MONTPELIER — Following appeals to the Environmental Court, opponents of a permit issued for a proposed public parking garage project have been accused of trying to “kill” it.
Friends of Montpelier — a group of Montpelier residents — have appealed a Development Review Board permit in December to build a city-owned and -operated 348-space public parking garage and an 81-room Hampton Inn & Suites hotel and on a two-lot subdivision of a 2.8-acre parcel behind the Capitol Plaza Hotel on State Street.
The opponents also appealed a site plan review for garage project’s conditional-use permit.
The city and the Bashara family must submit final plans that meet conditions attached to the DRB’s decisions to receive the necessary permits.
The Bashara family, which owns the Capitol Plaza Hotel, received a permit for the new hotel in May. The Basharas then asked the city to partner with them and build the garage. The city agreed, but increased the size of the garage from 230 to 348 spaces. Voters approved a $10.5 million bond for the garage project in November.
Last week, City Manager Bill Fraser noted that the Friends of Montpelier appellant group filed its statement of issues last week.
“The City was surprised at the scope and nature of the appeal, which raises at least 20 separate issues related to the local approval process,” Fraser wrote in his weekly report. “The issues raised on appeal go far beyond the relatively limited and focused items listed in the petition which had been circulating (many of which the City had already addressed or plans to address).
“In our estimation, the appeal seems structured to provide for an expensive and extended legal process and, ultimately, to kill the hotel and parking garage projects,” Fraser continued. “Any significant delay places both the hotel and garage projects at great risk due to changing costs.
“This aggressive litigation approach is not consistent with public statements from appellants indicating that they simply sought certain improvements to the garage, support the hotel project, and recognize its importance to a thriving downtown,” he added.
Fraser said he hoped to meet with the appellants soon to discuss their concerns.
The appeals were filed with the Environmental Court by James Dumont, a Bristol attorney who specializes in environmental and public interest cases.
Dumont said a judge will convene a conference call with the parties in the next few weeks in order to determine the course of the case.
Dumont denied that the appeals were meant to significantly delay the projects, increase costs or scuttle them. He said the appeals identified issues the appellants felt had not been satisfactorily addressed by the DRB.
“If the applicant and/or the DRB failed to address these necessary issues, or failed to address them in the manner that is required by law, it hardly seems fair to blame my clients for insisting that these issues be addressed and addressed in the manner required by law,” he said.
The appeal of the subdivision of the project asked whether it conforms with ordinances governing suitability of land, design and configuration of parcel boundaries, traffic, character of the neighborhood and settlement pattern, and natural resource protection.
The appeal of site plan review of the garage project asked:
— Was conditional use approval required because the existing use of the site did not conform to an ordinance governing it?
— Should the Environmental Court determine that, because a conditional use application was not submitted by the city to the DRB under city ordinance chapter 330 — governing the impact of the developments on emergency services, schools, infrastructure, and water, sewer and stormwater services — it can’t review the merits of an application for conditional use approval that was never submitted.
— If the Environmental Court has the authority to rule on a conditional use application under ordinance chapter 330, does the proposed land development satisfy the ordinance in all respects, including components of the development not owned by the city.
The appeal further asks the Environmental Court to review whether the conditional use approval of the garage project met a host of other zoning laws and standards, including whether it complied with design control overlay standards, site plan standards, bicycle and pedestrian access, alternative transportation, street trees, parking lot landscaping and screening.
Dumont also filed motions with the Act 250 District 5 Environmental Commission to reconsider its decision regarding party status of Montpelier residents following last month’s review of a request by the city for an expedited Act 250 land-use review of the projects because they fall within a designated downtown.
Only Les Blomberg was granted partial party status over concerns he had about traffic and safety issues. The other three residents — Daniel Costin, Jeff Parker and Laura Berin — were denied party status over a variety of concerns, including air and water pollution, access to the river and the Taylor Street transit recreation path, aesthetics and historic sites, and the impact of increased traffic on the Taylor Street bridge.
Dumont said in his motion 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,” which would suffice under Act 250 rules.