Don Sinex speaks at a press conference in December 2016.
A judge from the environmental division of the Vermont Superior Court has cleared another obstacle in the effort to redevelop the Burlington Town Center. On Monday, Judge Thomas Walsh denied a request to delay construction by a group that opposes the project.
With the ruling, developer Don Sinex plans to move ahead with the project and begin construction in midsummer, according to spokesperson Liz Miller.
"I am pleased with this decision denying a stay; it is a good step forward for the Burlington Town Center redevelopment," Sinex said in a statement. "Rather than fight, we wish [the opponents] would join with us and the many Burlington residents who already support this project."
Monday's ruling is the latest blow to the Coalition for a Livable City, a group of Burlington residents represented by attorney John Franco who have fought the project for more than a year. A separate court ruling Friday, which Franco called a "kick in the teeth," dismissed three of four parts of a challenge to $21.8 million in tax increment financing that city residents approved in November.
The fourth, remaining part of the challenge relates to a public records issue regarding a feasibility study that critics say had pertinent sections redacted.
But Franco deemed the most recent ruling a success — because of one sentence within the judge's ruling. "We are unable to say that the claims are, as a whole, either tenuous or frivolous," Walsh wrote.
It was, Franco said, "the first validation we've received from anybody about the concerns."
The group appealed the Burlington Development Review Board's March decision to grant zoning permits for the construction to proceed and asked for a stay until the appeal was heard. Sinex last week argued for an expedited hearing on the stay, writing in court filings that he was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars because of construction delays.
While the ruling Monday clears the way for construction to begin, Walsh warned that the project could be halted or even dismantled if the court upholds the still-pending appeal. "Should BTC decide to move forward with construction while this appeal is pending, it does so at its own risk," Walsh wrote.
Courtesy of PKSB Architects
Rendering of Burlington Town Center as seen from Cherry and St. Paul streets
The project would include 14-story tall buildings that would house offices, retail space and apartments.
Opponents, who argue that the mall is too big for Burlington, have challenged the redevelopment on several fronts. They're making a push to have the project go through Act 250 permitting. At the same time, the group is holding out hope that a judge will grant their appeal of the DRB decision. And Franco said his clients will wait until the final piece of the TIF ruling is decided before appealing that decision to the Vermont Supreme Court.
"There are a lot of moving parts," Franco acknowledged. But the main concern, he said, remains the same. "They're trying to plunk [down] a piece of Manhattan and we don't have the infrastructure to support it," he said.
"We are two important steps closer to reconnecting our lost streets and creating new jobs, homes, city revenues, and better environmental protections in the heart of our downtown," wrote Weinberger, a mall redevelopment proponent who campaigned heavily last year for both ballot items.