Council punts on Taylor Street project
MONTPELIER — The City Council, expected to decide on the use of the upper floors of the 1 Taylor Street public-private project at the Carr Lot on Wednesday, ended up postponing that decision Wednesday evening, with Mayor John Hollar suggesting it was premature until the developer returns with more definitive information on what will work best at the site.
Councilor Justin Turcotte said he wanted to solicit more financial data for how the two proposals — either residential or office use for the upper floors — would impact the city financially before a decision is made.
A controversial hotel option, initially on the table, was taken out of the mix two weeks ago.
Councilor Thierry Guerlain said he felt it should be in the developer’s court to suggest what use for the upper levels of the development should hold — not the city council.
“I kind of disagree on that, we’ve spent $1.4 million on this,” said Councilor Tom Golonka, who said he supported housing at the upper levels of the development.
“I think it would free up a significant number of homes,” he noted, that could then see families come into those homes, and help bring more students to the city’s schools. “I think we owe it to our community to take a stand on one of the preferred options ... I’d be disappointed, frankly, if it doesn’t have some type of housing ... I don’t think necessarily that office is going to help us meet our goals.”
Councilor Jessica Edgerly Walsh said one of the reasons she voted for Redstone, the city’s development partner, was because they had brought options before the city.
The city has two federal grants in hand for the project, which must house a multi-modal transit center and a bike path and pedestrian bridge for those grants.
Walsh concurred with Golonka, saying there is a lack of homes in the city for people starting out. Home buyers in the 25 to 40 age group are buying out of the city, and she said, “I’m incredibly excited about that opportunity,” to add housing downtown, and vibrancy. “I’m excited about housing. That said, I want to make sure that that housing is attractive. ... I’m incredibly open to a mixed use.”
Councilor Donna Bate said, “I feel we’ve gotten where the housing has been stated over and over by the public ... housing, I think, has to be a major part of the building.”
Guerlain said he supports housing, but said it seemed to him “awkward to tell the developer how they should be spending their money.”
The mayor said the development is going to happen on public land. He said he supported housing and some mixed use including offices.
Bate asked, short of a decision on Wednesday night at the city council meeting, when a decision would be made. The project with initial designs was supposed to be unveiled at the fourth in the series of the community participation events.
City Manager William Fraser said the City Council should have a role in the decision, and that the city was working hand in hand with the developer to find what will work at the site.
“The idea is to have a viable project that works for the community,” Fraser explained. “I think we would be ready to approve something when they come back to us and say this is what we think is going to work and why.”
Hollar stressed that he felt it was premature for the council to act this week.
Bate asked whether Redstone’s principals could be brought forward to speak.
Erik Hoekstra of Redstone said the firm has taken much input from the public and worked with the city’s designers, and with the transit company to refine what their needs are and more. He said the company is nearing a site plan design for how the needed pieces can work together on the small site, including parking needs and public green space, both critical components.
Several members of the public spoke, all in favor of seeing housing as a major component of the 1 Taylor St. development project.
Now, there is less on-site parking than what the initial design showed. “What we have proposed in the past doesn’t work anymore,” said Hoekstra. The community input and the bus company input are changing the dynamics of how the development will end up being designed. He said having some flexibility to come back with what is possible for the site is where the development team is at now.
A site plan and building massing is what will likely be ready by July 30, the final public session now planned, but the design for the actual chosen use may not be finalized as yet, said Hoekstra. He said Redstone was thinking of a residential rental development with 40 units, but the parking would not work for that. Too, he said, the community input has indicated people are wanting ownership opportunities.
For the developer to pull off a condominium project is complicated, he said, adding that the developer has a lot of work to do exploring that possibility. “I think we’re winnowing down, on the 30th we’re going to be able to show the community a building footprint, how the transit center will work,” the green space and “sort of a box of what the building will look like,” but the specifics are still being evaluated.
Hoekstra brought up the Barre City Place development as an example with parking, saying Montpelier would not require as much parking as that development, but the state of Vermont demanded more parking for the Barre project. He said he felt that in Montpelier, half as much parking could be built in for residential units, “one to one and a half parking spaces per unit on site probably works for us, especially if we can count on some flex parking nights and weekends in the vicinity, but any tighter than that we don’t think we’ve got a project that’s viable.”
The site at 1 Taylor St. will not be a park-and-ride situation for travelers, said Hoekstra. “Downtown is not the most sensible place for a park and ride in this scenario,” he said.
“Allowing a pretty good chunk of the site to be open for green space,” and the needs of the transit center, Redstone is coming up with 27 spaces, seven of which would be needed by the transit center, so that would leave just 20 new spaces for the public under the plans now, explained Hoekstra.
Golonka said the city has the grants to afford the transit center, and said many people don’t like the idea of the turnaround for the buses on-site. Hoeksktra said the funding is for a transit center, “and so where the transit center people are coming from is driving that.”
Hoekstra said at the end of the day what the federal transportation agency wants for the bus concept will drive that piece of the project.
“It really just comes down to, in the end, what can we do given the limitations of the funding,” he said of that issue.
Larry Williams, a principal from Redstone, came to the council table to discuss the project.
“I think what’s important for the council to understand, we’re trying to get all of the parameters, all of the unknowns,” together for planning.
He said Redstone would rather not use part of the site for bus circulation or transit center employee parking. “This is an issue for the city and the transit center folks to tell us what agreement you can come to and we’ll design for that. ... It’s really up to the council to either push back against that, and I think it will delay the process.”
A recent economic analysis of the options for the upper floors of the development, which will top the public multi-modal transit center, showed that the estimated impact on the economy of the City of Montpelier would be $104,000 in taxable retail spending for apartments and $113,000 for an office complex use. In restaurant spending, the analysis showed the office complex would see about $69,000 in restaurant spending, while the apartment use would generate an estimated $245,000 in restaurant spending.
The tax impact was estimated to be $50,823 from an office use and $84,862 for the apartment use, the study, commissioned by the city, showed.
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