Crime and Justice

Neighbors’ lawsuits in Burlington’s CityPlace development are resolved

"The pit" on Bank Street in Burlington, the site of long-delayed CityPlace construction projects, is seen in Feburary. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Five years of legal wrangling over Burlington’s CityPlace project ended this week after a judge signed a motion that effectively vacates lawsuits between a former developer and concerned neighbors, paving the way for the new developers to jumpstart the long-stalled downtown development.

“My clients and I just had it,” John Franco, an attorney who represents neighbors to the project, said on Tuesday. “We’ve been fighting this thing for five years. My clients are all retirees in their 70s and they… just absolutely had their fill.”

The group sued former CityPlace developer Don Sinex to hold him accountable to a 2017 legal agreement that cleared the way for demolition at the vacant city block between Bank and Cherry streets, often referred to as “the pit.”

The lawsuits Franco and the neighbors filed took issue with aspects of the project’s design, such as “a disproportionate reduction in onsite parking,” that was at odds with a former settlement agreement. Neighbors complained that there were fewer spaces than planned apartments.

Sinex last year called the challenge “utter nonsense” and in turn filed an injunction against them. The outstanding litigation has held up financing to redevelop the downtown parcel. 

In May, Sinex sold his 50% stake in the project to three new developers who formed CityPlace Partners. With Sinex out, the new developers and the neighbors agreed to get rid of a previous settlement that each side claimed the other violated.

The three developers behind CityPlace Partners — Dave Farrington, owner of Farrington Construction; Al Senecal, owner of Omega Electrical Construction Co.; and Scott Ireland, owner and president of S.D. Ireland Concrete Construction — made a handshake agreement to resolve the two pieces of litigation involving the neighbors and Sinex almost four months ago when they bought out Sinex.

On Monday, a Chittenden County Superior Court judge signed an agreement establishing CityPlace Partners as the new owners in the legal proceedings. The motion states that plaintiffs and the former owners — BTC Mall Associates, LLC (of which Sinex was a manager); Devonwood Investors, LLC (of which Sinex is managing director); and CityPlace Partners — and the defendants represented by Franco all agree to resolve the pending litigation given the new ownership.

CityPlace Partners are “prepared to settle and dismiss both companion cases in this long running dispute between the parties over the redevelopment of the former Burlington Town Center property. All parties assent to the motion,” the motion signed on Monday states.

Franco said he plans to file a motion to dismiss both cases. A former suit filed by Franco over changes to CityPlace plans was dismissed by a judge in 2018. Residents at that time alleged a 14 story development would be too large and change the feel of downtown.

Envisioned in 2014 as a redesign of Burlington’s downtown mall, the planned housing complex has been mired by legal challenges and stalled since the 2017 demolition of the city block.

Unresolved litigation was one of the barriers to developers securing funding for the project. City officials said this court filing is further evidence of progress being made toward reconstruction by the new owners.

Franco and Sinex have battled for years over the project. This week, Franco said Sinex “kept putting a stick in the spokes,” which led to the holdup thus far.

“Among other things, Don wanted a guarantee that no one would oppose any of the future phases of the project phases two and three and that was one of the major sticking points,” Franco said. 

Neither Sinex nor Farrington responded to requests for comment on Tuesday.

City officials said Farrington is best positioned to discuss the exact status of the settlement and its implication for the project’s financing.

“The Mayor and the City’s team are in close communication with CityPlace Partners, and we look forward to making a major project update in the coming weeks,” Jordan Redell, Miro Weinberger’s chief of staff, said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

Last week, Farrington said the developers are exploring potential partnerships and hope to apply for a permit to start foundation work in mid-October. The partners and city officials are also working to revise the development agreement and the timelines associated with the project.

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Auditi Guha

About Auditi

Auditi is Chittenden County editor at VTDigger. Originally from Calcutta, India, she graduated from Emerson College with an MA in journalism. She has worked as an editor and reporter for several newspapers, and in various beats. Most recently, she covered race and justice at Rewire.News, and higher education at the New Bedford Standard-Times. She previously worked at several Massachusetts newsrooms. She is a mentor for young reporters through the Report For America program, founded the Boston chapter of the South Asian Journalists Association, and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.


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