A rendering of CityPlace Burlington on Cherry Street
CityPlace Burlington developers applied for a new zoning permit last week, the latest attempt to get the long-stalled project back on track, project liaison Jeff Glassberg told city councilors Monday night.
Drawings submitted to the Wards 2 & 3 Neighborhood Planning Assembly show more than 420 units of housing, including at least 84 affordable units. Previous plans had 357 apartments. The project would also include 45,000 square feet of ground-level retail shops, a rooftop restaurant and observation deck, 422 parking spots and a community meeting space. Renderings show a 10-story tall south tower and a north tower of nine floors.
The developers also say they intend to make good on their promise to reconnect Pine and St. Paul streets. The city had planned to use $21.8 million in tax increment financing dollars to pay for those and other street improvements, but project delays had put that funding in jeopardy. Glassberg told councilors, however, that the state legislature extended the borrowing deadline for another year.
The city must now incur debt on the project by June 2022. Glassberg reported that the developers hope to start construction by September 2021 and finish by fall 2026. He said the updates are "signs of progress" after months of construction delays that resulted in the city filing a lawsuit last month. Brookfield has exited the partnership but is still a defendant in the litigation.
"Both parties have mutually stated their desire to enter into a mediation session in an attempt to achieve a resolution of this dispute," said Marc Heath, an attorney with Downs Rachlin Martin who is litigating the case for the city.
The developers, meanwhile, have filed a third-party claim against PC Construction, alleging the general contractor has "breached their contract by providing an unreasonably high guaranteed maximum price contract," Heath told councilors.
The court filing was not immediately available Monday night.
Mayor Miro Weinberger said the new partners have still not provided the city with financial documents that show they can carry the project forward. Councilors and attorneys met about the project in executive session Monday but took no action after emerging half an hour later.
Also on Monday, councilors unanimously appointed Stephanie Seguino, an economics professor at the University of Vermont known for her research into police bias, to the Burlington Police Commission.
Seguino's name is well-known in policing circles. Her 2017 study "Driving While Black and Brown in Vermont" found that police are more likely to stop, search and arrest Black and Hispanic drivers compared to whites and Asians. Some law enforcement officials have disputed her findings.
Seguino cited her research and experience crunching numbers as qualifications for serving on the commission. She also sits on the state's Fair and Impartial Policing Committee.
The professor fills a spot on the seven-person commission vacated by racial justice activist Mark Hughes. He resigned in early September, saying he was frustrated by the way the city attorney and police union hamper the citizen-led commission's oversight role.
In her application, Seguino made clear she was interested in further examining the board's role.
"I would welcome the opportunity to research other community oversight groups in terms of their structure and mandate, and to contribute to discussions on what changes are needed to the mandate of the Police Commission," she wrote.
Later in the meeting, councilors shot down a resolution that would have allowed Burlingtonians to use smokeless fire pits this winter. Councilor Joan Shannon (D-South District), the resolution's sponsor, cast the lone yes vote to 11 noes.
On behalf of the board, interim chair Caroline Tassey wrote that wood smoke can aggravate conditions such as asthma, a respiratory issue that disproportionately affects Black, Indigenous and other people of color in Vermont.
"We should be working on reducing any type of winter airborne pollution during this pandemic," Tassey wrote. Backyard fires may also "encourage larger gatherings than are currently permitted," the memo says, referring to a city ordinance that limits outdoor events to 25 people during the pandemic.
Shannon altered her proposal on Monday night, suggesting "smokeless" fire pits instead. But other councilors quickly pointed out that the devices Shannon had in mind still burn wood and emit smoke, just less than a typical bonfire.
Councilor Zoraya Hightower (P-Ward 1) said nearly all the constituents who contacted her about the issue were opposed. Further, Hightower said, she doubted that many people would want to shell out between $200 and $500 for a device they could use for just one season.
Councilor Sarah Carpenter (D-Ward 4), who had cosponsored the proposal, conceded that "this is not the right time for this particular resolution." Shannon countered that this winter of the COVID-19 pandemic is the only time to try such a program.
Shannon, who has asthma, said the "smokeless" device she's seen only irritates her breathing if she's standing directly over it. She compared them to charcoal grills and barbecue smokers, both of which are allowed within city limits.
Councilor Karen Paul (D-Ward 6), who also cosponsored the resolution, said true "smokeless" fire pits are powered by electricity or propane and are allowed by city ordinance. She urged Burlingtonians to use those this winter.
"I think it's greatly to our credit that we are looking for ways to help people be outside and be able to socialize," she said.