Monday, October 10, 2016


The Coalition now has a new blog, which hopefully will be easier to navigate! Just click here and find your way there  !

Friday, September 30, 2016

At the end of last night's gripping City Council meeting, Brian Dunkiel, the developer's lawyer who also seems to work for the city, approached the City Attorney, Eileen Blackwood, who also seems to work for the developer, and shook her hand. "Thank you," he said, and they both seemed to wink.

What was this hand shake about and what could Dunkiel have to thank Ms. Blackwood about on a night wherein the Council voted to put the controversial zoning change that would allow Dunkiel's client, Don Sinex, to build his behemoth multi-use skyscraper (not just a mall, folks!)?

Hadn't the mayor listened to the public's comments (otherwise described as misrepresentations and misunderstandings) and decided to bring this huge zoning change to the people, jeopardizing Sinex's plan? Hadn't he saved upwards of 80 volunteers from spending the next 20 days petitioning to put this thing on the ballot?

Well, of course we wondered when we heard on Thursday afternoon that this was going to happen. What possible trick could the Mayor have up his sleeve besides trying to make the vote come sooner and expediting the project and stopping the public criticism as soon as possible. But lawyers assured us that the vote would be binding and that Sinex would not be able to get a permit on the new zoning until/or if the people approved it. We went to the City Council feeling victorious and pretty sure that all would go as expected. The 7 councilors who voted for the zoning would do so again and the 4 who had voted against it would do so again, and all of them would vote to put it on the ballot. This was not to be so simple, however. The Mayor had a plan to coerce those city councilors who were against the zoning change but for the ballot item to vote in favor of the zoning change. He wanted to have a unanimous council vote for the zoning change and thus presented the amendment in one packet, forcing Sharon Bushor, Max Tracy, and Selene Colburn to vote no on putting the item on the ballot so that they could maintain their no vote on the zoning change. Sara Giannoni rescinded her recent no vote, noting that her no was not as strong as her fellow dissenters, but that what she really wanted was a public vote.

Max was calling in from Colombia, and Selene was also calling in, as was Adam Roof. And Councilor Bushor, made a motion to "divide the question" so that she could vote No on the Zoning and Yes on the ballot. While she maintained that a councilor could simply call to do that, she was told that there had to be a vote on it, and before that vote occurred. The City Attorney found a choice passage in her little book of laws that made it seem that it was impossible to divide the question: apparently, if two parts of a question are dependent on each other in some way, they cannot be voted on separately. Thus, since the item could not be put on a ballot unless it was approved, these two questions could not be separated. I am no legal scholar, but this certainly seems like the height of absurdity. In almost every City Council meeting the councilors vote on one thing and then vote on another thing separately that is contingent upon the last thing they voted on. Well, Brian Dunkiel could thank Eileen Blackwood for getting Sara Giannoni to change her vote so the Mayor could say that 8 councilors, not just 7, voted for the zoning change. Thank you to Councilors Bushor, Colburn, and Tracy for not falling for this absurdly dirty trick.

The Mayor encouraged people to vote for this project, explaining that no votes for development all over the country were making cities less equal. This, from the man who argued against raising the affordable housing percentage in the overlay zone from 20% a mere 5% more; this from the man who wants to remove the affordable housing requirement in Burlington, claiming a free market wild west trickle down flooding of the market with unaffordable units will serve the poor and disenfranchised. And that is why he is asking the poor and disenfranchised people of Burlington to pay corporate welfare to fund a millionaire developer's street construction, something that developers almost always pay for themselves!? The Mayor further continued to argue that with this outsized development that will have almost no green spaces and add 450 cars, we were getting new environmental standards. He must have missed Logic 101, because we could get these new environmental standards with a building at 5 5 feet just as easily as with one at 175 feet, which would actually harm the environment, the lake even more. But he acts as if the only way we could get these good things would be to bust our zoning and destroy our city. Outrageous doublespeak.

Councilor Shannon went along with the Mayor's party line, by insisting that this project/and zoning provide many public benefits, further slandering the concerned citizens of Burlington by calling us misinformed and our facts misprepresentations. She knows very well that there is a difference between public benefits (lower case) and requiring Public Benefits (upper case) in exchange for building heights as part of a project. She knows very well that this zoning change removes the leverage for getting increased affordable or senior housing in exchange for height or other Public Benefits such as green space, but she continues, after months of discussion to refute the citizens's concerns about the removal of the traditional Benefit system by pointing more subjective benefits we might get along with this development. Public Benefits are explicitly things that do not help the developer's project. In any case, like the Mayor, she has never been able to prove that we could not get these lower case public benefits with a lower-scale project. Instead she insults the public and tells them not to listen to their neighbors but instead, to trust the information on the city government's website.

Councilor Colburn noted clearly that opposing this new zoning was not to oppose affordable housing or equity, and that these things could be fulfilled with a lower scale building. She further noted that we really do not know what might be possible at a lower height because Sinex has NEVER told us what he could do within the current zoning. The rationale for the height increase, she said, was that the developer wanted it and that, she said, "Is not good enough for me". She ended by saying that she hoped we would get a better version of the project that the majority of Burlington residents will be proud of.

Next, councilor Hartnett told us that this new development would bring back the old Italian neighborhood that was displaced, as if somehow those families (he can still hear the pain in their voices, he said) would be compensated for the loss of their homes and neighborhoods by a giant multi-use apartment complex with a multi-plex movie theater and a college dorm! He also noted that people don't come to Burlington because the schools are in trouble, but  I can't imagine why he thought that spending more tax payer money on corporate welfare (with the TIF) instead of to help pay back the 65 million school debt would help the schools.

Councilor Wright, before unfortunately saying "lower class" when he was supposed to say "lower income,"  warned us that if this zoning change is defeated it will be a signal to businesses that Burlington does not want to grow. Businesses will leave.

Councilor Bushor came next, countering the false dichotomies of some of her fellow councilors, asserted that she has not heard anyone speak in opposition to growth or a more dense downtown. She notes that there were three factions, characterized as follows:

1. Those who affirmed that Plan BTV allows for more growth, please use that allowance (of current zoning) to grow the density.
2. Those who, like herself, wanted to create an overlay district with a smaller footprint (say 135 feet buildings)
3. A group of people, mostly businesses, who say: we like this overlay district.

She also noted, as she has before, that she does not know how representative the 1st group is, which is why she supports putting it to a vote, but that she could not vote for the overlay district zoning because it is too tall, too dense, not right for the city. Finally, she noted, as she has before, that the problem with this process thus far, has been that the zoning amendment was driven by the Sinex project. It should have stood alone. She said, finally, that she was "really annoyed" at being put in a position of having to vote no on putting the question on the ballot in order to vote no on the zoning.

Tracy then spoke from Colombia, saying once again that the elimination of bonuses (Public Benefits) in the new zoning did not adequately address affordable housing needs, noting that he would not be satisfied with the zoning unless it were at least pushing past the minimum required affordable housing. He also noted that the huge leap from 2 story to 14 story buildings was not in keeping with recommendations of form based code (our new zoning in progress), which calls for gradual gradations of height.  He declared that the combination of the zoning ordinance vote with the vote to put the question on the ballot meant he would have to vote no on the bundle.

Tom Ayres closed out the show by telling us with trembling in his voice about how his childhood home in rural New Jersey was ruined by sprawl. Close to tears, he celebrated this project , which comes with 450 new cars and minimal impermeable surfaces, hundreds of new toilets and showers and waste-producers (just as he had celebrated the destruction of the Burlington College land and the wildlife corridor from the Intervale to the lake) as a great triumph for the environment. We should not, he said, "shirk our social and moral responsibility". Which is why, I guess, he refused a few weeks ago to vote to raise the affordable housing percentage in the overlay zone a measly 5%.

That's All the News for Now, folks, but please stay tuned to participate in the Coalition's continual education campaign to prepare for the November vote. If you are not yet registered as a Burlington voter, please go on in and get it done!

We will be saying
No to the zoning Change
No to the TIF money (no public money for private profit)
No to Spot zoning and preferential treatment
Yes to adhering to Plan BTV
Yes to a livable City
Yes to democratic processes
No to conflicts of interest
Yes to transparent policies

Let's not forget that handshake between the City Attorney,Eileen Blackwood, who seems to work for the developer, and the developer's lawyer, who seems to work for the City. Thanks, Brian Dunkiel said.
No thanks, say the people of Burlington.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

CLC Press Conference, Monday, September 26th, at 11 A.M. Please Join Us!

Who: The Coalition for a Livable City
What: A press conference to announce our vision for a “better town center” and referendum petition plan
When: Monday, September 26th at 11 a.m.
Where: In front of the mall entrance on Church Street

The Coalition for a Livable City will be announcing its vision for a “Better Town Center” and ways to better engage the citizens of Burlington on the proposed, sweeping changes to downtown zoning.
Although proponents of the Town Center Plan and the radical rezoning which enables it have said that opponents do not have a Plan B, the Coalition for a Livable City has a great Plan B—rooted in Plan B -T-V.

This vision of a “Better Town Center” would honor existing zoning, democratic processes, and due diligence, while allowing for a new development within what PlanBTV calls “the permitted development envelope” of 65 feet by right, or 105 feet with benefits. Utilizing the incentive amendment for underground parking approved at a recent City Council meeting, and in keeping with the city’s recent Parking Study and commitment to fewer cars downtown, the “Better Town Center” project would eliminate the three floors of above-ground parking.  Details will be revealed at the Press Conference, but you can expect recommendations for affordable housing, green building practices, bike and walk best practices, the fostering of local businesses, livable wage jobs, and more.
The CLC will use neck-craning elements to illustrate just how out-of-scale this proposed center is with existing zoning regulations. What will they use? Well, bring your cameras, measuring tapes, and binoculars to find out.

In addition to this vision, the CLC is planning a petition campaign to put the downtown mixed use overlay district zoning on the ballot in March if the City Council votes to approve it on Thursday, the 29th. This Public disapproval referendum may be unprecedented in Vermont history.
Should the City Council vote to approve the rezoning of the overlay district on Thursday, the 29th, the Coalition for a Livable City is ready for its campaign to petition the city to put the zoning change on the ballot for a binding referendum. We will have 20 days only to get more than 1600 valid signatures of local residents and stand prepared to begin petitioning on September 30th, with over 60 eager volunteers.

Although it is our belief that the citizens of Burlington have already said NO to this zoning change, most recently two years ago in Plan BTV, the city’s push to pass this zoning change has ignored the public consensus.  The Coalition believes that a zoning change of this magnitude, increasing the by right height allowance from 65 to 160+ feet, increasing by right Floor Area Ratio from 5.5 to 9.5, and eliminating bonuses for affordable housing or other public benefits, is something all citizens should have a chance to vote on.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Press Release: Coalition for a Livable City Denounces Cambrian Rise Zoning Change

Press Release: Coalition for a Livable City Urges Planning Commission to Reject Zoning Change for Cambrian Rise Development

From: Coalition for a Livable City
To: Burlington City Council; Mayor Miro Weinberger; Seven Days; Vt. Digger; Burlington Free Press
Subject: Re-zoning of Cambrian Rise (aka former Burlington College campus)

Burlington’s Planning Commission met on September 13th and deferred action on rezoning the Cambrian Rise development from Medium Density-Waterfront to Neighborhood Activity Center-Cambrian Rise (NAC-CR). What was expected to be an easy approval of the zoning change proposed by Planning and Zoning was de-railed by Commissioner Harris Roen. With only four commissioners present--a bare quorum-- Roen’s vote was essential for passage. When he spoke against the project, its developer, Eric Farrell, asked the Commission to delay action lest its disapproval go on the record and be transmitted to the City Council.
            The project components, on 33 acres of the former Burlington College property, arose through discussions among the developer, the City’s Parks & Recreation, Vermont Land Trust, Champlain Housing Trust, and Cathedral Square. Broadly, the agreement has the City and the VLT buying 12 acres for use as recreational space and a catchment for surface water runoff from the housing and permits 770 residential units,  160 of which will be divided into senior and affordable residences under Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) rules.
            The public, represented by Save Open Space-Burlington and now the Coalition for a Livable City, was kept entirely out of these negotiations, merely presented with their results at bogus “public forums”. While not opposed to development along North Avenue, SOS-B strongly objected to this “package”, demanding much more open space and wildlife habitat on the western section which, for 100 years, was a vernacular public park exempt from all property taxes. The “park” portion, largely unbuildable due to slope and waterfront setback rules, is isolated between an abandoned train tunnel and Lakeview Cemetery. As such, it will become the recreation space for Cambrian Rise’s 2,000 residents and, by purchase agreement, the “sponge” for surface water runoff from  CR’s streets, roofs, and parking lots. If that deal weren’t bad enough, P&Z now proposes to rezone the plot as a Neighborhood Activity Center (NAC-CR) allowing offices and retail activity that further impacts traffic on North Ave. and to increase the permissible height of buildings. Other NAC’s have a 35-ft. height limit. Here buildings could rise to 80-ft. or more given features specific to the location. First, the existing Orphanage building establishes a 65-ft height for new construction on the same plot. Second, present ordinances allow height on slopes to be calculated at the midpoint of a building’s plot. With 65-ft established on the upper side, P&Z proposes to simplify this calculation by adding an additional story of permissible height wherever slopes exist, here and city-wide.
            CLC strongly objects to this proposed amendment to the Comprehensive Development Ordinance (CDO)). Given the 10-ft. bonus a developer earns for complying with IZ, 65-ft is really 75-ft and an 80-ft. limit is really 90-ft. Add to that the slope bonus and from the west, buildings could rise 100-ft. from the ground. This is wildly out of character for medium density-waterfront, an area more generally zoned at 35-ft. 
            What we have at Cambrian Rise is a duplicitous maneuver by P&Z to add height and density to all new projects without acknowledging this to the public. Density or floor area ratio (FAR) is based not on the 21 acres to be built on but on the 33 acres of the entire, pre-park parcel. Second, this “park” will be a project-specific amenity on the City’s dime for maintenance, saving the developer from having to provide recreational space, gardens, and storm water mitigation within his development. Third, since nearly all of Burlington is on sloped land, P&Z’s proposed amendment to the CDO would add a full story to nearly all projects in the city.

            The public deserves transparency and appropriateness in zoning, respecting the broad array of values which make a city livable: height and architectural preservation respecting nearby structures, open space within projects, and environmental protections.  Thus we urge the Planning Commission to reject NAC-CR as presently drafted.     

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Zoning Changes for the Burlington College Property/Cambrian Rise Development

Planning Commission Meeting, 9/13/16, on Cambrian Rise

In what was expected to be the final meeting of the Planning Commission on Planning and Zoning’s proposal to change the designation of the former Burlington College Land from medium development, waterfront (MD-W) to Neighborhood Activity Center (NAC-CR), the Planning Commission delayed their decision. The suggestion for a continuance rather than a definitive vote originated with Eric Farrell, a member of the audience, when it became clear that the PC would not approve the NAC-Cambrian Rise proposal at this meeting. Only four of the six Commissioners were present even after a 40 minute delay, amounting to a bare quorum. Harris Roen made it clear that he would vote against the proposed amendment, meaning it would fail.
            This proposal would create a new zoning district for the property allowing mixed-use and a modification of the existing caps on building height, density, and the method by which these are calculated. P&Z proposed that this new method of calculation be applied to both Cambrian Heights and written into the Comprehensive Development Ordinance and applied city-wide. This aspect of the amendment failed to gain the support of Emily Lee and Andy Montroll and the Commission voted to send the amendment back to P&Z for re-writing so that the altered method of measurement was limited to Cambrian Rise. 
            Speaking against the proposed amendment were three members of Coalition for a Livable City. Charles Simpson called for a full Act 250 review of the project before any approval, with special emphasis on transportation issues. With up to 770 units under consideration by the developer including 80 senior units, the impact on this two lane section of North Ave. between the fire station and Burlington High School, is significant. Seniors require more intensive ambulance service which in Burlington comes with a fire truck.  As the “Cambrian Rise” designation makes clear, topography does not allow any vehicle access other than North Ave. to the site. By changing zoning to allow NAC facilities, non-residential traffic will be generated. Permitted non-residential uses include animal grooming, appliance sales/service, art gallery/studio, automobile & marine parts sales, a bakery, a bank, a beauty parlor, billiard parlor, bowling alley, cafĂ©, cinema, convenience store, crisis counseling center, daycare, dental lab, dry cleaner, grocery store up to 10,000 sq. ft., health club, hostel, hotel, library, museum, offices, performing arts studio, pet store, pharmacy, photo studio, and post office, among others. While the intent of an NAC is to include services for local residents, it is clear that the business model for many of these enterprises will require outside employees and a wide customers base, adding to the traffic flow.
            Andy Simon presented objections to the overall development plan as articulated by Save Open Space-Burlington (SOS-B). These include the failure of the plan to preserve a maximum amount of open space and wildlife habitat, view-scapes, or public access to extensive recreational land. The impact of the city’s largest development project to-date on surface water adjacent to an already fragile lake ecosystem on which the economy of Burlington depends has not been sufficiently mitigated. Joanne Hunt of SOS-B spoke as well in support of Andy’s position and against permitting this project.
            Along with developer Eric Farrell, Michael Monte of the Champlain Housing Trust spoke in strong support of the project, Monte citing the backlog of affordable housing requests by the area’s low-income and homeless population.
            At one point in the proceedings, Planning Director David White explained that the calculation for maximum residential units is based on the roughly 33 acres of the entire plot and that this zoning change will not alter the medium residential density, waterfront (MR-W) currently applied to the 12 acres to become public parkland for which the developer will be paid 2 million dollars. Simpson then again addressed the Commission to say this was highly irregular. Not only was the public park being used to ventilate the dense Cambrian Rise development providing a view scape, recreational land, public gardens, and some surface water mitigation at public expense, now it was clear that these 12 acres were the basis for increasing the density of the private portion of the project in a bait-and-switch maneuver.
            Much of the ensuing discussion centered on P&Z’s efforts to clarify the height limits. Director White apologized for misspeaking at the previous PC meeting when he said that heights wouldn’t be changed with this amendment. They would be, he said. Because of the existing Orphanage building, new construction on that parcel can legally rise to 65 feet, the distance to the half-way point of the Orphanage roof. Because the project conforms to Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) regulations and generates 25% affordable units, an additional 10-ft. of height can be added beyond statutory limits. As a result, P&Z proposes a lot coverage limit of 72% and an FAR of 2.5. Both numbers include the IZ bonus of 10 ft. in height and 0.5 FAR. presumably calculated on the entire 33 acres but with building limited to the 21 acres that remain private land. P&C recommends a nominal maximum height of 80 ft., a third higher than the current 60ft. limit on WRM, but agian the bonus could make this 90-ft. Still, White explained, the height as seen from North Ave. would appear to conform to existing zoning. The complicating factor, he explained, was site slope. Presently, height is measured from the set-back grade on flat parcels and the midpoint in sloped parcels. As White states in the amendment packet, “A maximum height of 80-ft is proposed to ensure that new buildings can actually be 65-ft. in height at the street level consistent with the current allowed height given the Orphanage. This also means, however, that a building could be built to a maximum of 80-ft at the street level if it were on a flat site.” He then proposed that on sloped lots, rather than measuring to the mid-point, one story simply be added as measured from the downside of the slope. This would allow the nominal maximum height to be 65-ft. but as measured from the downside, to be 65-ft plus the one additional story. Unstated was that 10-ft. IZ bonus could also be added “by-right”.
            The Comprehensive Development Ordinance (CDO) creating the NCZ-Cambrian Rise (NAC-CR), Table 4.4.2-1, would allow residences on the ground floor, unlike other NACs. New language would permit heights of 80-ft plus 10-ft and an FAR of 2.0 plus 0.5 here and a new method of measuring height city-wide. One additional story would be allowed on buildings on sloped lots above what is nominally specified by zoning. It was to this general change to the CDO that Emily Lee object to and the reason the PC sent the amendment back to P&Z staff for redrafting.
            What we have in the Cambrian Rise case is a series of duplicitous maneuvers by P&Z designed to soften the public’s perception of increased density and height. Here, a park is purchased by the public which in effect alleviates the developer of his open-space and surface water mitigation obligation while delivering the lake views, community gardens, recreational space, and veneer of wild life habitat that add profit solely to the developer. The park--ostensibly a public facility--will be for the development’s residents but maintained at public expense. Then, rather than taking the development itself as the platform on which to calculate floor area ratios (FAR) and thus density, the public park is included. Building height increases are disguised by a new method that focuses on high-ground visual appearance rather than actual height from the lower end of sloped lots and simply adds a story above nominal maximums wherever plots incline--virtually all of the city. Finally, the obvious housing needs of the poor, addressed through the IZ formula, are used to justify specific projects without any  consideration of alternate ways of addressing homelessness: a higher minimum wage; rent control; or additional direct investment by Champlain Housing Trust in other locations. Instead the only City response is promotion of intense commercial development with an IZ component, and official shaming open-space and balanced growth advocates.  

 -Charles Simpson

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Show Down at City Hall: 4 Standing Up for Democracy/7 Complicit in its Demise

We were not surprised that the majority of the City Council voted to warn a public hearing for the ordinance change, simultaneously offering their support for its passing at the hearing (Thursday, September 29th, 7 p.m. at Contois), but we were surprised at how few councilors were willing to accept even the most mild compromises proposed by councilors Tracy, Bushor, and Colburn in an attempt to move the zoning ordinance even slightly in a direction that reflected the public sentiments about height, affordability, underground parking, and the railroading or process. The Mayor on the sidelines encouraged this stubborness, arguing in between eating M & M's against raising the affordable housing percentage by a mere 5% (a fraction of what it would be for a building this tall under our current ordinance). He spoke in Orwellian doublespeak, claiming that providing more affordable housing would make the city less affordable. His arguments, as well as arguments by other councilors defending their stances, could be used as case studies of the misuse of logic. It was, most likely, this entrenchment and disingenuousness on the part of the 7 council members who refused to approve the amendments, which influenced  Councilors Bushor and Colburn to join  Councilor Tracy  in stating that they would not be approving the zoning change. Councilor Giannoni voted no with them when the question of the warning of the Public Hearing was called, which may mean that she also intends to vote against the ordinance when the time comes. Unclear. Councilors Colburn, Bushor, and Tracy all gave fierce speeches about why they would not be supporting the amendment, which I will get to in a bit, but first, the details.

The discussion of the ZA 16-14 DMUC Overlay Technical Corrections began with some confusion, as Eileen Blackwood, City Attorney, interrupted the proceedings to suggest that Council President Knodell go about things differently, since, as she noted when referring to the process they were forced into that evening of approving zoning amendments and warning a public hearing on the same night, "It's funkier than that". When the City's own lawyer publicly admits that something is funky, we do well to pay attention. It seems that there might be something fishy about it. And, while the Councilors crow about the 10 meetings they had on the amendments, these meetings consisted of 1-hour each for council discussions of the complex amendments (10 hours to discuss the largest zoning change in decades). It is still too fast. One amendment even came in during the meeting, emailed by David White to Council President Knodell around 7 p.m. The Councilors voted on it without any prior consideration.

The first series of amendments dealt with the boundaries of the Overlay District. Councilor Bushor proposed removing the Lake St. and College St. garages. Failed: 2 in favor (Tracy and Bushor)/9 against. Councilor Colburn noted that while she has concerns about height and scale, she fears any minimizing of the area would bring us closer to spot zoning. Then Councilor Bushor, "ever hopeful," proposed removing Lake St, garage, College St. garage and Macy's. She said the intent was to give relief to visual corridors from the Lake, Edmund's Elementary, houses surrounding. It would be more in keeping with how we should grow our downtown, she said. Councilor Wright asked Attorney Blackwood that old question: "We are not spot zoning"  with the current boundaries, "are we?" "Correct" Attn. Blackwood firmly said, but any removal of any parcel would strengthen the argument that it is spot zoning, though, in another instance of doublespeak, she backpedaled, saying, she was not saying that it would be.  Bushor's amendment failed again, with only Tracy's support: 2 for/9 against.

Councilor Hartnett, who had been captured on camera ordering Red Sox tickets during the Police Commissioner report may or may not have been paying attention to this discussion, but did answer when President Knodell called him to present his amendment, which was to expand the overlay district even more! He noted that if he had his way we could expand it from College Street to Pearl Street! But, since he realized he would not have the support on the council he withdrew the amendment. Maybe he also did not want to take the time to explain when there were things he could be researching on the internet?

Councilor Shannon withdrew her amendment to remove the College St. garage, even though she deemed it would not strengthen a spot zoning claim, since she had "confidence"  that the City Council would not approve building something there that would ruin the view down Bank Street.

An amendment on Major Impact review was proposed by Councilor Bushor, which I could not understand at all. Councilor Bushor supported it, but noted that the amendment (written by Wright?) circles around itself and is really hard to understand. Succeeded 10/1 (Tracy against).

The next amendment, proposed by Councilor Bushor and seconded by Councilor Colburn, was a modest attempt to lower the height in the district from 160 ft. to 135 and FAR(floor area ratio) from 9.5 to 8.5. Bushor's rationale was that the "overlay district is really out of scale with what Burlington wants to be".

Councilor Shannon opposed the amendment noting that it does not achieve any of the goals it sets out to achieve. For those who don't like the height, it is still too tall. Moreover, she noted, conflating the zoning overlay with the Sinex project as usual, there is no one offering to develop the site at 105 or 135 feet, would not get us our street grid back (why not?), etc. Councilor Colburn supported the amendment,noting that while door knocking for her legislative campaign she spoke with hundreds of residents who wanted height and density and growth but who found the scale of proposed changes too great. She also noted that we do not know if it is a workable compromised since we have not heard from Sinex or any other developers about it. Most importantly, she asserted, "Our zoning should reflect the desires of the community".

Tracy noted that should the ordinance move forward at 160 feet height he would not be supporting it. As such it would not reflect a compromise between those for and against the change.  Dave Hartnett, looking up from his computer, wanted the councilors to be fair to poor Mr. Sinex, noting that when the Council voted for the Pre-Development Agreement, they knew that the 160 feet would make or break the project. Councilor Bushor fervently disagreed, noting that she had explicitly stated at the time that she would support the PDA, but not the 160 ft. She noted that Sinex, at that time, had indicated that they would "work on it". Perhaps Councilor Hartnett was watching something on his laptop at the time and missed that part of the discussion?

The Mayor then gave a little speech, saying he appreciated the points about the spirit of compromise, but only when it would be meaningful, asserting that the impact of this amendment would be to eliminate dozens of housing units. Councilor Bushor countered by noting that it was a false assumption that housing would be the element lost in such a change. She had spoken with David White and Megan Tuttle, exploring ways to keep the housing in such a scenario.

Councilor Knodell let her fellow councilors and the audience know at this point that she would not be approving this amendment, or any other one that made a "material change" to the Pre-Development agreement or that would jeopardize it. So much for looking at the zoning change separately from a particular project.

Councilor Bushor's modest proposal to reduce the height and FAR was voted down 7/4, with Colburn, Tracy, Giannoni and Bushor in favor.

The next 2 amendments were proposed by Councilor Tracy, and dealt with setting a maximum height limit inclusive of mechanicals and administrative height relief. Tracy argued that the public understands the height to be 160, when in effect it would be higher with the mechanicals and possible changes made for grade differences. Why not set a maximum height to clarify the discussion? In answer, David White said that it would mean that the mechanicals would have to be relocated, that there would be less green space, and less room for storm water mitigation. Shannon noted that setting an absolute height would take up housing space and that setting a maximum height would limit the possibility of having architectural features that would improve the skyline. What nobody except Max seems to acknowledge is that setting a maximum height is a matter of transparency. Why not set the maximum height at 190 feet, if that is what they want? Instead, they call it 160 feet when it really means 190 or 200 feet? What? Totally baffled.

Tracy noted that he was not comfortable with someone who is not elected making decisions about administrative height variance. His amendment to set a maximum height inclusive of mechanicals  was voted down: 4 for (Bushor, Colburn, Tracy, Giannoni)/7 against, as was his amendment to removing administrative height relief variance: 2 for (Colburn and Tracy), 9 against.

David White's new amendment, # 3.4,  came in between these somehow, emailed during the meeting. No time for the public to understand either before hand or during. But it had something to do with bonuses and affordable housing. It received unanimous approval. But did everyone understand it?

Bushor and Shannon tried out two amendments related to Max's two above. Bushor argued for limiting the administrative variance to only be utilized for height grade differences. Voted down 2/9. Guess who. Then Shannon argued for changing the variance allowance from 10% to 5%, approved 9/2.

There's more. Go have a drink and come back.


Next up was the amendment to increase affordable housing percentages. Councilor Tracy proposed an amendment to raise the required amount from 20 to 25% in the district, acknowledging that he would like to see much more but could not expect to get support on the council for it. It was, I believe, a symbolic statement and it surely demonstrated who on the council cared enough about affordable housing to support an increase of a mere 25% when this whole zoning overlay takes away the bonus system that would allow for a much greater affordability profile in buildings this tall. Councilor Colburn seconded the amendment, but the Mayor stepped in to give another little speech:
Certainly I support the good intentions, he said, but the administration (speaking of himself in the third person) opposes it for several reasons: 1. It constitutes a material change from the Pre-Development agreement, and was an issue highly vetted with the developer. He seems to have forgotten than a number of Councilors clearly noted on signing the PDA that if the affordability profile was not improved they would not sign the final agreement. He also seems to be forgetting that the ordinance is not supposed to be driven by the PDA. 2. it would be a mistake and self-defeating (he originally said self-serving in a Freudian slip, but corrected himself). It would make the city less affordable, by raising the risk of no development being built downtown. That being said, he noted that the discussion with the developer is open and a higher % is possible.  Councilor Bushor begged to differ with the Mayor, noting that a 5% increase in affordable housing requirements in this zone would be something the public would embrace. This amendment was voted down 7/4, councilor Knodell, allegedly an advocate of affordable housing in the Progressive Party, voting against an increase of a mere 5% in affordable units for the downtown overlay district.

Next came parking. Councilor Bushor advocated for creating an incentive for underground parking in the zone which would make each underground parking space be counted as 1.75 spaces, taking the burden of providing more spaces off developers who agreed to put their spaces underground. She noted that in the Sinex project this could eliminate one whole floor of parking. Councilor Tracy seconded the amendment, noting that it was in keeping with the Downtown Parking Plan's commitment to better utilize the parking we have rather than building more.  The amendment carried unanimously. Thank you, Councilors Bushor and Tracy for this innovative amendment.

Councilor Tracy then made a bold move that was seconded by no one on the council: instead of strongly preferring or creating incentives, why not require underground parking absolutely. No takers.

I am skipping the one about awnings.

The next amendment, floated by Councilors Colburn and Shannon, was about LEED certification and required LEED Gold or a "nationally recognized equivalent as determined by the administrative officer". Eric Morrow had criticized this language during public comment time, noting that there was stronger and clearer language adopted by San Francisco they should consider instead. Councilor Colburn acknowledged Mr. Morrow's concerns, saying that the intent of the language was not to present a loophole, but to leave the city open to utilizing stronger requirements should they arise. The problem with this, I add, is that we cannot trust our administrative officers. In any case, this amendment carried unanimously.

Then Councilor Bushor proposed an amendment to minimize effects on the micro-climate by reducing heat islands. But the Mayor was against this, saying it would be limiting and that the other requirements presented in the overlay district were already making this zone far better than in any other part of the city in respect to green initiatives. TThis amendment could create problematic proscriptions. The Mayor had already told us about all the great things we are getting with this new zoning, neglecting to mention that we could very well get the same good things without the bad things he has tied them up with. We could set a LEED Gold standard and new storm water requirements without increasing our height and FAR limits and taking away our bonuses for affordable or senior housing.We can even get the streets back without doing this. This amendment lost 9 against/2 for.

The following amendment about Storm Water treatment was unanimously approved and provided the occasion for another self-congratulatory speech by the Mayor, who crowed about the new storm water treatment without acknowledging that the new developments allowed in the zone would put enormously new pressure on these systems. To create new systems is great. But without accounting for the reduction of permeable services and the increased pressures of population, etc, without adding green roofs and green spaces, without a commitment to preserving natural areas within the city,  this is less than a win.

Finally we were ready to warn the Public Hearing and have general statements from the councilors.

Councilor Wright thanks Don Sinex and affirmed that this district was the right place in the city for tall buildings, that it would not constitute a precedent, and that it would grow the tax base.

Councilor Colburn said she would not be supporting the ordinance as amended. The height and scale are dealbreakers, she said, since the majority of her constituents say it is too big and want a more modest proposal of around 10 stories. She also noted a false dichotomy throughout discussions: either you are for this project or you are against growth, housing, progress. Thank you, Councilor Colburn, for noting this. It is a nuance many have not been able to grasp. She also noted that she would be working towards creating a better project in negotiations in the future.

Councilor Tracy, our stalwart hero, noted that the proceedings that night had confirmed his worst fears since the Pre-Development Agreement, that the ordinance process would be a charade. He had hoped that the council would approve some amendments that would ameliorate the project and show some willingness to compromise. But instead there was an unwillingness to bend on making a maximum height, on affordable housing, on parking. There was no substantial change to reflect the public sentiment. Tracy also noted that the Public Hearing was scheduled when he would be away and although he had made that clear there had been no willingness to schedule it at a time when he would be present. He may be flying in and arriving at City Hall at around 9:30 the night of the hearing. Maybe in time to vote; maybe not.

Councilor Shannon said that there had been many many meetings. Although they had worked under a "somewhat condensed time line" the considerations had not been condensed "meeting-wise". She said she appreciated the opponents's concerned and shared many of our views, but she did not believe that we could achieve what Plan BTV wanted without making this ordinance change.

Councilor Roof, who is clearly learning how to be a good politician from the Mayor, took the time to explain to the misinformed public how TIF really works. Thanks, Adam. We had no idea.

Councilor Bushor bravely and intensely stated that she would not be able to support the proposed overlay district zoning. Sadly, she said, because there were many wonderful things in it. The fatal Flaw in the whole project, she noted, was the intertwining of the zoning overlay and the Sinex project. She noted that Attorney Blackwood had encouraged the Ordinance Committee to look at the ordinance separate from the Sinex proposal. She concluded by saying that the height and massing of the overlay were not compatible with Plan BTV.

Councilor Knodell, in opposition to the Progressive Part which sent out a press release recently rejecting the project on the grounds of process and its bad affordable housing profile, finished out the speeches by saying she would be supporting moving forward with a warning. The Zoning, she said, is right for Burlington.

7 Councilors voted to warn the meeting. 4 (Giannoni, Tracy, Bushor, Colburn) voted against.

Please plan on being there on the 29th for Public Comment and to witness the conclusion to this part of the charade. And if you want to help with petitioning to get this zoning change on the ballot, please contact us right away.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Streets, Tunnels, Cars and Bikes in the Sinex Plan

At a recent City Council meeting Sharon Bushor asked the Mayor what assurances he could give to contradict the concerns the public has about the viability of the promised streets in the Sinex proposal. Many have wondered how full streets were possible given the grade of one of the streets and the building that seems to be an obstacle to safe driving. CLC also had discovered a letter from the developer's own consultant noting that one of the streets could not be built as a full street because of the grade. Much analysis and much discussion has ensued.

What did the mayor have to say to Sharon Bushor's question on behalf of the concerned public? Basically only that they had a committee working toward attempting to make the streets complete streets and that they would have a report on it in a few weeks, many months after having promised that these streets were part of the sweet deal we would be getting. What if the committee says it is impossible, but the zoning change sold on the basis of this great boon has already been passed?

Charles Simpson reports from the NPA meeting last night:

After saying the streets will be full-service and city-owned, Sinex conceded that they "won't be perfect" in that they won't line up with existing streets and he can't get a fire truck under the Free Press building given clearances unless he lowers the ramp, but that would increase grade--he didn't say beyond ADA but that was the implication--and destroy any at-grade connection to Macy's. They'd need steps. Hence an ADA violation there. "They aren't happy" he said, but suggested that he wouldn't be doing this unless they [Macy's] closed, which he suggested was always a possibility but said he had no specific information. Just that the chain is in trouble. He asserted no more than a 4.5 degree grade on his streets and the Free Press building underpass was 12 feet. You need a margin of error for trucks and buses. Thus it seems we won't have full-service streets. It is likely that 160 plus feet of building will need a new, larger fire truck which won't be able to access Pine Street. Sounds like something no one would approve.

Later in the day, our special twitter correspondent, Tony Redington, reported:

So, the tunnel is in--and maybe will be deeper than now (9% grade now from bottom to Cherry St.). 

Second, as B. calculated and discussed with us this morning the 7.9% "grade" on the 2016 plans for public use at P&Z equal the "degrees" (different form of measurement of grade) of 1.2 percent (not sure of the number--but well below 5% "grade" which is the maximum allowed by rules for persons with a handicap).

Forget the numbers, St. Paul cannot be traversed by those with a handicap based on grades and from Bank Street to Mall concourse entrance is also inaccessible to those with a handicap because of the 12% grade I measured off the plans. 

Also, no provision for bicycle use for either street feasible to the bicycle population at large.  

Do not be confused, we continue to get mixed, changing messages regarding the two streets connect.  Our CLC analysis works off the plans that are at Planning and Zoning--unless they are specifically  changed there by some "change" message will consider those plans and our analysis as accurate.  

In recent discussions with those in the bicycle community, lack of bicycle facilities on each street re-connect is a total fatal defect in the Sinex design.   $250 million and no provision for bicycle transportation facility on either street connect.