MONTPELIER — Opponents of a proposed public parking garage in the Capital City said they would file a petition for a ballot item on Town Meeting Day, seeking assurances from the city on several different aspects of the project.
Notice of the petition was first filed in early November with the Development Review Board to secure party status to the permit for the garage project approved by the DRB last month. The petition includes the names of many prominent city residents.
The garage is part of an 81-room Hampton Inn & Suites project by the Bashara family on 2.8 acres of land behind their Capitol Plaza Hotel & Conference Center on State Street. The Basharas asked the city to partner with them on the project and build the garage. The city agreed but increased the size of the garage from 230 to 348 spaces.
The Basharas already had a permit for the project as originally submitted before the city sought to amend the application. But the increased size of the garage has run into significant opposition.
Resident Andrea Stander on behalf of the petitioners at a meeting of the City Council last week.
“We recognize the concerns of many citizens, and especially our downtown merchants and businesses, regarding issues of parking in Montpelier. Our goal is to seek the best possible future for the city,” she said.
Stander said the petitioners expect to gather the required number of signatures — 10 percent of the city electoral roll or 622 signatures — by the deadline of Jan. 24 to warn the request for the ballot.
The request asked that the City Council withhold spending of the $10.5 million bond approved by voters to build the garage until there is a written commitment, for the benefit of downtown businesses, to provide sufficient remote parking spaces and transportation services to the downtown during construction.
The petition also requested that it be clearly shown there will be safe, continuous public sidewalks and bike lanes along the road to and from the entrance to the garage from State Street.
Petitioners also want a traffic study required by the DRB to be completed immediately and not a year after the project is completed.
Other requests in the petition included: The findings and cost of contaminated soil remediation on the site to be made public; that the bid to build the garage be within the bond limits; that all state and local permits, including water quality permits required have been issued and any appeals resolved; and that a public report projecting operating costs and revenues over the expected life of the garage, including paying down the bond, be completed by an independent accountant with experience in public parking garage operations.
“Our intention was simply to put this on your radar and let you know what we’re doing,” Stander added.
In response, City Manager Bill Frasier said the goal of the timeline for the traffic study was to see the effect of “the before and after,” comparing traffic circulation before the project started and after it was completed.
“Our concerns have to do with inadequate information about the current situation and how things are going to proceed,” Stander responded.
Mayor Anne Watson said she was prepared to meet any of the petitioners and welcome the itemized list of concerns, which she said was “very helpful.”
In answer to a question from Councilor Ashley Hill about legal responsibilities of the city if voters approved the petition ballot item, both Frasier and City Clerk John Odum said they thought the ballot item would be advisory only and not binding. Odum added that city attorney Paul Giuliani was looking at the ballot request because “it reads as a rescission” that might stop the project.
“I believe that the wording we proposed on our petition is not a rescission, it’s simply a list of things that need to happen before the money is spent,” Stander responded. “We’re using this process because we think it’s a good process for educating people, engaging people in a dialogue and discussion about these concerns.”