Judge Allows Construction, Tree Removal to Proceed at Burlington's City Hall Park | Off Message

Judge Allows Construction, Tree Removal to Proceed at Burlington's City Hall Park


Donna Walters, right, reading the judge's ruling on Thursday - COURTNEY LAMDIN
  • Courtney Lamdin
  • Donna Walters, right, reading the judge's ruling on Thursday
Updated at 3:44 p.m.

Opponents of a redesign to Burlington's City Hall Park were dealt a blow the day after the city closed the park for construction.

A Vermont Superior Court judge ruled Thursday morning that the project — including tree removal — can proceed despite a lingering legal question over whether the city’s zoning permit for the project is expired.

Members of Keep the Park Green, a coalition opposed to the redesign’s tree plan, argued that the permit itself says it becomes invalid unless “work or action authorized by the permit” started by March 22, 2019. Fencing only went up on Wednesday.
The group asked for a hearing on the matter before tree removal and other demolition could proceed, but Judge Helen Toor ruled against them in a one-page order Thursday morning.

“The court has already ruled that the replacement of older trees with younger ones, and the plaintiffs’ sadness at seeing the changes in the park, do not meet the definition of irreparable harm,” Toor wrote.

City plans call for removing several of the 51 current trees and replacing them with newer, healthier ones. The work will lead to a net loss of three trees.

The ruling was shocking to Keep the Park Green chief organizer Donna Walters, who stood outside the courthouse with a cadre of sign-toting protesters.

“No irreparable harm with cutting down trees that are 45 years old? They’re irreplaceable,” she said. “A five-inch sapling or three-inch sapling does not replace a tree that’s 36 inches in diameter.”

In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Mayor Miro Weinberger noted that the city modified the project design to appease Keep the Park Green, apparently to no avail.

“They’ve made attempt after attempt to obstruct it going forward, and today is another example of them failing to do that," he said.

Weinberger dismissed claims that the city is operating without a permit. The judge will officially rule on that question after the city files an answer by the court-imposed July 16 deadline. Assistant city attorney Richard Haesler said the city is crafting its response.

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