Business & Economy

Burlington council asked to OK revised development deal

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, left, and businessman Don Sinex announce a multimillion-dollar plan to redevelop downtown Burlington. File photo by Cory Dawson/VTDigger

Mayor Miro Weinberger is urging city councilors to approve an agreement Monday that would allow construction to begin on a redevelopment of the Burlington Town Center mall and surrounding downtown area.

The agreement lays out timelines, details payments and includes a commitment the developer will participate in the city’s effort to heat downtown buildings with excess energy from the wood chip-fired McNeil Generating Station.

The document would supercede a May 2016 agreement between developer Donald Sinex and the city of Burlington. Sinex, who runs Devonwood Investors LLC, wants to expand and renovate the Town Center. The project, near the Church Street pedestrian mall, would also include construction of 272 housing units, more than 360,000 square feet of office and retail space, and a 900-space parking garage.

Town Center
An image from the design proposal shows the planned first phase of the Burlington Town Center project from the corner of Cherry and St. Paul streets.
Two streets bisected by the current two-story mall would be fully opened, using money from the voter-approved tax increment financing district, where a portion of the increased tax revenues from the project can be used to make infrastructure improvements. Those public improvements to St. Paul and Pine streets will amount to $21.8 million.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the agreement Monday. Approval is expected, according to Council President Jane Knodell.

“I think there will be opposition. I do not expect unanimous support, but I fully expect it will pass Monday night,” Knodell said Thursday. She said some councilors believe the city did not get enough in the agreement.

In a statement Thursday, Weinberger called on councilors to give their approval.

“For years, the city and Devonwood have pursued together an effort to bring much-needed housing, jobs and environmental improvements to Burlington’s downtown and reinvent our failing downtown mall as a vibrant new neighborhood,” Weinberger said.

“The agreement has been carefully negotiated to protect the city from financial risk, forward community initiatives, and support the progress of this transformative downtown project. It is time to get this long-awaited project built. I respectfully urge the council to approve the development agreement at its Oct. 16 meeting,” he said.

Jane Knodell
Jane Knodell, Burlington City Council president. File photo by Bob LoCicero/VTDigger
Knodell said the most significant change since last year’s pre-development agreement was the stronger commitment by the developer to the local energy project, where excess heat from the McNeil plant in the nearby Intervale could be piped downtown and to the University of Vermont and UVM Medical Center as well.

Knodell said downtown development gives the heat and hot water energy project the necessary scale to go forward. The developers of the energy district believe they can offer a competitive rate, she said.

Sinex has also agreed to use “reasonable efforts” to use Burlington Telecom services in the buildings.

In hiring for construction, the developer agreed to hold local job fairs and to take “reasonable efforts” to have contractors and subcontractors employ the unemployed, veterans, minorities, women and recent immigrants. The developer also agreed to require contractors to pay workers the city’s “livable wage.” The developers must also provide parking to offset spaces that will be lost during construction, according to the agreement.

As outlined in the 46-page draft agreement, the developers must make payments to the city, including:

  • $1.3 million for impact fees, including a waiver on building even more affordable housing than the developer plans to. As part of the 272 units, 55 will be more affordable.
  • $262,500 to both the Department of Planning and Zoning and the Department of Public Works for permits.
  • $50,000 a year for two years to the city’s Community and Economic Development Office to help nearby businesses deal with the construction.
  • $75,000 for ordinance fees, such as fire requirements.

The agreement says the developers hope to begin construction in October with “time being of the essence.”

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