MONTPELIER — The attorney for residents who have appealed permits for a public parking garage in the Capital City continues to challenge efforts to remedy mistakes that were made by city officials.
In a letter to city officials on Thursday, attorney James Dumont again said the City Council cannot and would fail to remedy errors in the warning and ballot article asking voters to approve a $10.5 million bond in the November elections.
Dumont also raised other issues about whether the city ignored its own master plan recommendations when it proposed the garage project, failed to obtain necessary easements that made the project application incomplete, and misled residents about tax implications of the project.
Dumont represent the Friends of Montpelier, a group of 13 residents who have appealed permits issued by the Development Review Board for a hotel and public parking garage on 2.8 acres of land behind the Capitol Plaza Hotel off State Street. The appellants have not appealed a permit for the hotel, but they have appealed permits to subdivide the land and to build the garage, which would be owned and operated by the city. The appellant group has also appealed an Act 250 permit for the garage project. Both appeals will be heard by the Environmental Court. A status conference with the court is scheduled for Monday.
Dumont’s June 6 letter reiterates a similar letter to the City Council last month that said the city could not rectify an error in the warning and ballot article for the bond vote in November. Both simply asked voters to approve $9.2 million to build the garage and $1.3 million for infrastructure improvements, such as sidewalks, sewer and water services, streetscapes and lighting, and contaminated soil remediation — totaling the $10.5 million bond request voters approved.
But because the project falls within the city’s newly created Tax Incremental Finance district, the warning and ballot article were required to have a detailed list of “related costs” in the bond which included $600,000 for architectural design and engineering, and $50,000 for financial consultants — a total of $650,000.
It was an oversight the city wanted to remedy with a “validation resolution” it proposed at its May 22 City Council meeting.
But Dumont, in his first letter to the council about the validation resolution and during an appearance at the May 22 meeting, said state statute prohibited the use of the validation resolution to correct errors in a warning and ballot article for a TIF district project. The only way to correct the error would be to warn the bond request with the related costs included in the ballot article and ask residents to vote again, he said.
The council decided to table a vote on resolution validation until it consulted with attorneys.
In his June 6 letter, Dumont also raised other issues with the permitting process for the garage project:
— The project is inconsistent with the Montpelier Master Plan: Dumont said the master plan recommended the city invest in alternatives to parking structures – such as public transportation networks, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and satellite parking lots – to reduce traffic congestion, air pollution and pedestrian safety hazards;
— The DRB issued permits without easement agreements for public access to the garage project – and has still to negotiate and approve them, meaning that the application is incomplete and should not have received a permit;
— The city failed to notify the City Council and residents of the 2018 state Joint Fiscal Office report that said TIF district projects significantly under-performed in terms of property tax revenue generated, potentially exposing Montpelier taxpayers to higher taxes to repay the bond;
— Residents were misled about whether only taxes from the new hotel would be used to repay the bond when in fact all new incremental tax revenue generated within the TIF district must be used to repay the debt, contrary to what City Manager Fraser told residents and the City Council.
Asked to respond, Fraser said in an email, “This matter will be discussed at next week’s City Council meeting with our attorney. Mr. Dumont’s letter is a restatement of issues previously raised with the city.”
The City Council meets Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.