MONTPELIER — Construction and traffic disruption has caused a backlash by affected downtown businesses.
The site of the former Montpelier Beverage & Discount Center has been under construction since the fall to provide a link to the Taylor Street transit center and housing complex to the west, with a recreation path that crosses the North Branch of the Winooski River. The path will also connect with the path on Stone Cutters Way to the east that is being extended from Granite Street to Gallison Hill Road.
A construction crew was busy this week preparing the former beverage center site for the installation of a foot bridge over the North Branch. The bridge's three sections will be lifted into place by a giant crane on Wednesday.
But the feverish, accelerated pace of work has also created concern among nearby businesses. Business owners were told that parking spaces and a travel lane near The Drawing Board would be maintained to allow customer parking and access for delivery vehicles to the back of businesses on Main Street.
However, last week, the travel lane was narrowed, eliminating the parking spaces, and on Monday, the travel lane was closed off. Business owners said they were not informed of the changes, which they said are having an impact on customers and delivery trucks accessing businesses.
It has also meant that large 18-wheel vehicles have had to double-park on Main Street to make deliveries, posing traffic safety hazards for drivers and pedestrians.
“My deliveries are having a very hard time because the alleyway is not made for 18-wheelers,” said Sarah Clifford, café manager at Bagitos restaurant on Main Street, referring to a narrow alleyway between Bagitos and Capitol Copy.
"I’ve had to call my delivery people to say, ‘You need to come in our front,’ which really stinks because they’re coming by our customers and if something falls, it’s a big liability. It puts a big damper on how we can operate, definitely. We’re definitely suffering, because customers are saying there’s no parking,” Clifford added.
Henry Witte, store manager at the nearby Aubuchon Hardware, said the business had suffered similar problems.
“Last fall sometime, they had built the fenced-in area where they are working and it substantially narrowed our access and it made it impossible for our larger delivery trucks to get back here,” Witte said. “We’ve been dealing with that for the last few months."
Business owners at The Drawing Board and Capitol Copy declined to comment.
Sarah DeFelice, owner of nearby Bailey Road women’s clothing store and the president of the Montpelier Business Association, said she had not been affected by the disruption or heard any complaints about it. DeFelice said the MBA would meet Wednesday, when the topic may come up.
Last week, the City Council also heard from resident Stephen Whitaker, who complained that the city and police department had not filed any permits to close vehicle access behind businesses on Main Street. He also complained that contractors S.D. Ireland had placed road base material near the river without proper screening material to prevent it entering the river, which he thought was a violation that required enforcement action and/or a fine.
Sue Allen, assistant city manager, said Whitaker’s concerns had been addressed, but did not elaborate.
“I am very pleased that the recreation path from Taylor Street to Main Street is finally under construction,” Allen said in an email. “Also finally being built is green space, improved stormwater systems, 18 new parking spaces and a road that will allow very large trucks to have proper access to the North Branch parking lot. This is a really great project, and the construction is proceeding quickly.
“City staff, including myself, Montpelier Police and the Department of Public Works have been speaking with business owners and the building manager to minimize the disruption during construction,” she added.