Mayor Miro Weinberger and Councilor Joan Shannon conferring over Parkway plans
Burlington city councilors on Monday left the confines of City Hall for a field trip to the South End.
The group boarded two buses to scope out the route of the Champlain Parkway, the long-planned, 2.3-mile strip of highway that would connect Interstate 189 to downtown Burlington. The journey was part of a necessity hearing, where property owners whose land would be purchased to make way for the project could voice their objections.
The council's "yes" vote later Monday evening took the city one step closer to completing the four-decade-old project. Construction is scheduled to start in spring 2019.
But it wasn't all business for the councilors, Mayor Miro Weinberger, city and state workers, and a couple dozen members of the public who came along for the ride. From one of the two University of Vermont buses, councilors waved cheerily to a family at a barbecue outside a home on Batchelder Street and convened a brief council meeting on the pavement in front of the Department of Public Works.
To build the $43 million roadway, project funders, including the feds, the state and the city, had to purchase 50 properties in the way of, or aligning, the proposed roadway. The state is still negotiating on 12 properties — about half of which the state would own permanently. The remainder require only temporary construction easements.
Councilor Kurt Wright speaks during the tour.
On one bus, Kirsten Merriman-Shapiro, from the city's Community and Economic Development Office, acted as combination tour guide and conductor, gesturing to properties along the route. "On your right," she noted as she delved into the nuances of fencing and the slope alongside the construction zone.
Laminated signs on stakes marked each property. At the Howard Center, 1138 Pine Street, project managers would purchase about 1,900 square feet — 789 square feet of which would be permanent — for the road, a fence and surrounding construction area. At 21 Morse Place, owned by Rieley Properties, Vermont Agency of Transportation workers were negotiating a price on temporary use of nine square feet.
The plots range from a few hundred dollars for the smallest, to $20,000 or $30,000 for some of the largest — about 12,500 square feet along Pine Street — according to VTrans' Bruce Melvin.
The city councilors returned to City Hall for the necessity hearing, but didn't hear much opposition. Only one property owner whose land would be affected objected. Frank Kochman, a lawyer for Howard Center, argued for increased safety along a bike path that will be built in front of the facility.
On the bus in the South End
That doesn't mean it's smooth sailing. A citizen group, the Pine Street Coalition, has threatened a lawsuit against the project, arguing that the environmental impact studies of the project are outdated. In a press release on Saturday, the group asked the city to cancel the necessity hearing, saying that some property owners weren't notified.
On Monday, Judith Dillon, an attorney representing the owners of the Innovation Center of Vermont, argued that abutting landowners were inaccurately notified of the hearing and the site visit. The Innovation Center, on Lakeside Avenue, abuts the proposed Parkway, but because the building is not in the path of construction, its owners did not have a formal say at the hearing. Dillon warned that any resulting decision Monday night "would be null and void." But after an executive session, the council decided to proceed with the hearing as planned.