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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Housing Crisis?

Tony Redington has conducted a survey and analysis of the number and kind of living spaces available in Burlington right now, considering the 1400 new units under construction, and discovered two things:

1. Despite what advocates of unconscionable development continue to repeat: the vacancy rate is rising and rising. It is not 1%, as the city has been saying for so long; it is actually rapidly moving toward 3%

2. Unless we raise the minimum wage ($15, $20?), working people will not be able to afford the housing that is available. The vacancy rate will likely rise even further the more units are built, and the housing crisis, which is really an affordability crisis, not a housing crisis, will not be addressed at all.

Here is Tony's report:

7/15/2016

Ample Rental Housing Availability in Burlington Today
...rental vacancy rate possible upward rise to “glut” status?


With a first hand experience of searching for an apartment just five years ago in Burlington
when there were practically none, a snapshot of available apartments today—129 tabulated—
shows a surprising number of apartments in most neighborhoods which confirms two recent
studies showing a 2.5% vacancy rate moving to a “healthy” 3-5% vacancy range for
Burlington and Chittenden County.
There is a myth about a current housing crisis because of no housing available to rent--we
just need to build more units and that will alleviate half the crisis (the other half being
households being able to afford rentals). Well, the lack of housing units available is just that,
a myth, and the 1,400 units built, under construction and well into the permitting process 2014
to date in Burlington alone suggests there more likely exists an increasingly healthy vacancy
rate and a possible oncoming housing glut. A a return to the drought of years past—just ask
landlords and they express concerns over lack of rental demand in this market when they
know projects are rapidly coming on line. Even with the current level of vacancy rental costs
very likely will not rise and in fact decline modestly in the coming months.
A survey of apartments for rent through newspaper and online sites like Craigslist is a quick
and easy way to gauge housing availability and median prices in a small housing market like
that of Burlington. The last census counted about 10,000 rental units and the 129 units
tabulated here represent 1.3% of the 2010 inventory. Here are the results as found without
adjusting for costs of utilities (most do not include electric or heat). The July 11-12 survey is
not exhaustive but the numbers do reflect what a person seeking a rental would likely find at
this time.
Survey of 129 Apartments for Rent Listings Online July 11-12, 2016
Bedroom Size Number Price Range Median (Middle) Price
0 (studio) 14 $700-$1,400 $968
1 38 $700-$1,900 $1,050
2 43 $700-$2,600 $1,050
3 26 $799-$2595 $1,825
4 or more 8 $875-$2,900 $2,400
Note Bright Street Coop and 237 Pearl Street were clearly in process of renting up their
respective projects.
Clearly the 129 units are an “indicator” as apartment brokers generally have many units that
are not placed onto online availability. The two most recent authoritative private surveys over
the past year revealed about a 2.5% average vacancy rate for Burlngton and the Chittenden
County with an upward trend.
Housing Affordability and the $15 Minimum Wage
The impact of minimum wage changes on apartment affordability are quite dramatic. A
minimum wage worker income ($9.20 minimum wage in Vermont today) is approximately
$20,000 a year, so a median rent efficiency (studio) apartment would consume about 60% of
income. For a couple earning minimum wage, a one bedroom median rent apartment would
consume about 32% of total income. With a minimum wage of $15 the percentages drop to
37% for a single person renting a median priced studio apartment devoted to rent working at minimum wage, and 20% for two minimum wage workers for a median priced one-bedroom
rental.
There are other important factors favoring an increased vacancy rate and some rent
reductions from resultant market forces. These include not only additions to the rental
inventory—about 900 units from the Ireland Grove Street and Cambrian Rise (Burlington
College lane project) but also from the drop of as many as 1,000 students in rental housing
since the peak year of 2010, and a slight decline in under 65-age population for the current
2010-2030 projection period for the County as a whole.
Two major housing needs? First, deep subsidy rental “voucher” type assistance which
enables renter choice—the federal government has cut these by about 1,000 units since
2000. Perhaps the State and even the City might move to fill this gap. Second, there
remains and will continue a major need for senior housing and a continuum of senior housing
ranging from apartments, assisted housing, group homes and finally nursing homes of various care levels.
Apartments available websites
Here are three popular websites to find rental housing in Burlington and Chittenden County:

Burlington housing market rental websites:
Craigslist: https://vermont.craigslist.org/search/apa?postal=05401
Apartments.com:
http://www.apartments.com/apartments/burlington-vt/?
Bissonnette Properties:
http://bissonetteproperties.com/august-rentals/

Tony Redington
TonyRVT99@gmail.com
July 15, 2016

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Something Fishy in Outlaw City

At last night's City Council meeting on the overlay district zoning change for the Town center Project, 30 people spoke against the zoning change, the Sinex project, and for due process, many noting unethical and illegal elements in the process which has gotten the amendment this far. Only 8 people, many of whom were interested parties, spoke in favor of the project and against due process. I deposited a small sardine on the table in front of Mayor Weinberger, but he has obviously lost his sense of smell for fishiness if he ever had one. He just rumpled up his nose and continued to tell big fish stories about how great this project will be. Did the Council respond to its constituents and send the amendment back to the Planning Commission so they could finish their job, so they could take care not to enable spot zoning, so they could, as legally required by VT law, rule on whether the new amendment is in compliance with Plan BTV? The Progressives present, Max Tracy, Selene Colburn, and Sara Giannoni (Jane Knodell was out recovering from an operation) argued eloquently for this conscientious move. Councilor Paul, however, representing the Mayor's position, made a motion to send the amendment on to the ordinance committee, but with a time certain return date, followed by the unusual request that the entire Council would then have three work sessions to go over whatever the ordinance committee (consisting of Tracy, Bushor, and probably Kurt Wright, two of whom we know to be critical of either the project and/or the process) had done. To those of us who did not know how irregular that was, it might have seemed like a fine idea (except that the Planning Commission was not done with their work and the amendment was in Council's hands on false and illegal premises!); but, in fact, this move was calculated to take the power out of the rightful hands of the appointed ordinance committee and disperse it among other councilors who are in favor of the zoning change and see no problems with the process. Councilor Colburn noted, referring to the up-ending of usual process, that she had never seen anything of this kind in her four years on Council. The Planning Commission has not finished their work, she said, and moved that the Council postpone sending the amendment to their ordinance committee until such time as the Planning Commission has completed their due diligence. The rush to abandon the process, she added, has been created by the timeline of one developer, not the timeline of the Planning Commission, not of the people. City Attorney Blackwood and Mayor Weinberger disagreed, claiming that the Planning Commission had already done what was required by law, neglecting to mention that in fact David White had done what it was required that the Planning Commission themselves do, actually in dereliction of the law. The mayor argued that what the Planning Commission had left undone was only extra. Since David White once again misrepresented the Planning Commission position and none of them were present, an unwitting observer might think the Mayor was right. Mr. White asserted that the amendment "comes at the recommendation of the Planning Commission". The Planning Commission, however, does not know it has recommended anything. They persist in thinking they are sending comments, without approval or disapproval of the amendment to the Council. Mr. White allows them to think that is what they are doing, while claiming without their consent that they are recommending the amendment. Incredible that no one stands up and starts to scream. Why are we so well behaved in the face of such utter dishonesty and derailing of honorable process?!
In any case Sara Giannoni, Max Tracy, and Selene Colburn repeated that they would like to have all the comments from the PC before the ordinance committee should be asked to look at the amendment. No mention was made of the physical model. Joan Shannon argued against sending the amendment back to the planning commission and in favor of requiring that the full Council go over whatever the ordinance committee does, saying there will be more time and more due diligence, not less as Councilors Colburn and Tracy said. Councilor Bushor, arguing against the time certain requirement and the added work sesssions, noted that the practice of sending issues to small committees was in fact the best practice and had been implemented by the council for a reason. Councilor Tracy, who is, as mentioned above, on the ordinance committee with Councilor Bushor, called further foul by noting that he had only just heard about the time certain nature of the motion to send the amendment to ordinance committee. He had not been informed of this irregularity. "No one called me, " he noted. It was "poor form" to make a motion out of keeping with routine practices without alerting people on the committees it involves. Tracy also noted that the fact that the Commission and the Council were being forced to complete this change on the developer's timeline is evidence for spot zoning.
The motion of Councilor Colburn to send the entire amendment back to the Planning Commission was voted down, 7 to 3, with only Colburn, Giannoni and Tracy in favor. In contrast, the motion by Karen Paul to send the amendment on to the ordinance committee with the irregular requirement that they get it back by a certain time (August 15th, for three special full council work sessions, culminating in a public hearing on September 12th), was approved 7/3, with Colburn, Giannoni, and Tracy the only no votes. What happened to Councilor Bushor, who had registered so much concern about the process and its irregularities? Why was she unwilling to stand with the three conscientious voices on the Council? If she had voted with the trio of conscience, the motion would not have passed since such a suspension of rules requires a 2/3 majority. As to the rest of the gang, there is no telling why they continue to disregard their constituents, the law, due process, ethics. But we will remember come election time. Some are calling Burlington Outlaw City. It feels like the wild west, but not nearly as fun. It makes us all want to just retire to some speakeasy instead of trying speak with difficulty to people who have no ears to hear either their constituents' voices or the voice of law and due diligence. But we must continue, because there is really no where else for us to move if they ruin this city. Planning Commission meeting TONIGHT downstairs at City Hall, probably room 12, at 6. They will be discussing the comments they want to send, after the fact, to the ordinance committee. Public Comments welcome, but probably disregarded if drowned out by developers carrying flimsy promissory notes for millions they may not even have.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Just Do It! The Planning Commission Gives the Overlay District Rezoning the Go Ahead

In full keeping with what Barbara McGrew last night called the motto of the Weinberger administration, "Let's get it Done," the Planning Commission sent the ordinance that would allow 14 story buildings by right to any developer in the overly district on to the City Council who will begin deliberations about it at their July 11th meeting. 
                                                Just Do it.
Lacking its conscience, Lee Buffinton, who was forced to recuse herself because her employer Champlain Housing Trust, supports the project, the remaining members present cooperated with the unconscionable and irresponsible push to, in the words of one supporter of the project, the owner of LeZot Cameras, "Get it done any way possible". Before the mad rush to get it done ensued, Emily Lee read a letter drafted by herself and Lee Buffinton (who had not yet recused herself), outlining the reasons why they both felt that the public hearing should be stopped (full text of this public record is below in another post). The letter cited improprieties in the warning process and multiple inaccuracies and misrepresentations of Planning Commissioner positions and clearly stated that the required report on the compliance of the zoning change with our comprehensive plan written by the Director of Planning and Zoning, David White, had never been seen by them, discussed by them, or voted on by them. Further, it did not represent the prevailing position of most members of the commission. The audience broke into applause. We thought, for once, that honesty and integrity would prevail. Not so. Immediately after the applause died down, Emily Lee took back her support of the letter, noting that the City Attorney's explanation had satisfied her as to the legality of the proceedings. Eileen Blackwood, City Attorney, had reported that even though Vermont  State statutes require a Planning Commission to draft and approve such a report, that's not how we usually do it in Burlington. Thus it is fine for the Director of Planning and Zoning to write such a report without the knowledge or agreement of the Commission, in the Commission's name! According to the Vermont Zoning Administrator's handbook, however, this is not at all correct. Here we read: "The board or commission should make its own decision in a deliberative session without the ZA[zoning administrator]present, and to avoid an unhealthy mixing of roles, the ZA should not write the board or commission’s decision".  But Emily Lee was satisfied and Lee Buffinton announced the bombshell that she was required to recuse herself.
Business as usual could now proceed without the pesky obstacle of conscience, due diligence, the law, ethics, consistency, responsibility to the public. 
The public comment period began and ended with strong requests for Yves Bradley, whose employer, Pomerleau Real Estate, publicly supports the project, to recuse himself because of widely perceived conflicts of interest. Bradley refused. In between there were about 50 public comments, about 29 against the zoning change and the associated Town Center Project, and about 21 in favor. As was noted by one speaker opposed to the project, most of the people opposed were local residents with no vested interest, while many of those in favor were people who stood to gain financially by the project, including the developer's own lawyer, contractors, architects, and the ever present head of the Burlington Business Association, Kelly Devine, who lives out of town. A long list of Burlington Businesses opposed to the zoning change was read by Alexander Lavin, who noted that Ron Redmond had included many of these businesses on a list he read at the May 2nd meeting as being in support of the project. In fact, they had agreed to supporting a renovated mall, without having any idea that this would require a zoning change allowing 14 stories by right. Monique Fordham collected these signatures in only 2 days, in between her busy work schedule. Ron Redmond responded to this powerful refutation of his assertion by claiming that most of the businesses on our list were not even on Church Street! Tell that to Crow Bookshop, the Outdoor Gear Exchange, Bigger Boat, Full Tank, Uncommon Grounds, Vermont Violins, Little Citizen, Earth Prime Comics, Downtown Threads, Global Pathways, Hendrix Boutique, Vermont Gemological Laboratory. They might be surprised to learn that they are not on Church Street. In any case, this list includes the following other businesses just off Church Street: Dobra Tea, Pure Pop, Fire and Metal, Old Gold, Muddy Waters, Bento, Stone Soup, Champlain Leather, Revolution Kitchen, Crystal Cottage, New Moon Café, Radio Bean, Duino Duende, Light Club Lamp Shop. In fact, Redmond's math is off . About half of the businesses (if we count Radio Bean-Duino Duende-Light Club as one since owned by the same Lee Anderson) are on Church Street. What the businesses on this list do have in common is that they are local businesses, who care about their community. They may not have the Just Do It ethos of large corporations or chain stores.
Anyway....I'm tired now, so I won't go into detail about the many pro and con arguments given by the very engaged, intense public. Andy Simon, refuting the idea that opponents of the zoning change are against change, affirmed that we do want change, real change, including a change in personnel in City government come March. Others asked for real change in the form of moving toward a car- free city by removing the parking garages that make the building so tall and instituting park and rides. Others asked for slowing down the process and for due diligence and legality. Others asked for real solutions to affordable housing, noting that this project gives away valuable housing space to Champlain College students and provides only 50 or so affordable units which are so small as to be like little cells. I noted that the new zoning law sets a precedent for By Right increase of height, striking our leverage for getting more affordable housing as a public benefit. Others sanely argued that we could have a good project within the current zoning. The mall is now only one story high, so 9 more stories could be built if the developer were to provide public benefit in exchange for any floors above 65 feet. But the people in support of the project spoke quixotically about how this project would bring housing, jobs, vibrancy to the community, without providing evidence or analysis of what kinds of housing, what kinds of jobs. People who did not seem to be much acquainted with the period of Leonardo, Palladio,  or Botticelli spoke of the Sinex development as a "renaissance project". Others pointed to the Masonic Temple as a high building we are all fine with, neglecting as usual, to note that that building's height consists of a tower, or that it is one small tower not a mass of two square blocks of ugly cheap material.
Mayor Weinberger then gave a half hour speech explaining to us ignorant citizens who just didn't yet understand his superior wisdom why this project would save our failing city; once again insisting that building more market rate housing would help the affordability problem but not explaining how; speaking for equity, equality, and against gentrification. As usual he suggested that informed opposition was ignorance, and arrogantly maintained that he knew better than the people of Burlington. Then he proposed that the Planning Commissioners move forward with the approval process by sending the ordinance and the report written by David White, and never approved or seen by them before this official hearing, off to City Council, and that they take some time to revise the list of comments and recommendations for the Council and the accompanying letter that David White had also drafted and which now still says that the Planning Commission strongly approves the amendment, &c, &c. And, guess what? The Planning Commissioners present (Harris Roen and Andy Montroll were MIA) agreed unanimously to do his wise bidding and Just Do It! The Confused public had to ask repeatedly, what did this mean: were they approving the zoning change? Oh no, said Mr. White, the Planning Commission doesn't do that...they just make recommendations. So, we continued to ask: Are you recommending approving this zoning change? Are you ruling that it is in conformity with our Comprehensive Plan? No, not quite that either. Emily Lee kindly tried to explain: they were, in fact, agreeing that the change was in conformity with the basic premises outlined in the report. Which, I take to mean, despite their tergiversation (a word Charlie Messing reminded us of last night) : the Planning Commission recommended the approval of the zoning change, despite serious concerns which they would provide to the council before the Council meeting on Monday(?) and that they basically ruled that the change is in basic compliance with Plan BTV. Confused? Well so are they. But don't think too hard about it. That might get in the way of Getting it Done! 










 
 

Communication from Emily Lee and Lee Buffinton on Improprieties in Public Hearing process

July 6th, 2016

Fellow Planning Commissioners,

We are concerned that the Public Hearing on the Downtown Mixed Use Overlay is premature and does not meet legal requirements under Vermont Law. Furthermore, many of the documents in the meeting packet contain errors and/or omissions in regard to the Planning Commission’s positions.
Vermont Law States:
"When considering an amendment to a bylaw, the Planning Commission shall prepare and approve a written report on the proposal...The report shall provide a brief explanation of the proposed bylaw, amendment, or repeal and shall include a statement of purpose as required for notice under section 4444 of this title, and shall include findings regarding how the proposal:
(1) Conforms with or furthers the goals and policies contained in the municipal plan, including the effect of the proposal on the availability of safe and affordable housing.
(2) Is compatible with the proposed future land uses and densities of the municipal plan.
(3) Carries out, as applicable, any specific proposals for any planned community facilities.
This mandatory Planning Commission report must be completed 15 days prior to a public hearing in order to meet certified notice requirements. The Planning Commission has not prepared and approved a written report as required by law. Nor have we had a comprehensive discussion on the proposed amendments’ conformance with municipal policies, including the availability of affordable housing. Furthermore, we have not reached consensus on these issues. Indeed, some Commissioners have raised concerns that certain regulations do not conform to the goals and policies of our municipal plan. For instance, at our last meeting commissioners expressed universal opposition to the proposed regulation that would permit a college campus to occupy the Burlington Town Center site, emphasizing it would be contrary to Plan BTV which calls for mixed uses and a variety of housing types. Clearly, the Planning Commission need to carefully assess the proposed overlay district and its many regulations for conformance with the goals of Plan BTV, which is the Municipal Development Plan.
For instance, in order to comply with the law we are asked to consider the effect of the proposal on the availability of safe and affordable housing. We have not considered the number of affordable units the proposal without height bonuses would create compared to the existing bonus structure. Nor have we factored the impact of allowing student housing, which may be exempt from the low income housing requirement, into that equation. Without more specifics and study we cannot assume that this proposed amendment furthers our goals and policies regarding affordable housing
The Burlington Planning Commission Report Municipal Bylaw Amendment found on page 43 of the July 6th Planning Commission packet, was written by Planning and Zoning staff and not the Commission. The Commission members are seeing it for the first time in the packet and have never discussed its contents nor voted on it. It does not accurately represent the views of the Commission. Nor, does it satisfy our legal requirement to deliberate and write our own report.
The Summary of Planning Commission Comments & Actions in our packet for July 6th public hearing needs corrections and additions to truly reflect the positions taken by members of the Planning Commission at recent meetings as follows:
Key Elements #3 as written: "The Commission understands the limitations associated with bonuses and the rationale for moving away from them in this overlay, and generally agrees that provisions/restrictions should be explicit"
Note: The Commission has not voted on this and this is not the unanimous opinion of the Commission.
Key Element #4 as written: "Retain current maximum height of 105ft to conform with illustrations in planBTV Downtown & Waterfront."
Correction: The current maximum height is 65' and only with bonuses can a building be 105'. We suggest changing the language to reflect one member's stated preference to "Retain maximum height of 65 feet by right with options for additional height with bonuses."
Note: Members of the Commission are not able to make an informed decision on the appropriate height and massing for this site because of a lack of appropriate visual tools such as a physical model and sufficient time to review and debate the change. The Planning Commission needs more time in order to make the legally required assessment for conformity to the municipal plan regarding height and massing.
Key Element 11 as written: "The Commission supports the language regarding the urban design treatment of parking floors. The Commission feels that if parking is permitted in these areas, high standards are needed regarding the screening of cars and lights."
Note: Some members of the Commission want stronger language regarding compliance with Plan BTV's emphasis on underground or completely wrapped parking, so that exterior design treatment and screening of cars and lights would not be needed at all.
Conclusion in Key Element 12 as written: "Therefore, the Commission recommends no parking structures at the perimeter of a building on the ground and second floors fronting streets, and reiterates the importance of the design and screening requirements to ensure that any parking located in above-ground structures is indistinguishable from other floors of a building from the street view."
Note: The Commission has not voted on this element. There were suggestions by members of the Commission to have the parking completely wrapped by a liner building or off site in order to be in conformance with Plan BTV that should be added to the letter.
Key Element 16 as written: "The Commission is uncomfortable with the remote possibility that this district could become a post-secondary school/campus. The Commission recommends that the CDO’s use table not be modified as proposed."
Correction: The Commission is uncomfortable with post-secondary school/ campus being an allowed use on the use table because it is not consistent with Plan BTV. The Commission recommends that the CDO's use table not be modified as proposed, allowing post-secondary schools/colleges as conditional uses only.
Note: The term "remote possibility" is an editorial comment that does not reflect the opinion of the Commission.
Many of the above errors and omissions are also present in the letter to City Council written by Planning and Zoning staff that suggests that the Planning Commission "strongly supports" the adoption of the Downtown Mixed Use Core Overlay District amendment”. In fact, The Planning Commission has not voted on this matter. This letter goes on to states that, "The Planning Commission finds the proposed amendment to conform with the goals and policies contained within the City's Municipal Development Plan regarding the availability of safe and affordable housing, future land uses and densities, and proposed community facilities." In fact, the Planning Commission has not come to this conclusion and we have not chosen to delegate this decision-making to others.
In summary, due to our above mentioned concerns about the Public Hearing, We respectfully ask that the Public Hearing be postponed until we as a Planning Commission are able to perform the due diligence required to meet our legal obligations.
Thank you.
Emily Lee
Lee Buffinton

Monday, July 4, 2016

URGENT: Public Hearing Process for Zoning Change Riddled with Improprieties

The Planning Commission is being rushed into holding a Public Hearing on the massive zoning changes required for the Town Center to go forward on Wednesday, July 6th, before they are ready, without following the proper procedure, and recklessly ignoring serious legal questions. We are heading for an iceberg, but David White, director of Planning and Zoning, with Mayor Weinberger waiting safely at shore, must think that the town center project that is improperly entangled in this zoning change is too big to sink. He is ignoring the warnings of Planning Commissioners and citizens and is steering us as fast as possible into disaster. The zoning change does not conform to our comprehensive plan or Plan BTV in a number of important ways, thus raising the question of illegality.  But there are further problems. The improprieties as I understand them consist of the following:

1. The Planning Commission is required to prepare an official written report determining the conformance of any zoning amendment with our comprehensive plan PRIOR to any warned public hearing. This has not been done. Since even David White could not rush the Planning Commission into being any more prepared than they are now, two meetings are being squished into one. One to review and approve the Planning Commission's decision (even though they will likely not have come to any conclusion by Wednesday nigh). And another to serve as a public hearing. If there is a conclusion drawn, it will only be ready minutes before the public hearing commences. But the law states that such a written report need be submitted to a number of officials 15 days before a public hearing. The packet does contain such a report, buried deep within its 60+ pages, but this report was not written by the Planning commission and not discussed or approved by them. Further, it has only just appeared in the public domain, thus does not fulfil the 15 day warning requirement. Who wrote it? Further, the steering of the Planning Commission in terms of their duties and the proper process in regard to this important zoning change has been very murky. David White  never gave a straight answer to Andy Montroll's question about whether or not it was acceptable to just provide comments and no specific approval or disapproval, giving the impression that White planned all along to cajole the Commission into an approval. White drafted a letter to the City Council in the name of Planning Commissioners (included in the agenda packet), and postdated it, assuming that the Planning Commission could be cajoled into voting for approval despite much evidence to the contrary. White put this letter, stating that the Planning Commission approves the amendment and believes it is in compliance with Plan BTV(and even necessary for compliance) in this public packet without clearly noting that it was provisional, as if the planning commission were already prepared to present or had already voted on such a statement. This is grossly misleading, and part of a larger pattern of falsification and misrepresentation on Mr. White's part.  As the director of Planning and Zoning it should have been Mr. White's job to steer the commission through proper process. What has gone wrong here?

2. Two packets providing information made up by David White have included multiple instances of inaccurate information, misrepresenting the City Council and the members of the Planning Commission. In both cases this is a matter of swaying a body toward a particular opinion by claiming expert support for a position which does not exist. Both of these packets may be connected to the 15-day warning and, thus, are required to be correct for the Public Hearing to be considered valid. The first packet gave the impression to the Planning Commission that the City Council strongly recommended the amendments under discussion. Councilor Bushor corrected this misrepresentation. The packet created for the Public Hearing gives the impression to the public and to the City Council that the Planning Commission strongly approved the amendments. The summary of Planning Commissioner comments on the overlay district includes frequent falsifications. In section 3, it states that the commission understands the limitations of bonuses and the rationale for moving away from them in the overlay district. This has certainly not been agreed upon and some members are clearly against this "by right" removal of public benefits. In section 4, Mr. White has repeated his constant inaccuracy regarding the height allowance in the downtown, stating it is 105, not 65, despite the fact that he has been corrected numerous times. In his communications with the Planning Commission, the public, and the City Council, Mr. White has also misrepresented Public Opinion, by claiming that the public input meetings on the mall justified a height increase (the minutes of these meetings do not support this claim).

3. Discussions in meetings and in the summary of Planning Commissioner and Staff comments inappropriately conflate the town center project with the amendment for the overlay district. Spot Zoning. In multiple meetings of the Planning Commission the two questions have been intertwined, giving the impression that the zoning change is being made to accommodate a particular project. Although this has been duly noted by citizens and Planning Commissioners, the official draft of comments for the public hearing includes multiple references to whether or not the proposed zoning overlay would fulfill the terms of the Pre-Development Agreement (PDA) for the Town Center. There should be no mention of this PDA in this or any other documents pertaining to the overlay district. Any trace of such a connection would seem to be grounds for an accusation of spot zoning. That two members of the Planning Commission and two members of the City Council have been meeting with paid consultants of the town center project simultaneous to the discussion of the zoning change further aggravates the appearance of improper conflation. Most glaringly, when Planning Commissioners (Lee Buffinton during Planning Commission meetings and Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur during meetings of the DAPAC, a smaller committee on the town center) have raised concerns about the legality of this action, Mr. White has brushed them away without providing evidence of a clear legal opinion on spot zoning. 

4. Neglecting to officially discuss or vote upon the central questions upon which the amendments are based. Does this zoning change conform to our zoning? If not, approving it would be illegal. Specifics of the overlay district and the town center project have been discussed, but the general questions of A) whether the overlay district corresponds to Plan BTV and our comprehensive plan, has not been raised by Mr. White for discussion or approval. B) whether the goals of Plan BTV can or cannot be fulfilled without this zoning amendment, a claim that Mr. White makes in his letter to the City Council. Neither of these questions have been put to formal discussion or vote. Insofar as the non-compliance of any new zoning change to a city's comprehensive plan and Plan BTV is illegal, this omission is exceedingly improper.
5. Change of Use to allow a non-taxable university in the downtown? Many people, citizens and Planning Commissioners and City Councilors, have asked whether the height increase conforms to PlanBTV and our Comprehensive Plan. There has also been considerable discussion of the non-compliance of allowing above-ground parking (A no-no in our plans).  But what people are not talking about is whether a change of use amendment is in compliance. This amendment, which has no basis in our city plans,  could allow the downtown overlay district to be given over to a university or college for its sole use. David White neglected to discuss the change of use question until the very last meeting when it was brought up by Commissioner Buffinton.  All present commissioners agreed that this change should not be accepted. The important question of whether it is advisable to allow a change of use for higher educational uses in the downtown has been ignored by staff in a way that is either neglect or conscious repression of details. What is going on with this? Why did David White appear to want to sneak in this allowance that is not in compliance with our city plans?

6. Apparent Conflict of Interest of Yves Bradley, chair of Planning Commission. Chapter 2 of the City's Zoning ordinance states that there shall be no conflict of interest or even appearance or reasonable public perception of a conflict of interest among members of the Planning Commission in relation to a particular project. Three community members testified to Mr. Bradley's conflict of interest at the last Planning Commission meeting. As a commercial real estate broker, actively seeking office and commercial space, Mr. Bradley stands to benefit financially from this project. Not only should he recuse himself from further discussions, but the proceedings have already been compromised by his participation in discussions and his leadership in assembling the committee of Sinex's consultants, Planning Commissioners and City Councilors. 

Please write to your Planning Commissioners and City Councilors and ask them to uphold the law and to insure that any zoning amendments be in compliance with our city plans and that they are approved according to proper process under due scrutiny and diligence! And come to the Public Hearing on July 6th at 6:30 in Contois Auditorium, 7 P.M. Public Comment. Let's not let the Director of Planning and Zoning steer us into an iceberg in the middle of the summer!!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Open Letter to Planning Commission and City Council Concerning David White


After attending the last four planning commission meetings and hearing a majority of planning commission members state unequivocally that they were not at all near ready to provide a yes or no answer regarding approval of the downtown overlay district zoning change, I was astonished to read the following in a letter addressed to the city council:

"The Planning Commission strongly supports the adoption of an amendment to create a Downtown Mixed Use Core Overlay District to facilitate the redevelopment of underutilized sites within the downtown core, including the Burlington Town Center. The area included in the proposed DMUC District is one of the most underdeveloped, and is an appropriate location for additional height and greater density within the City. The Commission believes that the current zoning for these sites is inadequate to facilitate the redevelopment of these sites in a way that significantly advances the vision of planBTV: Downtown and Waterfront...".

Not only is this a gross misrepresentation of the views of the commission, but this misrepresentation is the third of its kind to occur over the last few weeks. The first was exposed by Councilor Sharon Bushor, who noted that the packets made up for the planning commission asserted that the city council, strongly recommended approval of the zoning change. The second occurred at the planning meeting on Wednesday, when the summary of commissioners' views was grossly misrepresented and, we thought, corrected, by the commissioners who were present. 
   This last, on the eve of an important, but rushed, public hearing, is the most grievous; and surely represents a dereliction of duty on the part of Mr. White. I am certain that the planning commissioners will speak up themselves about this, but as a citizen who has been watching the hard work of the commission over the last few weeks I wanted to testify to my outrage at this conduct. Whether the summary created by Mr. White and Meagan Tuttle can be corrected soon enough before the public hearing to allow all involved parties proper time to digest the material remains to be seen. Perhaps it will make more sense to put off the hearing until a faithful document can be produced for careful scrutiny by the planning commissioners before it is presented to the public. In any case, I will surely not be the only citizen who will have questions if this sort of thing is allowed to continue.

More on Town Center Zoning Change

Amey Radcliffe gives us some more things to ponder:

1. Again and again when discussing housing affordability, we are hearing the perspective of the developer - how it costs too much, "kills the economics", and is not feasible. We are expected to simply nod and accept this as fact without seeing any profit and loss statements. How much profit is enough? When do the needs of the people outweigh the needs for financial gain? What about other costs to society of people who need housing but can't afford it? Small business owners know that there are times when you only break even, or maybe take a loss, but that is weighed against the long term benefits of building community. 2.  The notion of "good planning" brought up several times by Mr. Bradley lacks the kind of innovative thinking that is happening around the world (where all the same challenges exist). Where short term gain is traded for long-term benefit, where building cost is reduced by creative solutions, such as thinking small with unit size and thinking big with ideas of pre-fab, unusual materials and a paradigm shift away from the old business as usual. 3. What will transpire at the public meeting on July 6th? Will we be given a power point promotion of the benefits of a zoning change? Will we need to write our questions on small pieces of paper and otherwise asked just to listen? I certainly hope not.