MONTPELIER — The developer who lost in his bid to build the city’s planned welcome center on the Carr Lot is asking the City Council to reconsider that decision.
Don Wells, owner of DEW Properties LLC, and his firm’s attorney both asked the council Wednesday night to revisit its choice of Redstone as the city’s development partner for the 1 Taylor St. project on the Carr Lot. A public-private multimodal transit and welcome center, with several levels of private development, will soon get into the planning stages.
The city has been awarded two sizable federal grants for the project and itself has about $1.7 million invested in it.
Wells pleaded Wednesday with the council to look at the quality of developers’ responsiveness to the city’s request for proposals and the committee process that yielded a recommendation for Burlington-based Redstone, saying he felt the process was flawed.
Another point of contention was the council’s vote itself, in which member Tom Golonka recused himself because his in-laws own Capitol Plaza Hotel and Conference Center, creating possible conflicts of interest. One possible use that Redstone suggested for the upper floors of the welcome center is a hotel. Also, DEW’s proposal included outreach to the Capitol Plaza owners over the possibility of creating additional parking on hotel property.
With Golonka not voting, four votes were required to produce a majority on the seven-member council. Mayor John Hollar said at the time he would go along with the three members who preferred Redstone — instead of voting for his own choice, DEW — to avoid a stalemate that could have stalled the long-awaited project. Typically, the mayor votes only to break a tie.
The DEW issue was not on the agenda Wednesday, and city officials learned that day Wells would be contesting the vote.
“I’m asking for reconsideration on the vote of the Carr Lot,” he began. “I’ve never been in a position like this, and I feel uncomfortable about it, but it’s been keeping me awake at night.”
Wells said his firm followed the city’s request for proposals to the letter and that Redstone had not. He also was harshly critical of an assessment tool used by the Carr Lot Design Review Committee, which listed project goals and had committee members assigning points, and which led to Redstone being favored by a more than 3-to-1 margin over Williston-based DEW.
That tally, referred to as a scorecard, was one of the major points of Wells’ argument.
In an email earlier Wednesday to City Manager William Fraser, Wells contended the selection process was flawed because the committee’s criteria had 31 references to design and energy-related items, although Wells argued “the design is not (to) be included in selecting a developer.”
Fraser said all the items on the sheet were directly out of the request for proposals.
Wells’ attorney also questioned the legality of the committee itself, and in the firm’s email the two said, “Also, it appears the committee did not comply with Montpelier’s ordinance, which requires committee members to be council members.”
Wells told the council in addition that Golonka should not have recused himself from the choice of a development partner — only from the ultimate decision on the use of the upper floors should the proposal contain a hotel.
Councilors Dona Bate and Thierry Guerlain — the two DEW supporters — both indicated uneasiness Wednesday with the process that led to the selection. But the only avenue for reconsideration would have been for one of the councilors who voted for Redstone to offer a motion to reopen the issue and possibly revote, and none did.
Golonka said his recusal led to the outcome, which upset him. “Recusal should never be the reason a vote passes or does not pass, and I felt my recusal last week caused that,” he said.
He asked the mayor how he would have voted if it had been a 3-3 tie, and Hollar said, “I would have voted with DEW.”
Golonka said, “So it did fundamentally change” the outcome. Hollar responded, “It did. That’s life. I’m sorry.”
John Snell, a citizen member of the committee, defended its work and said it looked carefully and thoroughly at both proposals. A majority felt Redstone was the best match as the city’s partner at 1 Taylor St.
“I would hope that the City Council would abide by its decision and the committee’s recommendation,” he said. “We put a lot of work into it, and I’m pretty confident that we chose the right development partner.”
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