There has been much discussion in local newspapers and electronic forums about the city of Montpelier’s proposed parking garage/hotel project, as well as the related permit appeal. City and hotel officials have refrained from making public comments while potential settlement negotiations have been occurring.
Recently published letters from appellants, however, contain factual errors and inaccurate or overstated comments. I am responding to specific quoted statements.
“I was concerned about the city abusing its own process.” The city submitted applications through the normal approval process and was subject to the same review as any other developers. Changes to the project were made as a result of several formal meetings with the Design Review Committee and the Development Review Board, as well as public hearings and City Council sessions.
“I had concerns about the expense side of City Manager Bill Fraser’s spreadsheet.” The financial pro forma (the spreadsheet) was prepared by an independent development financing consultant in conjunction with a parking garage development expert. The city chose to have the financial analysis done independently in order to have proper expertise involved.
“The city and merchant community are still accusing appellants of sabotaging the democratic process.” No city official or hotel owner has made any statement or accusation about the appellants or their litigation.
“... in fact, it was discovered the City and DRB did violate the ordinance in significant ways.” As mentioned earlier, the city went through the permit process and the DRB issued a detailed decision addressing all zoning issues. The appellants disagree with some of those conclusions and have alleged violations in their appeal.
“On the contrary, it the city had carefully followed its own ordinance in its zoning application there would be no need for legal fees.” Again, the city did follow its zoning process. The appellants chose to challenge the zoning decision in court and therefore, incur legal fees.
“One city official went so far as to urge merchants not to support the Times Argus over its position on the issue.” This is false. No city official has weighed in on the merits of any editorial, the court appeal or any efforts to sway public opinion about the appeal.
“... there are so many other ways besides 35 new parking spaces to enliven commercial life in Montpelier.” The garage will contain 348 spaces and the project will result in a net gain of 150 to 160 parking spaces in downtown.
“... the farmers market should get bigger not smaller.” The farmers market is expanding to use both the 60 State St. parking lot and State Street itself. This is made possible over the long haul by the addition of the parking garage in proximate location to the market. The garage mitigates the loss of both parking lot and on-street parking while the market is in operation.
“First, we did not file a lawsuit.” The appellants voluntarily filed a court appeal of the DRB’s site plan and subdivision approvals of the parking garage. A court appeal is litigation or, in other words, a lawsuit.
In conclusion, city officials and the appellant group have been in cordial and respectful discussions seeking a resolution which improves public benefit. We at the city sincerely hope that we can reach a common understanding soon. These processes are best served when accurate information is shared in public and in private.
William Fraser is Montpelier city manager.