MONTPELIER — A request to reconsider the party status of petitioners challenging permits issued for proposed hotel and garage projects in the Capital City has been denied by the Act 250 District 5 Environmental Commission.
In a ruling Monday, the commission stated the request did not present any new evidence or raise any “manifest errors” the commission may have made considering party status determinations.
“Therefore, the District Commission concludes that the Motion fails both tests for this standard,” the ruling stated.
The legal tussle follows a challenge of permits issued by the Development Review Board in December for an 81-room Hampton Inn & Suites hotel and adjacent parking garage proposed by the Bashara family behind its Capitol Plaza Hotel on State Street.
The Basharas asked the city to partner on the garage project. The city agreed but increased the size of the garage project from 250 to 348 spaces. A $10.5 million bond for the project was approved by voters in November.
In a January review of the projects under Act 250 criteria, the commission was also asked to consider a petition for party status by residents Les Blomberg, Daniel Costin, Jeff Parker and Laura Biren (who subsequently withdrew her request for party status). In its hearing recess order, after review of the projects, the commission rejected the request for party status for petitioners, except for Blomberg, who was concerned about traffic and safety near his State Street office. Blomberg was granted partial party status by the commission, which remains intact.
On Jan. 31, attorney James Dumont then filed a motion to reconsider party status for other petitioners. The city responded with a Feb. 15 memorandum in opposition to Dumont’s motion.
Dumont filed a reply memorandum to the city’s opposition motion on Feb. 24.
In its ruling Monday, the commission said petitioners claimed the commission “did not apply the proper procedures in reviewing the application, but the Motion solely requests the Commission to modify the party status determinations, which the Commission has explained above (it) is declined to do.”
The ruling stated that the commission had previously concluded that the application for Act 250 review of the hotel and garage projects was complete, and scheduled a Jan. 16 public hearing to consider it.
“At this hearing, the Commission provided an opportunity for Petitioners to provide additional information to the Commission on their party status qualification,” the ruling stated. “The proper time for raising procedural challenges to the hearing on completeness grounds was prior to the hearing.”
Asked to comment on Tuesday, Dumont said, “This issue would be addressed on appeal by the Environmental Court judge, so I don’t feel terribly comfortable commenting on it. I’ll just rest on what we filed with the commission, which lays out our position.”
Dumont was referring to a separate motion filed with the Environmental Court against the denial of party status for the residents, questioning whether the city complied with its own zoning regulations in permitting the project. The motion said that the commission erred in denying party status because his clients were regular visitors to the area and didn’t have to demonstrate a “particularized interest,” as claimed by attorneys for the city, which Dumont said would suffice under Act 250 rules.
City officials have said the appeal of denial for party status would add significant legal costs and time delays that could kill both the hotel and garage projects. In response, Dumont said his clients had a right to address issues they felt had not been satisfactorily addressed by the DRB during the permit process.
“The decision is self-explanatory and consistent with the initial choice of the Commission. We look forward to completing the Act 250 process and moving the project forward,” City Manager Bill Fraser said in response to Monday’s decision.