MONTPELIER — The city has filed a response to appeals of Development Review Board permits for a proposed public parking garage in Montpelier.
The Friends of Montpelier, representing more than a dozen residents, have challenged permits issued by the DRB in December to subdivide a 2.8-acre parcel of land behind the Capitol Plaza Hotel to build an 81-room Hampton Inn & Suites Hotel, and a 348-space public parking garage that would be built, owned and operated by the city.
In a filing with the Environmental Court on Friday, attorneys for the city have requested summary judgment in its favor on the “scope of review” of issues contested by the appellants.
The city is represented by Burlington law firm Stitzel, Paige and Fletcher.
The court filing notes that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and the City is entitled to judgement as a matter of law on each of the identified Questions.” The filing said the proposed project in the Urban Center-1 Zoning District, “is designed and intended to meet all applicable standards and dimensional requirements of the Regulations,” it added.
Attorneys for the city argue that under city regulations, the proposed garage qualifies as a “community facility” because it will be owned and operated by the city. Although the words do not appear in the regulations, the attorneys argue that the Environmental Court “has previously held that the word ‘community’ is broad enough to include municipalities.”
Consequently, the attorneys argue the court has limited ability to regulate zoning governing the subdivision of land for a “community facility.”
The city’s attorneys also request dismissal of specific issues raised by the appellants concerning alleged breaches of zoning regulations. They include whether the proposed subdivision conforms to rules governing the suitability of land, and traffic generated – the attorneys argue the challenges are not appropriate under zoning criteria for subdividing land.
The appellant group has not challenged the permit for the hotel. But it has challenged the permit to subdivide the land and build the garage, maintaining the city did not follow its own zoning regulations in permitting the project.
Three residents also appealed an Act 250 permit for the garage and the denial of party status for residents. Only one resident, Les Blomberg, was granted partial status, while two other residents, Daniel Costin and Jeffrey Parker, were denied.
Both appeals will be heard by the Environmental Court, which will consider the garage project de novo (start again), as if no permits had been issued. Although the court could hear the DRB and the Act 250 appeals together and issue separate decisions, the city has chosen to have them heard separately.
Officials involved in the project said it is unlikely work on either the hotel or the garage could begin this year as a result delays caused by the appeals.
The appellants asked whether the subdivision would conform to rules governing design and configuration of parcel boundaries, specifically the frontage of the proposed garage. The attorneys for the city said zoning for subdivision only required that the city meet the minimum lot size requirements for public project, and did not cover the frontage of the building.
The appellants also asked whether the proposed subdivision would conform to the rules governing design and layout of necessary improvements, such as streets, drainage, stormwater and landscaping. The city’s attorneys said that under subdivision rules, only landscaping and screening, such as trees, could be considered.
The appellants also asked whether the subdivision would conform with the character of the neighborhood and settlement pattern, and with natural resource protection. Again, the city’s attorneys argue the issues were not within the court’s authority to regulate “community facilities” within municipalities.
Under major site plan review, the appellants ask whether the proposed garage should be subject to conditional-use approval under city zoning. The attorneys for the city asked the court to dismiss the challenge because the city does not propose to expand, intensify or change a nonconforming use.
“Instead, it proposes to replace the existing surface parking with a fully complying, permitted parking garage,” the court filing stated, adding that both uses were permitted in the UC-1 zoning district.
The attorneys for the city also argue that the court should dismiss a claim by the appellants that the city should have to satisfy a separate review of the project that is built on land not owned by the city which includes part of the adjacent Heney Lot, off State Street, because the project as a whole is a city-owned and –operated community facility.
“The city’s positions are stated clearly in the filings,” said City Manager Bill Fraser. “There is no need for additional comment on this active litigation.”
The appellants for both appeals are represented by Bristol-based attorney James Dumont.
Other representatives for the city and the appellants did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.
WORCESTER — When it comes to school plays it’s literally “no child left behind” in Worcester where “opening night” is “only night” and every student at Doty Memorial School has a role.
All 70 of them.
Preschoolers aren’t included, in part because Doty’s “All School Play” predates its preschool program and in part because it’s probably a reach to ask three- and four-year-olds to take the stage and perform before standing room only crowds, like the one that assembled for Thursday night’s performance.
Kindergartners don’t get that pass at Doty, where what started as a theater-for-everyone experiment has evolved into a tradition that dates back longer than most folks can remember.
Martha Fitch isn’t one of them.
Fitch had to do some mental math following what by her count was Doty’s 23rd annual All School Play, but the school’s retiring art teacher said she’s pretty certain 1996 was the year she and Sharon Newcomb came up with the idea.
Newcomb, a Worcester resident who taught physical education at Doty for 24 years before graduating to U-32 Middle and High School and since retiring, said that sounded about right her.
“It’s been a long time,” said Newcomb, who has remained part of a small but committed cadre of community members that help with what has increasingly become a student-driven performance.
It didn’t start out that way.
Newcomb said the thinking in the beginning was that all students at the then-K-6 school should know what its like to be on stage performing for the community.
“We really felt that it was important for kids to have a theater experience,” she said.
In a school the size of Doty, Newcomb said staging a school-wide play was daunting, but doable.
“Why leave anyone out?” she said in the frenzied few moments before the latest show – “Words. On. Paper!” – went on.
It didn’t come together overnight.
Principal Matt Young said planning for this year’s production started last September as part of a process that was already pretty well-developed when he arrived at Doty four years ago.
“It’s just this beautiful community-based learning experience that we do here,” said Young, who is leaving at the end of the school year and expects his recently hired replacement, Gillian Fucqua, will be as impressed by the school-community collaboration as he was when he arrived.
“It’s awesome!” he said.
Credit a shifting cast of community members – including several veteran volunteers, like Newcomb and Dell Waterhouse – who co-directed this year’s play.
Waterhouse taught at Doty for 25 years before retiring in 2011 and remains active in a play with a cast that now includes her granddaughter, Orla.
“I just really feel it’s important for kids to have the experience of being on stage,” she said, noting she supported the play as a teacher and continues to as a community member.
“It’s exhilarating and exhausting, but it is so worth it,” she said.
From Young’s perspective that is true in a growing number of ways.
In addition to providing a feel-good ending to the school year, Young said the play engages the community, taps the talents of several of its residents and increasingly incorporates student learning outcomes developed in the five-town, six-school Washington Central Supervisory Union.
“We strive for it to be student-driven,” he said.
Young said students have long written the original songs that are incorporated into the plays with the help of local musicians Chad Hollister, Ryan LeClerc and Kris Gruen – parents all. This year, he said, they were asked, in “Mad Lib” fashion, to suggest nouns and adjectives that were converted into the quirky characters writers Kate Juliano-Wible and Fitch had to work into the script they delivered before Thanksgiving.
Juliano-Wible said coming up with a cohesive story that includes a strange conglomeration of characters – like “loud-talking tacos,” “neon ninjas” and “fairy princesses” – was an added degree of difficulty.
“It’s already sort of a tricky thing to have 70 speaking parts in one play,” she said.
With Fitch’s help, Juliano-Wible made it work and enjoyed watching her daughters – Juniper was one of those talking tacos and the her big sister Tallulah played a neon Ninja – perform with their classmates as part of the broader play.
“‘Mad Libs’ is a magical device,” she said, noting it allowed her to weave a cast of incongruous characters – think talking tacos and break-dancing mermaids – into the script by continuously cutting back to scenes of the school’s fifth and sixth graders filling in the blanks while playing “Mad Libs.”
“It wasn’t easy, but it worked,” she said, of a play that underscored the power of words.
That message surfaced – sometimes more subtly than others – throughout the play throughout the play and was hammered home in the refrain of one of the original songs written and sung by students:
“Words can hurt.
Words can heal.
Words can tell a story
when I can’t explain how I feel.”
Though he is leaving, Young said the hope is next year students will be even more involved in writing the play – as the they are in writing the songs. Set design and publicity are also areas students could work on with the help of community volunteers and a supportive staff that already finds ways to make the play a part of their day-to-day instruction.
“They’re just super flexible and eager to incorporate the play as a learning experience and not as an extracurricular activity,” he said.
One thing Young said won’t change about the play will be the fact that all students participate – even the handful that perform off-stage responsibilities from stage crew members to handling the sound.
“We find a way for everyone to contribute,” Young said, explaining students get their first peek at the script before Christmas vacation and are assigned parts before spring break.
“When they come back from spring break we hit it hard,” he added. “It’s really amazing to see it all come together.”
That’s one word for it.
Waterhouse suggested another.
“This is by far the craziest play we’ve every done,” she said. “No question.”
She meant it in a good way and seemed satisfied with a one-and-done performance that ended with every student in the school – preschoolers excluded – standing together on stage and taking a bow.
There was room to spare on the smallish stage, but no empty seats in the crowded gymnasium.
“I’m really going to miss this,” Young said. “It’s special.”
MONTPELIER — Thomas Greene, founder and president of Vermont College of Fine Arts, has announced he will step down on July 1, 2020.
He will leave next month on a year’s sabbatical to resume his career as an acclaimed author but will return to teach in the college’s writing and publishing master’s programs. The college’s board of trustees will begin an immediate search for his successor. CFO Katie Gustafson and Academic Dean Matthew Monk will lead the college until an interim president is appointed. Greene’s new title when he returns will be Founding President Emeritus.
Greene founded VCFA in 2006 by creating a nonprofit that bought the historic Vermont College campus and three master’s writing programs from Union Institute and University. Greene previously worked for UIU and Vermont College’s former owner, Norwich University.
At 37 when VCFA began, Greene was the youngest college president in the nation. When he leaves, he will be the second longest-serving college president in the state, after Rich Schneider at Norwich University, who announced last week that he also will step down next year after 28 years’ service.
“I’ve been having a conversation with the board for a couple of years about when would be an appropriate time for transition from my leadership,” Greene said on Monday.
“My goal was always to go back to my writing career and I really felt that now was the time to pivot. For me personally, I’m ready to get back to writing and join the faculty to teach, which I used to do, and I also think it’s healthy for VCFA to bring in someone who has new vision and new ideas, and the board will begin the process to find someone to do that,” Greene added.
Greene said he would still be available to consult with staff and faculty but would relinquish day-to-day control of the college.
“It’s bittersweet because I work with such amazing people and it’s been such an incredible project but I do think I’m ready and I think that it’s a time for the college when there’s going to be a big push over the next three to five years on the philanthropic side and fundraising,” Greene said. “I love fundraising, but when you start a project that big, you want to know that whoever is leading that is in it for the long haul. For me to think about another five years, it just felt like that now was the time to change leadership, with new energy and ideas, to lead that big challenge.”
Greene said he would continue to work on his latest book and travel, but continue to live in Montpelier to be near his daughter, Sarah.
Greene said there had been a strong response to the news of his departure.
“It’s just been a great outpouring of support for me personally, and more importantly, for the college and what we do up there,” Greene said.
Greene said there would be no official send-off before he leaves in July but said there may be an event connected with the Vermont Book Award in November.
Greene said it had been gratifying to work to save the Vermont College campus from possible closure and launch it into a new education institution.
“It’s been extraordinary — we started from a place where we were trying to save a campus and about 100 jobs and 13 years later, with the support of a lot of people, we’ve built a world-class arts institute, one that is fighting outside its weight class in terms of its impact, internationally,” Greene said. “It’s very gratifying to see the work that’s being done every day there.
“Also, given the political and cultural climate we live in now, I think the arts are more important than ever. When I think about what we’ve done up there, I’m just proud,” he added.
During Greene’s tenure, the college raised $13.5 million to purchase the historic campus and the master’s programs in writing, writing for children and young adults, and visual art from Union Institute and University. VCFA has raised more than $9 million in philanthropic support, added six new degree programs in graphic design, music composition, film, art and design education, residential writing and publishing and international writing, has a $10 million annual operating budget and employs 250 people. The college also created the annual Vermont Book Award to honor writers in the state, and was named one of the best places to work by Vermont Business Magazine six years in a row — the only college in the state to receive that honor.
“Consistent with our succession plan, we will begin an immediate search for interim leadership and a broader search for VCFA’s next leader,” said Bill Schubart, chairman of the VCFA board of trustees. “Meanwhile, the Board has immense respect for and confidence in the current leadership team that manages the day-to-day successes of VCFA.”
Greene is the author of six critically acclaimed novels: “Mirror Lake” (Simon and Schuster, 2003), “I’ll Never Be Long Gone” (Morrow, 2005), “Envious Moon” (Morrow, 2007), “The Headmaster’s Wife” (St. Martin’s Press, 2014), “If I Forget You” (St. Martin’s Press, 2016), and “The Perfect Liar” (St. Martin’s Press, 2019). His fiction has been translated into 12 languages and has won many awards and honors.
MIDDLESEX — School directors in Middlesex have scheduled a special school district meeting less than 72 hours before they are set to cede operational authority of Rumney Memorial School to the recently seated board of the Washington Central Unified Union School District.
It took two tries and the posted warning still includes some notable errors, but voters who are able to attend the special school district meeting, which is set for 5:30 p.m. on Friday, June 28, will be asked to make a couple of district-ending decisions.
Both involve the local elementary school, which, like those in Berlin, Calais, East Montpelier and Worcester, as well as jointly owned U-32 Middle and High School, are on the verge of being conveyed to the new pre-K-12 district as part of one of several state-ordered mergers.
The new merged district will be launched on July 1 and voters who attend the June 28 meeting, which will be held at the school, will decide whether to authorize the lame-duck board to grant an option and an easement involving the property as its last pre-merger act.
Calais voters recently authorized their School Board to execute similar documents though that hasn’t happened yet and voters in Berlin will consider an option and an easement at a special school district meeting set for 6 p.m. on Monday, June 24.
The vote on the $34 million budget proposed for the merged district will be conducted in each of Washington Central’s five towns on June 25, and the Middlesex board initially thought the documents they have proposed could be considered by voters at that time.
During a special meeting on May 24, the board warned the June 25 vote only to later learn the decisions couldn’t be made by Australian ballot.
Acting on the advice of their lawyer, school directors scheduled an emergency meeting last Thursday and approved a revised warning the town meeting-style meeting that will be held on June 28.
The proposed option is similar, but not identical, to language contained in default articles of agreement for the new district. Those articles give the town the right to buy the school and school property for $1 in the event it is no longer used by the new district.
The proposed option contemplates the same $1 transfer, but focuses exclusively on the property on which the school is built and would be triggered if the school “… is no longer used for educational purposes.”
Meanwhile, voters will also be asked to approve the grant of easement that would allow the town to use the school property in perpetuity in ways that it currently does. Modeled after the document crafted in Calais the easement. Among other things, it would preserve the town’s right to use the school as an emergency shelter, hold town meeting and other special events there, and use it and the gymnasium and grounds for recreational purposes.
While school boards in Middlesex, Berlin and Calais consider those extra protections as important, their counterparts in East Montpelier and Worcester have viewed them as unnecessary, if not redundant.
In the news
Community College of Vermont bids farewell to nearly 500 graduates at its 2019 commencement. A3
Norwich University begins the search to replace President Rich Schneider, who will step down next year. A3
Mexican officials make the case against new tariffs threatened by President Donald Trump. B4
Starting today, the Times Argus will feature a revamped comics page. A6
A Taste of Art
Exhibiting Contemporary Art In Historic Contexts. This presentation will feature a “taste” of what Art at the Kent, a State-owned historic site, has offered visitors for over a decade. 12-1:30 p.m. The Garage Cultural Center, 58 State Street , Montpelier, firstname.lastname@example.org, 802-279-5558.