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Crisis Control

Local Matters: City tweaks zoning rewrite to ensure new home for Women's Rape Crisis Center


Published September 26, 2007 at 9:01 p.m.

BURLINGTON - Say what you will about the long-delayed and over-budget zoning rewrite process. When a zoning snafu threatened to scuttle the deal on a new home for the Women's Rape Crisis Center, the city got the problem fixed pronto.

Last month, WRCC representatives asked city council members for their help in securing a once-in-a-lifetime offer: the purchase of a 3200-square-foot Victorian house in the Old North End. Earlier this year, Bernie Beaudoin, a 76-year-old lifelong Burlingtonian, offered to sell his house at 336 North Avenue to the WRCC at its assessed value - rather than its market value - which amounted to a $40,000 discount on the price of the home. He also agreed to finance the deal at no interest for two years.

But here's the rub: The house, which served as the Vermont Women's Health Center for more than two decades, has since reverted to residential zoning status. By law, it's illegal for the city to change the zoning on a property to accommodate the needs of just one person or organization.

In response to an outpouring of community support, the city found a nifty solution that also complies with state law. It amended the current zoning rewrite to include a stipulation allowing "crisis workers" to operate in residential neighborhoods. The amendment, which applies citywide, will be included in the new zoning ordinance. While the ordinance has yet to be adopted, the Council has assured WRCC the stipulation will be included in the final product.

The center expects to close on the house either this week or next, says Executive Director Cathleen Wilson, and to move in next spring. Renovations have already begun on the 108-year-old building.

The need for more space has never been more critical, according to Wilson. WRCC served 602 survivors of sexual violence in 2006, a 40 percent increase in the last two years. Currently, staff must leave their office if a counselor wants to meet with a sexual assault survivor because the space lacks a private consultation room.