Parties Resolve Long-Standing Lawsuits Against CityPlace Project | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Parties Resolve Long-Standing Lawsuits Against CityPlace Project


Published September 21, 2022 at 7:35 p.m.

CityPlace Burlington construction site - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • CityPlace Burlington construction site
At long last, the litigation holding up the stalled CityPlace Burlington project was resolved this week with the stroke of a pen.

Motions signed by Chittenden County Superior Court Judge Helen Toor effectively dismissed two lawsuits: one brought by a citizen group against the developers and a countersuit from said developers.

John Franco, the attorney representing Barbara McGrew, Lynn Martin, Michael Long and Steve Goodkind, said his clients were tired of fighting. The group had actively opposed the project since 2017.

"This was sort of like the Hundred Years' War," he said. "My clients are in their seventies and retirees, and they wanted to move on."

With the lawsuits resolved, the project can theoretically move toward construction. Developers have said for years that litigation — including other suits filed by the city and a rival developer — have prevented the project from obtaining financing. Dave Farrington, one of three CityPlace partners, did not respond to an interview request from Seven Days on Wednesday afternoon.
The CityPlace saga has dragged on for years. In 2014, former project owner Don Sinex pitched redeveloping the aging Burlington Town Center mall into 14-story towers with shops, apartments and a hotel. He tore down the mall in 2017, but construction delays have left a now-infamous pit in the center of town.

Not even one of the world's largest investment firms, Brookfield Asset Management, could make any progress at the site. Working with Sinex, Brookfield scaled the project down to 10-story towers but then abandoned the partnership in summer 2020.

Franco's clients filed the lawsuit in 2019 to enforce a previous court settlement. Sinex had agreed to build 200 additional parking spaces for a total of 967 spots, but updated plans showed a fraction of that number. Sinex had also agreed in that settlement to donate $500,000 to a charity, but he never ponied up.

In May, Sinex sold his 50 percent stake in the project to three local developers — Farrington of Farrington Construction, Al Senecal of Omega Electric Construction and Scott Ireland of S.D. Ireland. The partners negotiated a new settlement with Franco in June, but because Sinex made the original deal, the parties needed a court order allowing the new development team to take over and end the litigation.

Franco will file a formal motion to dismiss the case in the coming days. He wouldn't share many details of the new settlement but said the partners have agreed to make a charitable donation to an undisclosed beneficiary for an undisclosed amount.

The new agreement also walks back the stipulations on parking. Since the first settlement in 2017, the city adopted new zoning rules that did away with parking minimums in the project area. Franco said that complicated his case, which was becoming costly for his clients.

"Everybody just said, 'You know, I'm not going to risk my retirement for parking,'" Franco said. "And that's what it came down to."
Sinex still partially owns the remnants of the former mall and the former Macy's, which is currently occupied by Burlington High School. In June, developers unveiled conceptual plans to redevelop the site with apartments, a hotel, restaurants and a pedestrian walkway connecting Church and St. Paul streets.

Meantime, CityPlace partners have taken initial steps toward developing a separate affordable housing project on the main site. City leaders are also renegotiating a development agreement with the partners to extend the expected construction start date.