Redstone ramped up its opposition to the CityPlace Burlington project this week with two new lawsuits that challenge the project's legal standing.
The Burlington development firm filed cases in Vermont Superior Court’s civil division and in U.S. District Court. The filings name not only Redstone's rival developers as defendants but also city planning staff and members of the volunteer Development Review Board.
The federal suit claims that the city violated Redstone’s property rights because the project permit allows a new road to be built underneath its building at 100 Bank Street, which is adjacent to the CityPlace site.
The filing also claims that the Development Review Board could not objectively assess CityPlace’s development plan because the city would financially benefit from its approval.
“The City of Burlington cannot be a judge in its own case,” Matthew Byrne, the attorney representing Redstone partners Erik Hoekstra and Larry Williams, wrote in the filing.
The suit alleges that Redstone has “tried for more than four years” to resolve the dispute to no avail, and that CityPlace developers are using city zoning to deprive Redstone “of the fundamental protections of property rights that the United States Constitution grants all citizens.”
The civil suit names the same defendants and raises similar claims. Both suits seek court orders that would bar CityPlace developers from Redstone property and stop the road from being built.
The new suits build on two already filed by Redstone. Last summer, Redstone sued CityPlace developers in civil court, claiming that its 100 Bank Street building was damaged when the former mall was torn down in 2018. Redstone also appealed the CityPlace building permit to the Vermont Superior Court's Environmental Division, which has scheduled a trial for this fall.
The legal challenges could spell trouble for the beleaguered project, which has left a gaping hole in the city’s downtown.
“I am increasingly concerned that Redstone’s hardening and increasingly grandiose claims could further delay a project intended to create hundreds of much-needed homes and jobs for the people of Burlington, and millions of dollars of new state and local revenues,” Mayor Miro Weinberger said in a statement. “With a historic economic recovery upon us, now is the time for the involved parties who care about this community to come together, resolve their disputes, and move the downtown forward.”
The road in question is an extension of Pine Street, which would pass under a portion of the 100 Bank Street building that is raised above street level. Sections of both Pine and St. Paul streets were severed decades ago when the former mall was built.
Reconnecting those roads has been a cornerstone of Weinberger’s mission to get the CityPlace project moving. Last fall, the city sued CityPlace developers over what's become a years-long delay. The ensuing settlement, which resulted in a new development agreement, requires those roads to be rebuilt at no cost to taxpayers.
Redstone’s federal lawsuit, however, says that the settlement agreement violates its property rights.
“Reconnecting Pine Street necessarily required BTC to take 100 Bank's property to build the road that it was contractually obligated to construct,” the suit says, referring to BTC Mall Associates, the CityPlace team’s business name.
Further, Redstone argues that by recommending the review board approve the CityPlace permit, principal city planner Mary O’Neil “was hopelessly conflicted because of the financial gains that the city stood to receive” as a result of the settlement.
The city attorney was similarly conflicted, the lawsuit says, and “could not offer serious advice against the approval of the revised project without placing the City in significant financial peril.”
"Any opposition to the City Place by the City of Burlington would have doomed the City Place project," the suit continues.
File: James Buck
Both lawsuits claim that the city didn't notify Redstone of various project updates despite Byrne's requests for them. The suits say the city's actions violated Redstone's due process rights.
Both Byrne and Hoekstra declined interview requests, though Hoekstra said that filing a lawsuit “is a last resort."
“It’s unfortunate to have to be in this position,” he added.
Weinberger said Redstone’s lawsuits are “both a complete surprise and baffling” since the city has discussed the Pine Street plans for years.
“The City’s actions have all been very public, grounded in good planning and the law, and backed by votes of both the City Council and the public,” the mayor’s statement says. “Never in the years that the City has been pursuing the concept of building a street through the former garage entrance at 100 Bank Street has Redstone voiced the concern and opposition they now assert.”
In a statement, CityPlace partner Dave Farrington called the lawsuits "a last ditch effort" to bolster Redstone's claims in Environmental Court. Farrington said he thinks the CityPlace team will prevail and that the city will take the land needed to build the road via eminent domain.
"It is clear Redstone knows they are skating on thin ice," he wrote.
CityPlace managing partner Don Sinex issued a statement on Friday morning that called Redstone's suits a "selfish, frivolous and contorted attempt ... to extract a cash settlement from BTC," and implied that he would countersue.
"BTC will seek every relief available to it under law and equity and pursue damages against Redstone, Hoekstra and all the other owners of 100 Bank Street for the damage each of these parties are causing BTC," Sinex wrote.
CityPlace is also fighting off a lawsuit from a citizen opposition group, whom the developers have since countersued. Both of those cases are pending in civil court.