CityPlace Developers Move Toward Building Affordable Housing on Vacant Site | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


CityPlace Developers Move Toward Building Affordable Housing on Vacant Site


Published September 16, 2022 at 1:32 p.m.
Updated October 18, 2022 at 5:15 p.m.

CityPlace Burlington construction site - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • CityPlace Burlington construction site
Updated at 4:55 p.m.

The partners behind the CityPlace Burlington project are beginning the process of developing affordable housing on the long-vacant site.

Earlier this week, the developers submitted a request to use $275,000 in federal grant money to build an eight-story affordable housing project in partnership with the Champlain Housing Trust. The grant would be one piece of an estimated $26.3 million needed to build the 80- to 88-unit project.

The building would be just one part of the larger project on the site, which is expected to include more housing, restaurants and shops.

Brian Pine, director of the city's Community & Economic Development Office, called the request a "significant" step in getting the long-stalled project under construction.

"This is very positive," Pine said, adding, "This is certainly greater progress in at least this part of the project coming to fruition, and I think that bodes well for the whole project."
Progress on the CityPlace site has been stalled since developers tore down the Burlington Town Center mall in 2017. Former owner Don Sinex, who sold his shares in the project earlier this year, had proposed 14-story towers with shopping and apartments. But years of construction delays have instead left a dusty expanse in the center of town, which locals call "the Pit."

The project is now helmed by three local businessmen: Dave Farrington of Farrington Construction; Al Senecal of Omega Electric Construction; and Scott Ireland of S.D. Ireland. Scaled-back plans call for nearly 430 homes — including the 80 or so affordable units — shops, restaurants and public space.

Initially, the affordable units were to be included within CityPlace's two 10-story towers, but the developers are now pitching them as part of a stand-alone, eight-story building at 130 Bank Street. Pine said developers will have to revisit the city's Development Review Board to modify their permit.
The recent funding request is part of an ongoing environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act, required for construction projects that use federal money. The city has determined that the project will have "no significant impact on the human environment," according to its official finding, which was published as a legal notice in Seven Days this week.

If the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development agrees, it would give the city permission to award the project $275,000 in federal HOME Investment Partnerships Program funds, the country's largest federal block grant program. Burlington received more than $400,000 in HOME funds this year.

The city has used HOME funds for years to support various projects around Burlington, Pine said. Recent beneficiaries include Cathedral Square's Juniper House and CHT's Laurentide building at the Cambrian Rise development on North Avenue.

Champlain Housing Trust CEO Michael Monte said the organization has a good working relationship with the CityPlace partners.

"They want us to be part of it, we'd like to be part of it, and I think at this point, it's looking very positive," he said.

Pine expects the HUD process to take about 60 days. Developers will still have to find millions more dollars to fund the project — much of it likely in the form of tax credits — but Pine said HOME grants are "one of the most essential pieces of the complicated puzzle."

"There's a ways to go, and there's still details to be worked out, but it's moving in the right direction," he said. "It's the progress that's needed for the project to proceed and to get back into construction."

A development agreement with the city says the developers must start construction by September 30, or they'll have to pay the cost of reconnecting two streets that were severed by the former mall. But Pine says the city is currently negotiating an extension with the project team and will brief city councilors at a coming meeting.

In a statement, Mayor Miro Weinberger said he's optimistic about the partners' progress.

“While this project, like any major development, still faces challenges, the new ownership team has made more progress in the last four months than in the prior four years," he said. "We look forward to bringing forward a major update soon.”

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