Blight Sites: Burlington’s Vacant Commercial Buildings Are Eyesores and Potential Safety Hazards. Some Remain in a State of Ruin for Years. | Development | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Blight Sites: Burlington’s Vacant Commercial Buildings Are Eyesores and Potential Safety Hazards. Some Remain in a State of Ruin for Years.

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Published November 1, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated November 8, 2023 at 10:07 a.m.

The former Bove's restaurant on Pearl Street in Burlington - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • The former Bove's restaurant on Pearl Street in Burlington

For four years, a demolished downtown mall and a series of broken promises left a gaping wound in the center of Burlington. The three-acre block walled off with concrete barriers was synonymous with urban blight, an object of frustration and derision that earned the property its own moniker: "the Pit."

In November 2022, bulldozers and cranes finally resumed work on the long-stalled CityPlace Burlington project, bringing relief and renewed optimism about the future of Vermont's largest downtown. Developers say that by 2025 the cavernous hole will be replaced by more than 400 apartments and an array of new businesses.

But as steel beams rise from the Pit, other buildings in the downtown core remain vacant. Though small in number, they occupy highly visible locations on major downtown thoroughfares. The defunct Memorial Auditorium looms over Main Street, the former YMCA displays its boarded-up windows on College, the shuttered Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception sits dormant on Pine, and the crumbling Bove's Café has become a target for vandals along Pearl.

In a city with little undeveloped land, the blighted properties could provide much-needed housing or new cultural and commercial space. Instead, they sit empty, becoming potential hazards and a thorny challenge for the city to regulate. As time passes, places such as the Pit project disorder and decay. They contribute in an outsize way to the perception that Burlington is in decline.

They also stoke concern about possible similar deterioration of downtown buildings that are soon to become vacant, including a 50,000-square-foot state office building and a Walgreens pharmacy, both on Cherry Street.

The city maintains a register of vacant buildings, defined as those unoccupied for at least 210 days. As of October, it included 11 small residential structures and six privately owned commercial properties. Seven Days examined each of the commercial buildings, plus the city-owned Memorial Auditorium, to understand their current condition and prospects for redevelopment.

Businesspeople and city officials are actively working to reuse some of these buildings. For others, though, transformation is years away.

CityPlace Burlington: Developers say that by 2025, the former mall will be replaced by more than 400 apartments and numerous businesses. - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • CityPlace Burlington: Developers say that by 2025, the former mall will be replaced by more than 400 apartments and numerous businesses.

There's no one reason the seven properties have languished. They could be demolished, but city regulations require owners of historic buildings and those in the downtown core to have a redevelopment plan before bringing in the wrecking ball. Redevelopment takes time, motivation and money — and right now, building is expensive. Interest rates are high, construction crews are hard to come by, and materials costs have risen dramatically.

Those factors narrow the types of projects that pencil out, according to Yves Bradley, a real estate broker and partner at V/T Commercial. Many property owners are waiting for market conditions to change before embarking on redevelopment. "It makes sense to sit on it," he said.

But what's best for the owner of a blighted building may not be what's best for the neighborhood. That's why Burlington, like many U.S. cities, regulates vacant properties. Their owners must pay annual fees of up to $3,000 unless they can show they're rehabbing, demolishing or marketing the structures for sale. They must also keep entryways secure, maintain the grounds, and keep the places debris- and graffiti-free.

The city can fine property owners for letting buildings fall into disrepair, though the penalties are typically modest: Since 2018, the city has fined eight delinquent property owners a total of just $4,400.

Burlington could take more aggressive enforcement measures. Under a city ordinance, officials can declare decrepit buildings a public nuisance and ask a judge to intervene. And state law allows cities and towns to use eminent domain to seize properties needed for "urban renewal" projects.

Mayor Miro Weinberger said the buildings on the city's list haven't risen to that level of concern. "It's possible that could change in the future," he added.

Bill Ward, the city's code enforcement director, agreed. His philosophy is to nudge property owners to act instead of forcing them to. But he also said the city isn't afraid to push harder — and it has, by pursuing at least one owner in court for running unpermitted businesses on its vacant lots.

Ward has also considered that higher fees could be effective; he's heard of at least one city that doubles its vacant building fees every year, up to a maximum amount. There could be "widespread support" for that in Burlington, Ward said.

Vermonters for People-Oriented Places, a citizen group that supports denser housing in Burlington, believes taxing vacant lots at higher rates could help solve the problem. Property owners "would be much more likely to redevelop," member Jak Tiano said, "or at the very least sell it to somebody who will."

Weinberger, a former housing developer, maintains that Burlington doesn't have a vacant building problem. Developers are still interested in the Queen City, he said, pointing to apartment buildings going up on South Champlain and Pine streets. More housing could be coming to parts of the South End, where, until recently, zoning banned residential development.

Some of the run-down structures reflect the normal transitions that cities always undergo, Weinberger said, noting that he thinks some of the vacant properties have owners who are motivated to redevelop them.

"A couple of these others," he acknowledged, "I'm less optimistic."

Former Bove's restaurant

The former Bove's restaurant on Pearl Street in Burlington - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • The former Bove's restaurant on Pearl Street in Burlington
  • Address: 68 Pearl Street
  • Owners: Rick and Mark Bove
  • Year Built: 1877
  • Vacant since: 2016
  • Prognosis: No redevelopment plan or intent to sell
  • Challenges: Privately held; management concerns

The former Bove's restaurant is no bigger than a house, but more graffiti covers its art deco façade, vinyl siding and boarded-up doors than adorns most city blocks. So plentiful is the spray paint, and of such modest quality is the artwork, that this onetime shrine to simple, saucy pleasures now resembles a dive bar bathroom stall turned inside out.

Along one wall, a busted AC unit lies in the tall brush, as do the remnants of a mattress frame, which has been shredded and stripped like the carcass of some wild beast.

"Is Bove's zoned to look this blighted?" Burlington resident Haik Bedrosian wrote last month in a report to SeeClickFix, the online portal to report problems and maintenance issues to the city. "This is like looking at the rotting corpse of old Burlington."

Bedrosian's is one of numerous complaints about the property on file since the Bove family closed the Italian restaurant in December 2015 and built a pasta sauce factory in Milton. Residents have called attention to profanity-laced graffiti, discarded needles, squatters and, increasingly, the owners who have allowed the building to look the way it does.

Mark and Rick Bove should "be required, yes required," to fix it up or tear it down, a second resident wrote in September.

Neither appears likely anytime soon. "This Burlington site has no plans," Mark told Seven Days by email.

The Boves did present plans to redevelop the restaurant property as recently as 2020. They wanted to build a 78-room hotel and 20-unit apartment complex, and the city agreed to sell them the adjacent public parking lot if construction began. The brothers dubbed the project Hotel Champlain and George Street Lofts, though the Hilton on nearby Battery Street has since claimed the Hotel Champlain moniker.

Mark cited the pandemic, cost, "turnaround time" and "focus on other work" as reasons the brothers have abandoned the project. (The Boves recently purchased a marina on Malletts Bay and, according to property records, a condominium complex in Colchester.)

Rather than sell the Pearl Street property, located along a major east-west artery through the city, the brothers intend to wait for redevelopment conditions to improve, Mark wrote.

Any new project would likely require cooperation from both the city and the Boves. Yet negotiations could face added scrutiny because of the Boves' poor track record as property managers. A 2021 investigation by Seven Days and Vermont Public found persistent code noncompliance across the brothers' portfolio of apartments around the state. The reporting, Weinberger said, gave his administration pause.

"They would have to come forward with new partners involved or some other assurances," he said.

The Pearl Street corridor traces the northern edge of downtown, across from the bus transit center and abutting Old North End neighborhoods. It's an eclectic commercial strip, with apartment buildings, state offices, a glass supplier, a pizza shop and a Bove-owned laundromat. The defunct restaurant, a mainstay for nearly 80 years, is down the street from the empty, fenced-off Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and the soon-to-be-vacant John J. Zampieri State Office Building.

That area of downtown has sputtered in recent years, Weinberger said. He expects, however, that the CityPlace development and a plan to reconnect cutoff sections of Pine and St. Paul streets will improve the prospects for redevelopment.

The Boves have paid periodic vacant building fees, but they have not been fined for noncompliance with upkeep rules, city data show. Mark said company employees sweep the parking lot daily, looking for used needles and trash. He declined to tour the building with Seven Days, citing "safety reasons for everyone."

The Boves also plan to remove some trees near the parking area in light of "recent events" that Mark declined to specify. "With a well-lit parking lot," he wrote, "this will prevent more mischief from happening."

The property is "near and dear to our Family," Mark wrote. They want to do something "positive" at the site, but the brothers don't want to "rush into anything [because] our decision will affect our entire neighborhood community."

The building is already "bringing down the neighborhood," neighbor Naomi Roof wrote on SeeClickFix this fall. "By allowing this to occur, it's giving the residents of this area the impression we aren't worth investing in."

As of late October, someone had written a seemingly hopeful message across one of the former restaurant's boarded-up windows: "Bove's returning 2025." Nostalgic longing, perhaps. Or a bitter joke.

— D.B.

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

The former Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Pine Street in Burlington - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • The former Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Pine Street in Burlington
  • Address: 20 Pine Street
  • Owner: Cathedral of Immaculate Conception Parish Charitable Trust
  • Year built: 1977
  • Vacant since: 2018
  • Prognosis: Possible sale and redevelopment
  • Challenges: Litigation

The former Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is a rare green space in downtown Burlington. Its 2.2 acres are dotted with more than 100 honey locust trees, planted in a grid to complement the angular building at the center.

Walled in by a fence, the urban oasis at 20 Pine Street is likely to remain undisturbed for some time. The parish that owns the building wants to demolish it, but a group of preservationists has filed suit to try to save it.

Built in 1977, the cathedral and its grounds were designed by a pair of prominent modernist architects: Edward Larrabee Barnes and Dan Kiley.

The parish closed the church in 2018 due to dwindling attendance, then put the property on the market for $8.5 million. There's a potential buyer lined up, though the parish won't disclose the name.

The parish wants to tear down the building as a means of deconsecrating the property. The city determined the building isn't historic because it's less than 50 years old, and it granted the parish a demolition permit in January. But Preservation Burlington sued in both state and federal court. The federal case was dismissed, but the state case is still pending.

At issue is whether the city was obligated to give the parish a demolition permit. The parish argues that because the building isn't historic, the city wouldn't have a reason to deny the permit. The preservationists, however, argue that the former cathedral is significant in other ways, which could protect it from being razed. They want the property to be repurposed without destroying the building or its honey locust landscape.

Weinberger, for one, would like to see the lot redeveloped. The cathedral is on a block that has for years been disconnected from the city street grid by the former Burlington Town Center mall. The CityPlace project that will replace the mall includes rebuilding the missing sections of Pine and St. Paul streets, a move that Weinberger says will create "a real flourishing" northern edge of downtown, including the cathedral lot.

"We really may think of that whole area of town very differently in the time to come," he said. "There's a real opportunity there."

— C.L.

Former car repair shop

A shuttered car repair shop on Riverside Avenue in Burlington - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • A shuttered car repair shop on Riverside Avenue in Burlington
  • Address: 110 Riverside Avenue
  • Owner: Sisters & Brothers Investment Group (Handy family)
  • Year built: Circa 1935
  • Vacant since: In dispute. Owner says it was never vacant; city says it has been for at least a decade.
  • Prognosis: Court-ordered demolition; owners' plans unknown
  • Challenges: Expired permits

It's been some time since anyone mowed the grass at 110 Riverside Avenue, a shuttered car repair shop near the Winooski city line. Plywood covers the windows and doors, and dirt coats the vinyl siding. A tattered tarp hangs from a garage bay.

Owned by five siblings in the Handy family, the decaying structure is slated for court-ordered demolition in December. But given the Handys' past tussles with the city — over this property and others — that outcome is anything but certain.

The family declined to speak with Seven Days for this story.

Their company bought the 1.3-acre property in 2001 for $247,000, but it's assessed at twice as much today, according to city property records. The building occupies a desirable location on Riverside Avenue on the city's east side, which connects Winooski with Burlington's Old North End. City plans describe the Riverside corridor as ripe for high-density housing and commercial buildings.

In the more than two decades they have owned 110 Riverside, the Handys appear to have made only half-hearted attempts to use or redevelop it. They won city approval to build a 57-unit apartment building with senior housing in 2013, then let the permit lapse. The city granted two yearlong extensions, but nothing was ever built.

The Handys tried again in summer 2019, and in an early 2020 hearing, the city asked for more information about how the project would handle stormwater runoff, according to permitting records. Nine months later, the Handys still hadn't provided a plan, and the city denied the application. The Handys sued — then started storing junk cars on the property without a permit, the city said. The city ticketed them, and the Handys sued over that, too.

The Handys' company eventually dropped the apartment permit appeal, but the junkyard case dragged on until last month, when it agreed to pay a $12,500 fine and bulldoze the building within 60 days of receiving a demolition permit. It got the permit on October 15, setting the demo deadline to mid-December. The Handys also have to remove the junk cars and submit a plan to redevelop the lot by March 2025, the court order says.

Ward, the code enforcement director, said the city is pleased with the ruling.

"It's about bringing [the property] back to productive use and not having it be an eyesore with a bunch of trashed cars sitting there endlessly," he said. "That's a great, positive step."

But the Handys haven't always done as they're told. A city ordinance says landlords must pay to relocate tenants who are displaced by a fire, but the Handys still haven't done so for the renters who had to leave their St. Paul Street apartments after an electrical fire in May. The city ponied up instead and, in mid-October, placed a lien on the property for nearly $20,000. The Handys have also failed to address code violations at their problem-plagued apartment house at 184 Church Street.

Burlington resident Carter Neubieser, who is buying his first home on Riverside this month, said the Handy property is a blight on a neighborhood that has a lot of potential, especially for more housing. Vacant buildings such as the Handys' — and the empty lot up the street that was once home to the Koffee Kup Bakery — would be ideal for affordable housing for young families such as his, Neubieser said.

Meantime, the Handy building just sits there. "It has these negative impacts on the rest of us," Neubieser said.

— C.L.

Gateway Block

View of Burlington City Hall clock tower from Memorial Auditorium - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • View of Burlington City Hall clock tower from Memorial Auditorium
  • Address: 145 South Union Street & 220, 230 and 234-6 Main Street
  • Owners: City of Burlington, Midtown Associates (Jeff Nick & Dan Morrissey)
  • Year built: 1927 (Memorial Auditorium); circa 1950 (Midtown Motel)
  • Vacant since: 2016 (Memorial Auditorium); 2021 (Midtown Motel demolished)
  • Prognosis: Uncertain
  • Challenges: Finding a private developer; deciding whether to tear down Memorial

At a meeting this month, Mayor Weinberger will ask for city councilors' blessing to work with a private developer on a potential redevelopment of the dilapidated but historic Memorial Auditorium — one that might mean tearing it down.

Instead of focusing solely on Memorial, this time the mayor is eyeing redevelopment of the entire Gateway Block, a handful of properties along the Main Street entrance to downtown. The block also includes a city parking lot at Main and South Winooski Avenue and two privately owned properties: the former home of Midtown Motel, now demolished, and a Queen Anne-style duplex that houses Inkwell Emporium, a witchcraft store and tattoo parlor.

Samantha Sheehan, Weinberger's spokesperson, said the mayor will ask councilors for "conceptual approval to explore a public-private partnership," a process that could include looking at financing options and conducting appraisals. Any city spending would stay within the city's debt limit, Sheehan said. If the concept looks feasible, Weinberger would ask councilors to approve a more formal agreement with the developer in March, she said.

A big difference this time around: The city isn't committing to keep Memorial standing.

"We are entering this knowing that it may not be possible to fully save the site," Weinberger said.

Built in the 1920s as a tribute to World War I veterans, Memorial became a central part of civic life in Burlington, hosting college basketball games, opera singers and orchestras, Vermont Golden Gloves boxing matches, and midcentury celebrities such as TV cowboy Gene Autry. The basement punk-rock venue 242 Main drew renowned musical acts, including Fugazi and Black Flag.

Memorial Auditorium - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Memorial Auditorium

The city closed Memorial in 2016 after years of deferred maintenance rendered the building structurally unsafe. Steel beams are rusting, and the roof is letting in water. The city has been storing critical computer hardware in the basement, though the mayor's office says the equipment will be relocated before year's end.

Meantime, the building's perimeter has become a magnet for graffiti, trash and discarded needles. The city plans to erect a fence around it.

Attempts to reuse the building have failed. The pandemic shelved a 2019 proposal for South Burlington concert venue and promoter Higher Ground to operate an event space there; the city planned to support it with a $15 million bond. The city's hopes for another bond withered in 2021 when the school district committed to building a new high school. The city shares a debt limit with the district.

In spring 2022, Weinberger asked city councilors whether the city should preserve the building or demolish it. The council chose the former, and the city issued a request for proposals to renovate the space. At the time, Weinberger noted, "this administration has never supported the demolition of Memorial."

But when none of the three bids worked out, Weinberger changed his tune. His latest effort wouldn't require Memorial to stay standing — though it wouldn't necessarily be torn down, either.

"We're trying to remove as many of the constraints that have kept those past efforts from succeeding as possible," he said.

That includes getting what Weinberger called "full site control" of the block, including the two middle parcels owned by real estate broker Jeff Nick and business partner Dan Morrissey. Weinberger wouldn't disclose the deal they'd worked out but said neither Nick nor Morrissey would be the "principal partners" in redeveloping the block.

Nick didn't respond to interview requests. He and the city have been at odds since 2021, when Nick demolished the defunct Midtown Motel, a 1950s-era building down the street from Memorial, and started using the empty lot for parking.

Kelly Devine, executive director of the Burlington Business Association, said a new Gateway Block would improve the look of downtown. The current view from that block, with a parking lot on one side and a gas station on the other, isn't particularly inspiring.

"It would be nice to have a real, actual gateway," she said.

— C.L.

Former Duncan's Auto Service

Former Duncan's Auto shop on St. Paul Street - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Former Duncan's Auto shop on St. Paul Street
  • Address: 291-3 St. Paul Street
  • Owner: Alan Young
  • Year built: 1950s
  • Vacant since: 2021
  • Prognosis: Planned cannabis shop
  • Challenges: Permitting

For nearly 70 years, an automobile service station ruled the corner of St. Paul and Kilburn streets, just south of downtown Burlington. If all goes to plan, a more modern business could open on the small lot: a cannabis shop.

Vacant since late 2021, the building needs plenty of work first. The roof and interior walls suffered significant water damage in recent years. Complicating matters, the building is listed on Vermont's historic registry, a designation that has implications for any proposed renovations.

Current owner Alan Young purchased the property from Leo Duncan in 1999, beating out other interested parties, including the Handy family, he said. Most recently, it was home to Duncan's Auto Service, but that business moved to Intervale Avenue and the building sank into disrepair. It attracted graffiti and unhoused people, who camped in a small grove of trees behind the building. Young recently cut down the trees to make the area more visible.

Young wanted to change the front windows and install corrugated metal siding. But city staff, who described the building as having a "very uninviting and unattractive street presence," worried that Young's planned rehab would disrupt the building's historic character.

They suggested Young instead consider a more historically compatible material for the siding, such as porcelain enamel. Doing so would have put a huge hole in his budget, Young said. So he said he offered the city an ultimatum: He could either pull his permit and leave the eyesore as is — or he could move forward with the metal siding.

His application was eventually approved.

The new siding and front windows have already been tagged with graffiti multiple times since they were installed this summer, Young said. But the renovation has otherwise been moving forward as planned.

On a brief tour last month, Young recalled the auto shop's previous owner, "Old Man Duncan," for whom he worked briefly as a kid.

"He had a phone here and his lift here, his tools right here behind him," Young said, gesturing around the shop, which has been gutted down to the studs.

Young hopes to begin working with a designer soon to get the space ready for prime time. He's also planning to repave the parking lot and install new lighting. His son, who runs a successful wholesale business in Maine known as Calendar Islands Cannabis, would then need to obtain permits to legally sell weed in Vermont.

Red tape isn't the only obstacle. Burlington already has nine weed stores, and three more could open soon. Young said he isn't too concerned about the competition, however. St. Paul Street is a busy road, he said, and offers something most other local weed shops don't: easy access for commuters and, potentially, cannabis delivery drivers, should Vermont eventually allow for such service.

"I tell everybody, it's location, location, location — if you have that, all you've got to do is make yourself a good name and reputation, and you can do anything," he said. "This is one of those corners."

— C.F.

Former YMCA

The former Greater Burlington YMCA building in downtown Burlington - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • The former Greater Burlington YMCA building in downtown Burlington
  • Address: 266 College Street
  • Owner: Giri Hotel Management
  • Year built: 1932
  • Vacant since: 2020
  • Prognosis: Plan to demolish some of the building, build an 89-unit apartment complex
  • Challenges: Unclear

The historic former home of the Greater Burlington YMCA has devolved into one of the Queen City's most prominent blighted properties — and a symbol of its most pressing challenges. Under the control of out-of-state owners, the property at 266 College Street has quickly deteriorated in the three years since the family-focused nonprofit moved half a block away.

The building is covered with graffiti. Used needles are found outside almost daily. And property managers are on constant guard against trespassers, who have proven adept at infiltrating the boarded-up building. A WCAX-TV reporter got inside earlier this year and revealed the shocking mess inside.

"Imagine if I said to you five years ago, 'This is what the YMCA is gonna look like,'" said real estate broker Yves Bradley, whose children went to preschool at the building. "You wouldn't believe me."

A facelift, though, is in the works. Current owner Giri Hotel Management has submitted plans to construct a six-story, 89-unit apartment complex on the property. The proposal calls for demolishing most of the existing building, save for the southern-facing portion on College Street, which is considered its most historic feature. No one appealed the company's zoning application, meaning demolition could start soon.

Graffiti on the doors of the former Greater Burlington YMCA - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Graffiti on the doors of the former Greater Burlington YMCA

Bradley, among others, will be watching closely. He was the listing agent when the YMCA first put the property on the market in 2015.

At the time, Bradley called the property a "complicated site." Built during the Great Depression, the mazelike building once held a bowling alley, two swimming pools, a ballroom and other community space. It housed GIs for a time after World War II. It's listed on the state historic registry, and it has been widely accepted that a full-scale demolition would never earn city approval.

"It's a great opportunity, but it's not for the fainthearted," Bradley said in 2015. "It's one that people really need to think through how it's going to work before they can take a run at it."

His comments seem almost prophetic now. Several redevelopment proposals have been scrapped due to regulatory hurdles or financing problems.

Montpelier lawyer Frank von Turkovich purchased the property for $3 million in 2016 but never submitted redevelopment plans before reselling in 2018 to a Florida-based investment firm, Hospitality Funding. That company proposed a 142-room hotel, but the pandemic torpedoed the plan, and Hospitality eventually defaulted on its loan.

City officials pressured Hospitality to address the problems last year amid growing public angst over the state of the building. Not long after, the property was sold to Giri Hotel Management, in Quincy, Mass. Records suggest the company paid $4.5 million. Neither Giri nor its local partner, Burlington attorney Bruce Baker, responded to interview requests.

The company's plans are expected to be exempt from Act 250 review, since the property is located in a designated downtown area and will keep at least 20 percent of the apartment units "affordable." That could ease things for the developers — and save them time and money.

— C.F.

Former Mobil station

Former Mobil service station on Pearl Street - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Former Mobil service station on Pearl Street
  • Address: 281 Pearl Street
  • Owner: Sisters & Brothers Investment Group (Handy family)
  • Year built: Between 1926 and 1942
  • Vacant since: 2017
  • Prognosis: Owners' plans unknown
  • Challenges: Possible soil contamination; owner noncompliance

The old filling station on Pearl Street has been decaying since it closed six years ago. The concrete lot in front, however, hasn't been dormant. For much of that time, its owners, the Handy family, offered the property as paid parking, charging as much as $125 per month.

But the site, located in a "high-density" residential area near the Burlington Health & Rehabilitation Center nursing home, isn't zoned for a parking lot, and the Handys didn't obtain permission to operate one there.

City officials' effort to crack down on the unpermitted business began in 2019 — and the case is still not resolved. Following a 2021 trial, a state judge ordered the property owners to pay the city about $66,000. More than $22,000 accounted for the city's expense, mostly staff time, to enforce and litigate the violation.

Then, earlier this year, the Vermont Supreme Court overturned the judgment on a technicality and ordered the state judge, Thomas Durkin, to recalculate the penalty. So Durkin, Joe Handy and the city's attorney were back in court last month for another hearing. Durkin said the mistake was his fault and told the parties he would issue a revised penalty in the weeks ahead.

Joe Handy declined to speak with Seven Days. The property "will be redeveloped at some point," his attorney, Brian Hehir, said by phone. "I just don't know when, or what." It's not currently listed for sale.

Following the Supreme Court ruling in May, Charlie Handy told WCAX that the family was still studying what's best for the site. "Maybe housing, maybe commercial down on the bottom, you know," he told the TV station. Around the same time, someone draped an enormous banner over one of the garage walls: "Coming Soon: Beverage Center & Deli."

The banner has since disappeared, restoring several feet of urban canvas for local graffiti artists.

The corner lot, which had been a service center for more than 80 years, is today a prime location for housing. A new apartment building is being constructed on nearby Hungerford Terrace, Weinberger noted. On the same block of Pearl Street, a burned-down dentist's office has been replaced by an upscale apartment building.

One potential complication: The soil and water around old gas stations tends to be contaminated by fuel. The state has spent $51,000 cleaning up the site, but a 2019 report found chemicals exceeding state limits in several groundwater samples.

Earlier this year, the city issued a permit to unearth the underground storage tanks. The aboveground gas pumps were also recently removed.

Hehir said in court last month that the site is no longer operating as a paid parking lot. Not long ago, the owners etched "No Parking" onto the front of the garage in spray paint. The message has since been covered, completely, by graffiti.

— D.B.

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