BURLINGTON — On September 5, 2003, an engineer opened a hatch on a Main Street sidewalk in downtown Burlington. Once underground, he began exploring the empty space that abuts the basement of Nectar’s Restaurant.
It wasn’t a ploy to get backstage. The engineer had been hired by the city of Burlington to inspect the so-called “void” for evidence of structural deficiency. What did he find? Sidewalk beams showed “significant rust and deterioration.” Twelve days later, the engineer wrote to the building’s owners, DNR Enterprises, suggesting the sidewalk be repaired “as soon as is reasonably possible.” It was later determined that the void would have to be filled in before any sidewalk repair could be initiated.
That was four years ago. Since then, DNR owners Bob Beauvais, Nectar Rorris and Dennis Campbell have been arguing with the city over who should take responsibility for funding the necessary repairs. DNR claims it has never owned the void and shouldn’t be required to throw money at it. The city disagrees, noting DNR has utilized the space for storage — a private, not public, use. In the end the question remains: Are business owners responsible for fixing property they don’t own?
Lawyers have debated that fuzzy matter ever since the engineer’s initial 2003 visit. Throughout a lengthy appeals process, Chittenden Superior Court has ruled in the city’s favor. This summer, DNR agreed to fill in the void so that the city could begin repairing the overlying sidewalk. A January quote from a contractor, S.D. Ireland, estimated that building two new foundation walls would cost a minimum of $16,360.
A few weeks ago, the case took a new twist. Despite having agreed to do the structural repairs, DNR filed a new motion insisting that the city remove existing sidewalk slabs before underground repair work could take place.
“Right now, we’re arguing over who’s supposed to remove the darn slabs,” explains DNR attorney Norman Smith. “My clients are frustrated. They wanted to work with the city, but the city was absolute in its position.”
Smith says DNR, which has owned the building since 1977, is waiting for a response to its motion from the city’s attorney, Joseph Farnham. Smith wonders why the city is trying to assign construction costs to his client, suggesting it should use its own grant money to repair the slabs.
Reached by phone in his office last week, Farnham declined to comment.
According to Norm Baldwin, assistant director of Burlington’s Department of Public Works, DNR’s story doesn’t check out. Baldwin has been involved in the project since day one. He says that, despite Smith’s comments, DNR has already hired S.D. Ireland to remove the slabs. In fact, Baldwin reports having recently met with both Richard Klein of S.D. Ireland and DNR co-owner Bob Beauvais at the Nectar’s site with the understanding that DNR had agreed to fund the slab-removal process.
DNR “had sought to acquire an obstruction permit from our office, and was scheduled to do the work in the middle of October,” Baldwin writes in an email. Subsequently, “We received notice from Richard that his crews had been delayed by other work, and that the work was temporarily put off.” Klein could not be reached for comment Monday.
As for Smith’s assertion that the city should dip into general funds to finance the slab overhaul, Baldwin argues that Burlington taxpayers shouldn’t have to suffer the cost burden.
“For the city, this issue is larger than just one building and the need to have it repaired,” Baldwin asserts. “If we lost this particular case, it would set the precedent for any other building that could have the same problem . . . We’ve felt that if we lost this case, it would be multiplied a hundred times.”
Seven Days called each of the three co-owners of DNR on November 9. Reached in his Lincoln home, Beauvais seemed to evade a request for an interview, saying he wouldn’t be available to talk for several days on account of a recent knee operation. In June, Beauvais had spoken openly about the matter on the steps of City Hall.
Later on Nov. 9, Seven Days left messages for Beauvais’ business partners, Nectar Rorris and Dennis Campbell. Neither had returned phone calls for this story as of press time.