeting will take place, says he has "mixed feelings" about the COTS project. He wants to hear more about it before forming an opinion, Lionni added. The gathering of neighbors is not intended to plan opposition to the COTS proposal, he said.
B&B owner Sherman offered the same perspective. "From what I know of it now, it doesn't seem like it would be intrusive," she said on Monday. "But I don't want to judge until I hear what's coming right from the horse's mouth."