Gasoline mogul Skip Vallee wants to demolish the extended-stay Maple Leaf Motel on Route 7 in South Burlington to make way for a large service station and convenience store — leading residents to fret about where they'll live.
Some say they'll have nowhere to go, given the shortage of affordable housing in Chittenden County.
"They are going to make us homeless," predicted Jamie Thompson.
Thompson works as an aide for a special-needs child and has lived in a one-bedroom efficiency at the motel for three years, she said. She pays $500 a month, and so does her roommate, who Thompson said works at a gas station and a Dunkin' Donuts.
It will be very difficult to find an equivalent $1,000-a-month rental anywhere nearby, Thompson said.
"I don't know what's going to happen," she said. "I really don't. It's a scary thing."
The proposal, submitted this month for preliminary review, has not been approved by the South Burlington Development Review Board.
Vallee proposes to demolish the two-building motel as well as a small retail building at an adjacent Gulf gas station. Its eight pumps would stay and four more would be added, as well as a new 4,500-square-foot building that would offer snacks, beverages and the usual Maplefields fare. The properties are just south of the bridge over Interstate 189 near the vacant Kmart plaza parking lot.
Vallee said he's planning to lease the property from owner Ernest Hoechner. It's up to Hoechner to sort out arrangements with residents, said Vallee.
“The relationship is between him and his tenants and that’s not something we've tried to interfere with other than accommodating him to give folks there a lot of lead time," Vallee said.
Vallee said that he was unsure how difficult it would be for people to move. "I'm not a low-cost housing expert in Chittenden County," he said.
Skip Vallee in his home
Hoechner did not return messages seeking comment.
On Monday, rain drizzled outside the tired, dingy motel as cars whizzed by on Shelburne Road. The exterior is dilapidated, but Thompson's door was decorated with a floral wreath and opened onto a small but immaculately clean and carefully decorated unit, complete with a chandelier hanging from the ceiling.
Thompson said she was on a waiting list for a Section 8 rental voucher but so far hadn't qualified for the federal subsidy. She found out about the possible demolition after a zoning application was posted at the Gulf station.
Approximately six units at the motel are rented now, while the owner has left several others vacant, Thompson said. The owner has not told Thompson she has to move, but she's assuming it's inevitable. "The housing situation is horrible enough as it is. We're going to be put out on the streets," she said.
South Burlington zoning staff raised concerns about the project, including whether it conforms to the goals of the city plan. Vallee said he's responding to the concerns and expects the permitting process to continue through the summer. If the project is approved, construction likely wouldn't start before next year.
Last week, the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition releaseda report stating that Vermont has the fifth largest "affordability gap" for rental housing in the nation when average earnings are compared to average rents.
At Vermont’s current minimum wage of $10.50 an hour, a wage earner must work 68 hours per week to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment and still have money left over for food, car repairs and basic necessities, the report found.
The building at this Gulf station would also be demolished for the expanded gas station proposal.