In 1966, Vermont’s U.S. Sen. George Aiken offered President Lyndon Johnson a way out of the long and divisive war in Vietnam. Although it is not exactly what Aiken said, the advice has assumed a life of its own in the aphorism, “Declare victory and get out.”
At its meeting last Wednesday, the Montpelier City Council approved the latest revision of a design for a proposed parking garage, a joint project of the city with the Bashara family. Montpelier voters gave their assent to the project in a Special City Meeting on Nov. 6, 2018: 2,459, Yes; 1,877, No. For more than a year and a half, a small group of Montpelier residents and others have been contesting the project in the courts, challenging it on environmental and design criteria. So far, the courts have dismissed the challenges on environmental issues. The opponents have now said they will appeal the adverse decisions in the Vermont Supreme Court. I respectfully suggest they take to heart, the Aiken formula.
There is much to claim in the way of victory. The new design responds to many objections and recommendations made by the challenging group and others. The garage will now have level parking decks, rather than the slope design originally proposed. The new design is shorter by 27 feet east-to-west than the original plan. The design includes more openings in the façade, with vegetation and plantings to obscure the remaining areas of wall space. We can thank the challengers for winning these modifications, and they can take justifiable credit for pressing forward with them. But it is now time, in my opinion, to put the opposition to rest and allow the city to go forward with this project.
For many years, I have listened patiently but skeptically to the complaint “parking is impossible in Montpelier.” That has never been my experience; but because it has so persistently endured as a hindrance to the prospering and growth of the downtown commercial area, I have acceded to it and even allowed it to become one of my reasons for voting for the garage in 2018. Now we hear we should plan for a future that it is automobile-free. I admire the wishful thinking urging that recommendation, but I see no evidence, as a society, we have thrown away the keys to our cars and declared “Hallelujah” for release from the evils of the automobile. Nor have I seen any evidence of massive infusions of cash to build a strong, efficient and effective mass transit system that will allow us to abandon automobiles.
Indeed, the rising popularity of hybrid and electric cars threatens to increase the number of automobiles on the road, even as we make progress in decreasing the use of fossil fuels to power them. So if we want to preserve and strengthen Montpelier’s commercial sector, see our city revive and thrive after COVID-19, and — as has been urged by many consultants, public forums and political leaders — “reimagine” the city’s future, I think we should now go forward with the projected plan in the hope and expectation it will help Montpelier preserve and strengthen its downtown to make it a center for commerce, tourism and conference gatherings — ideas many of us expressed years ago during the discussions about a master plan.
I urge the opponents of the parking garage to invoke the Aiken formula: Declare victory and get out so we can get on with planning for the future.
Michael Sherman lives in Montpelier.