Winooski Hotel Developer Sues City Over Stymied Plans | Off Message

Winooski Hotel Developer Sues City Over Stymied Plans


The original proposed site of the Winooski Hotel Group hotel - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Matthew Thorsen ©️ Seven Days
  • The original proposed site of the Winooski Hotel Group hotel
Hotel developer Adam Dubroff is suing the City of Winooski, saying its failure to cooperate with his plans has irreparably harmed and damaged his company, the Winooski Hotel Group.

The hotel group is seeking financial damages and other unspecified compensation. It blames — and is also suing — the Winooski Downtown Redevelopment Association for opposing the group's plans to build a seven-story hotel across from the downtown roundabout, a plan the company has been working on with the city since 2014.

“Now, seven years later … the plaintiff’s good faith efforts to deliver the hotel originally envisioned remain stymied,” the suit says.

The hotel was slated for a spot across from the Winooski traffic circle on Winooski Falls Way, between the historic Champlain Mill and the Main Street bridge that spans the Winooski River.

But neighboring businesses, including the owners of the Champlain Mill, formed the Winooski Downtown Redevelopment Association and sued to stop it in 2017, citing an array of environmental concerns. Further, the association said, the hotel’s plan did not contain adequate parking. Instead, it proposed using satellite lots and valets that would park guests' cars in a city-owned lot. The suit was later withdrawn.

“The space where they want to put a hotel just doesn’t make any sense to us at all,” said Winooski City Councilor Hal Colston, who also serves as a Democratic state rep. Depending  on the municipal parking garage for hotel parking wouldn’t work, he added.

“If you want to have a boutique hotel, why would you want to walk down the street in the middle of winter to check into your hotel?" Colston asked.
At first, discussions between the city and the hotel company went smoothly.  The Winooski City Council approved the original project and requested a lot adjustment aimed at making more space for parking. Initially, the city applied jointly with the hotel for an Act 250 land use permit.

“The city manager extolled Winooski hotel’s principal, Adam Dubroff, as an 'insightful, understanding and overall good Partner,'" the suit said.

But things went downhill after the downtown redevelopment association sued to stop the hotel, the lawsuit says. When the hotel group commissioned a design for a different lot, the suit said, the city added a requirement that the company  build an adjoining parking garage that could be used by the others.

“The new condition, which would sandwich a hotel next to a 300-space parking garage, was not a reasonable option, especially as compared to the attractive [prior] hotel development approved by the city twice previously,” the suit said.

Winooski officials then appropriated the hotel company’s designs for the original lot to court different developers for a hotel and 300-space parking garage, the lawsuit says.

“This was done without Winooski Hotel’s permission,” the suit said.
The city was then unresponsive in the spring of 2020 when the Winooski Hotel Group tried to restart its discontinued Act 250 application, the suit says. A year later, the city refused to sign onto the application.

Building a hotel in downtown Winooski has been a goal of city leaders for a decade. Starting in the early 2000s, the city underwent a major downtown redevelopment project that included the construction of Winooski’s only municipal garage, an approximately 930-space structure on Winooski Falls Way that, pre-pandemic, was often full.

The lawsuit claims that the city’s redevelopment plan included a spot for a hotel in the location originally identified by the Winooski Hotel Group.

Asked about the lawsuit, which was filed February 2, Mayor Kristine Lott released a prepared statement saying that the city has worked in good faith with the company since 2017 to support the project. She declined to provide any other details.

“Last year the [Winooski Hotel Group] put forward a request to the City to co-sign the Act 250 application for the project,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, the WHG has been unable to address basic City concerns such as locating the required number of parking spaces for the development. Until the WHG is able to satisfy these fundamental project requirements, the City is unable to co-sign the application.”

The hotel’s attorney, Russell Barr of Stowe, did not return a call from Seven Days.
Twenty years after it started its downtown redevelopment project, the small city is closer to getting some new hotel rooms. The Burlington-based developer and property manager Nedde Real Estate is building a hotel and parking garage at a different site in Winooski, adjacent to the Community College of Vermont.

Brian Tarrant, who manages the Champlain Mill, said he thinks one hotel should be enough for the city, at least until the uncertainty wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic has lifted.

"Business travel is dramatically off, and it's hard to say what the future looks like," he said, adding that he doesn't speak for the redevelopment association, but as a representative of the Champlain Mill. "To build two big hotels in downtown Winooski would probably be pretty risky."

Correction, February 22, 2022: A previous version of this story misidentified the developer currently building a hotel in Winooski.