Changes to Mall Redevelopment Plan Create Fresh Controversy | Off Message

Changes to Mall Redevelopment Plan Create Fresh Controversy


  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Don Sinex
The City of Burlington has approved changes to the Burlington Town Center redevelopment project that will add 16 additional apartment units and eliminate 40,000 square feet of planned retail space. The changes for developer Don Sinex's project were approved administratively, with no public input.

Sinex described the alterations to CityPlace Burlington plans as an inevitable part of the development process. "We didn’t change any aspect of the design. We didn’t change the square footage," he said.

"We would expect a project of this size to make changes," said Mary O'Neil, a city planner.

The 16 new units will be constructed on the second, third and fourth stories of the planned building, under the original footprint. The 14-story development will now include 288 units, up from 272 in the original design.

Project opponents aren't taking the changes lightly.

Attorney John Franco had sued to stop the redevelopment on behalf of the grassroots Coalition for a Livable City. He argued that the changes violate a settlement agreement that Sinex signed last July.

Franco said that the project originally called for 761 parking spots, but that the settlement added 200, for a total of 961. But the current plan calls for 22 fewer parking spaces, and Franco alleged that Sinex had surreptitiously decreased the amount.

"It's an increase in units, and a decrease in available parking," Franco said. "That's a problem."

Both Sinex and O'Neil contended that the changes have not eliminated parking. Both said the plan adheres to the legal settlement. Sinex said the original plan called for a parking capacity for 761 vehicles — not spaces, and that tight valet parking can accommodate more vehicles.

Franco, who first heard of the changes from Seven Days, said he would ask Sinex not to pursue them. Franco said he could take the developer back to court. "A settlement agreement with these guys isn't worth the powder to blow it to hell," said Franco.

Demolition of the existing mall is underway.

Sinex attributed the new plans to the "prohibitive" cost of excavating for underground parking; now, he will dig a half — rather than one full — story below ground. It will save nearly $5 million in construction costs, though it will also force him to eliminate 40,000 square feet in underground retail space.

"In the field, you find conditions that are not economically or practically conducive to the original thought," Sinex said. "You have to be flexible."

Sinex said he increased the number of housing units after the state lifted a cap of 275 that once triggered additional environmental review.

The project has had a setback. Construction fell behind schedule after a contractor in late January found asbestos in the glue used for a rubber roofing membrane, according to Sinex. He said he worked with the state Department of Health to develop an abatement plan to dispose of the material, contained in an adhesive layer about a millimeter thick.

It should be removed in April, but the discovery has put the project nearly two months behind schedule. Foundation work is now expected to begin in early June, Sinex said, with construction scheduled for next September.

A few more tweaks to the plan are possible.

Sinex recently applied for permits for leisure space for tenants, including a pool, dining room, workout room, sauna and spa on the seventh and 12th stories. That proposal is subject to the approval of the Development Review Board.