Mayor seeks students’ support in downtown project

Burlington’s mayor is seeking support from UVM students for renovations to downtown Burlington.

Mayor Miro Weinberger addressed SGA Oct. 11 at its weekly meeting.

Weinberger came to discuss this year’s referendum questions three and four, which concern the Burlington Town Center development project.

“This is a great opportunity for the city to take control of our future,” Weinberger said.

The project proposes changing the current Burlington Town Mall from an inside mall to an outside shopping center and extending Pine Street and St. Paul Street through it.

The 2016 Burlington election ballot will include two questions that must be given a “yes” by voters for the project to move forward.

“I personally believe that the proposed development project is a great idea,” first-year SGA Senator Reginah Mako said. “It will immensely benefit the Burlington community as a whole.”

Question three will approve the zoning changes necessary for the development, which includes building offices and housing above BTC. If built, it will be the tallest building in Burlington.

Question four will allow tax-increment funding of the project. This means the city will use future tax revenue made from the Town Center to invest in the public infrastructure necessary to extend Pine and St. Paul Streets.

“The money will be going toward building the new streets, planting trees, building sidewalks and storm water protection,” Weinberger said. “Your taxes are not going to be raised … and the money will not be going toward building the offices or retail space; it is strictly for the public infrastructure.”

One SGA senator asked how parking downtown will be affected by the new housing and retail space.

“We’ve got some new parking planned,” Weinberger said, “but in our research we’ve found that even at the busiest times, there is still plenty of downtown parking in Burlington.”

The mayor also expects there to be more alternative transportation as a result of the redevelopment.

“We’re also really hoping this will be an opportunity to build more biking and walking infrastructure.”

SGA Chair for the Committee on the Environment Will Corcoran saw environmental benefits to the project.

“The hope with the redevelopment is that sidewalks will be adequate enough and bike lanes abundant enough so that less people will be driving into the downtown, lessening the [carbon dioxide] output of Burlington,” Corcoran said.

Senators were also concerned about how the proposed housing would affect renting apartments in Burlington.

“I think landlords might have to work a little harder to get lessees [because of the new housing] so they might lower prices or fix up their properties,” Weinberger said. “It’s going to put some competitive pressure on landlords.”

Before he left, Weinberger asked SGA to work with him to promote voting “yes” on questions three and four by possibly hosting an event for the UVM community in the next few weeks.

SGA President Jason Maulucci said he was in support of the development project.

“I’m hoping the SGA as a whole will take up a resolution expressing its full support in the coming weeks,” Maulucci said.

While the mayor has been seeking support for the renovations from students, a local organization has been campaigning against the project.

In a Sept. 24 press release the Coalition for a Livable City announced their intent to petition the new zoning laws if passed by the council.

The CLC is a local organization of Burlington residents who oppose rezoning.

Genese Grill, a member of the CLC, expressed concerns over a possible rise in rent throughout the Burlington area as a result of the zoning changes, which she referred to as gentrification.

“There is a strong sentiment about student housing in this town,” Grill said, “not because we don’t like students, but because students in downtown and throughout the city raise the rents for everybody else because they are able to pay more money often.”

[This article was updated from a previous version Nov. 1 12:51 p.m.]