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proposed senior housing facility
Senior housing development requests tax break in Berlin

BERLIN — Town officials are dusting off a rarely used policy and recruiting members to a shorthanded committee that is required to review tax stabilization requests like the one just received from the developer of the senior housing project planned on property owned by the Berlin Mall.

Brad Dousevicz, of Dousevicz Inc., has asked the town to approve a five-year tax stabilization agreement for Spruce Place, the 98-unit “enhanced senior living facility” he has proposed to construct on a 2.15-acre parcel that is now part of the 65-acre mall property.

According to a pending application for a state land use permit, Dousevicz plans to subdivide the lot where he plans to build a four-story building as part of an estimated $2.5 million project.

That far exceeds the $200,000 investment threshold called for in Berlin’s tax stabilization policy and should yield a project that boosts the assessed value of the property by $1 million — the figure needed to qualify for a five-year stabilization agreement.

If the town approves such an agreement, the increase in assessed value due to the completed Spruce Place project would be phased in over five years for municipal tax purposes. The specialized senior housing complex would be taxed on 10% of the value of the improvements in the first year of the agreement. That figure would increase to 20% in the second year, 40% in the third year, 60% in the fourth year and 80% in the fifth and final year of the agreement.

In the sixth year, Spruce Place would be taxed based on the full assessed value of the facility, which is expected to include a mix of independent and assisted living units for seniors, as well as a specialized “memory care unit” for those suffering from various forms of dementia.

Though $2.5 million was the estimate used to calculate the $18,600 Act 250 application fee, Dousevicz has told town officials it could cost closer to $10 million in his stabilization request. He has also indicated the amount invested will far exceed 25% of the tax assessed or fair market value of the property prior to construction.

That 25% figure is required to qualify for stabilization. Town Administrator Dana Hadley said he suspects Dousevicz is referring to the yet-to-be-calculated value of the undeveloped property and not the much larger mall property, which is currently assessed at $14.3 million.

Though not a requirement, the Spruce Place project, which is expected to create a minimum of 30 full- and part-time jobs, checks a box that is evaluated as part of a review that will be conducted by the town’s economic development committee.

That committee, which is currently down to one member, is required by policy to make a recommendation to the Select Board.

According to Hadley, the only member still sitting on the committee is Selectman Jeremy Hansen.

Hadley said he plans to ask Jamie Stewart, executive director of Central Vermont Economic Development, to consider serving on the committee. He hoped to recruit members from other town departments before bringing a list of names for the Select Board to appoint.

Once the committee is repopulated, the process contemplated by the tax stabilization policy can begin.

That policy hasn’t been used since 2015, when the Select Board denied the mall’s belated request to stabilize taxes for a 55,000-square-foot Kohl’s department store that was already under construction at the time.

Spruce Place doesn’t have that problem because state permits for the project have not yet been obtained and construction isn’t expected to begin until next year.

The tax stabilization policy hasn’t been used successfully since 2014, when the Select Board approved the now-expiring five-year stabilization agreement for the 21,000-square-foot operations center Northfield Savings Bank built at the corner of Paine Turnpike North and Stewart Road.

Now assessed at more than $4.6 million, Northfield Savings Bank is only paying municipal property taxes on about $3.9 million under the stabilization agreement that is now in its last year.

The policy has only been used two other times since it was approved by voters in 2011.

The Select Board approved the now-lapsed five-year agreement that helped entice Vermont Mutual Insurance Group to expand from Montpelier to Berlin seven years ago. Since July 1, 2017, Vermont Mutual has been paying municipal taxes based on the full value — now nearly $1.5 million — of its office building on Industrial Lane.

The only other request for tax stabilization was tied to the mall, and involved the expansion of Walmart. It was initially approved by the Select Board six years ago, but later aborted after it was determined the 18,700-square-foot addition needed to accommodate Walmart’s expansion plan wouldn’t significantly increase the mall’s assessed value.

david.delcore @timesargus.com


jebcas / Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo  

Fun Raising

Steve Stoufer, co-owner of Manghis Bread from Montpelier, looks over loaves of fresh-baked challah bread during The Great Vermont Bread Festival held at Camp Meade in Middlesex on Saturday. Dozens of bakers and hundreds of visitors gathered to celebrate Vermont’s bread makers and the 20th anniversary of Red Hen Baking during the day-long event.


Local
Cross Vermont Trail gets boost from Berlin

BERLIN — It’s been a long time coming and there is still more money to raise, but plans to construct a short but expensive section of the Cross Vermont Trail just received another financial boost from Berlin.

Nearly three years after pledging $3,000 to the Cross Vermont Trail Association’s “keystone project,” the Select Board has agreed to chip in another $15,000.

That’s a drop in the bucket when it comes to the $1.6 million price tag of a project that contemplates constructing more than two miles of off-road bike path along the Route 2 corridor and a 200-foot bridge across the Winooski River.

However, for an organization that was within $36,000 of the $250,000 it needs to raise to leverage nearly $1.3 million in previously approved federal funding it is a significant contribution.

Greg Western, the association’s executive director, acknowledged as much during a Thursday night meeting that saw the Select Board vote to free up additional money from the bike path fund it tapped three years ago when asked to contribute $3,000.

The fund was established years ago for a bike path project that has long-since stalled due to right-of-way issues with the local railroad that may never be resolved and may never need to be given the subsequent addition of buffered bike lanes along the Barre-Montpelier Road that serve the same purpose.

“It’s a way to turn some of that money into an actual bike path,” Western said, noting while progress has been slow, it has also been steady since he last approached Berlin for funding.

At the time, the association still needed to raise $97,000 to meet its local match. Thanks the Berlin’s earlier contribution, and voter-approved appropriations in Calais, East Montpelier, Middlesex, Worcester and Plainfield, and other donations the funding gap had been whittled to $36,000 when Thursday’s meeting began and stood at $21,000 before it ended.

Acting on the recommendation of the town’s conservation committee, the board agreed to appropriate an additional $15,000 for the project.

Phil Gentile, the committee’s chairman, said members debated how much money to suggest be funneled to the Cross Vermont Trail project. With more than $50,000 in the bike path in the bike path fund, Gentile said the committee considered recommending as much as $25,000 before agreeing $15,000 would provide a meaningful jolt to what it viewed as a promising project while retaining roughly $40,000 in the bike path fund.

“It’s significant, but we’re not shooting the whole ball of wax,” he said.

Western said Berlin quintupling down on its prior commitment could attract additional donors eager to advance a project the association has viewed as a key component of a much larger statewide trail that will span 90 miles and run between Burlington and Wells river since 1994.

The central Vermont portion of the project — including the costly bridge — has been a priority since 2005 when the association began lining up federal support. Nine years and nearly $1.3 million in commitments later, the association kicked off its “Build the Bridge” campaign, which Western told the Berlin board is in its final stages.

“We’re in the end game,” he said, noting the design work is done, most permits have been obtained and Act 250 approval was in the works.

Western said the proposed bridge, which would span the Winooski River using abutments from an old railroad bridge near Champlain Valley Equipment on Route 2 is the most expensive component of the project and predicted that cost could climb given recently enacted steel tariffs.

Half the proposed bridge is in Berlin, while the other half is in East Montpelier.

Once completed, the bridge would provide access to the trail network on the hillside leading up to U-32 Middle and High School. The section of trail would also link to the bike path Montpelier just extended to the base of nearby Gallison Hill Road.

With Montpelier now wrapping up work on that bike path extension and Berlin’s latest contribution, Western said he is hopeful the last of the local match wouldn’t take long to raise.

The project contemplates constructing a path that runs up to U-32’s existing trail network and out to the Central Vermont Civic Center on the west side of the proposed bridge while running creating an off-road connection between Routes 2 and 14 on the east side.

The project will require constructing a 600-foot trestle bridge or retaining wall to reach the bridge along a section of Route 2 that runs too close to the river to safely accommodate a trail.

david.delcore @timesargus.com


Local
Man faces attempted second-degree murder charge

BARRE — A man, facing a charge of attempted second-degree murder after allegedly assaulting a woman last week, was jailed without bail on Monday.

Tyler Wallin, 21, who is homeless, pleaded not guilty in Washington County criminal court to charges of attempted second-degree murder, aggravated first-degree domestic assault, domestic assault, assaulting a police officer and causing bodily injury, resisting arrest and violations of conditions of release.

If convicted of all charges, Wallin faces a maximum of life in prison with a minimum of 20 years or fines totaling $32,500, or both.

According to the affidavit of Barre Police Officer Jacob Frey, a woman came into the Barre Police Department in the early hours of Saturday morning to collect some of her property.

Frey said Wallin was known to police after being charged with aggravated assault Friday evening. Frey said Wallin also damaged the woman’s room at the Budget Inn, assaulted her Thursday and failed to appear in court the same day.

When the woman went to the Barre Police Department, Frey was asked to get a recorded statement from her. Frey said she reported she was unable to provide a written statement because of injuries Wallin inflicted on her.

The woman said that on Thursday, she and a friend drove by Wallin and asked him to get into the car, court records stated. The friend told Wallin that she could see the injuries Wallin inflicted on the woman, court records said.

“... This made Wallin mad and he jumped on (the friend’s) car and then punched (her friend),” Frey stated, adding that the two women drove away and the victim then went to have dinner with family.

Believing that Wallin had been arrested, the woman came back to Barre, Frey stated. Wallin saw her walking near Cumberland Farms around midnight and started to follow her, Frey said.

“She stated that he followed her down Seminary Street and Plain Street, and when they got to Warren Street, Wallin attacked her,” Frey stated. “She stated that Wallin attacked for her 15 to 20 minutes, beating her with his fists and slapping her with the back of his hand.

“She stated that Wallin punched her so hard, her earrings fell out of her ears,” Frey’s affidavit continued. “(She) stated that Wallin strangled her with his hands, forearms, knees and feet. (She) stated to me that Wallin strangled her 10 or more times, sometimes lasting minutes, and stated that he only let her up so she could breathe again and he could continue beating her.

“(She) informed me that Wallin stated to her, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ and, ‘You are going to die (expletive)’ several times. (She) also stated that if she called the cops, he would shoot the cops. (She) stated that she was very relieved that an unknown witness (unknown to her) called the police and believes that the police arrival is the only reason the attack stopped,” Frey’s statement added.

Frey said the woman denied fighting back but stated that she told Wallin to “please stop” and “leave me alone.”

“I observed (her) voice to be raspy and that she moved extremely slowly, as if in pain (which she stated that she hurt all over),” Frey stated.

Photographs provided to the court showed the woman’s face, neck, arms and torso covered in multiple lacerations and heavy bruising.

Court documents show that Wallin was also charged with assaulting the woman at the Budget Inn, a man outside the inn on Aug. 27, and another man behind Jiffy Mart on North Main Street in Barre on Aug. 11. He was released on conditions.

Wallin was also on probation for a felony count of forgery, as well as misdemeanor counts of possession of stolen property, operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent, unlawful trespass, petit larceny and two counts of false token dating back to Dec. 15.

Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault asked Judge Mary M. Morrissey to jail Wallin without bail pending his next court appearance on Thursday and that he be ordered to have no contact with his girlfriend, which the judge agreed to.

stephen.mills @timesargus.com


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Today

Poetry Reading

Former Vermont Poet Laureate Sydney Lea reads from his newest poetry collection. Q&A, refreshments, and book signing. 7-8 p.m. Bear Pond Books, 77 Main St., Montpelier, samantha@bearpondbooks.com, 802-229-0774.