It’s time to Just Say Whoa.
We’re down to the final days before election day, and I thought I’d recap why Burlington should vote down ballot items #3 and #4 and say “Whoa” to a project built on false promises, false fears, and false information.
I’ve always lived by the belief that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. And, this project smacks of it:
- It’ll magically bring back an ethnic neighborhood (it won’t, and besides the culturally diverse street is North Street anyway);Iit’ll magically bring down housing prices (again, not highly likely given the lack of housing being built by the University of Vermont and Champlain College, and especially because the majority of the units will be priced at the already overheated / overpriced market rates);
- It’ll be cleaner and greener for the environment (it won’t if you take into account all of the cars it will cram into downtown Burlington and push out bikes and pedestrians), and, the building will still suck – literally in terms of design and energy consumption – putting an even greater stress and demand on energy sources that are needed to power the city. See Rising Tide Vermont’s piece below for a true environmental perspective on the project;
- The project will give us needed taxes (again, not really – initially most of that money will be spent in public infrastructure the developer should be paying for, and neither city taxpayers nor the state education fund will see substantive increases for 20 YEARS, if we’re lucky). Guess who gets to pay the taxes to educate the kids of anyone living in those apartments, or put out their fires, or provide police protection … you’re looking at ’em! That’s us. So, for 20 years we have to sit back and suck it up with the promise of payoff later on. Check’s in the mail, postmarked 2036.
- That the zoning changes aren’t really just designed for this one project (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), yet proponents will scream “Red Scare” if you show them what a full buildout under the proposed zoning change could look like. Sounds a lot like Spot Zoning to me, which is … wait for it … illegal.
While I understand that any new taxes raised within the TIF can’t be used for anything but what’s located in the TIF, I still question greatly the pre-determined spending of the money to benefit one developer. And, I question whether leaving new taxes unspent until the end of the TIF is a bad idea for Burlington schools, and schools throughout the state.
Given how much money is at stake from our wallets (and the state education fund’s wallet) – I think state lawmakers should enact legislation to loosen the TIF’s restrictions on what kinds of infrastructure we can spend on.
If we’re worried about bonding to rebuild our own crumbling schools: Why not make improving schools and school buildings (to care for those new kids) an allowable public infrastructure investment?
If we’re worried about how to afford more, permanent low-income housing: Why not make creating permanent, affordable housing (i.e., subsidized units to keep them perpetually affordable for truly low-income, senior, and disabled residents of the city) an allowable public infrastructure investment?
The $22 million, or most of that, we’re being asked to spend on a couple of streets would (if not for the TIF) go to the state education fund when the TIF expires. And, guess what? Despite the fearmongering by some of the proponents, a significant chunk of that money comes back to Burlington – for property tax relief, and for direct aid to pay for our schools, etc.
And, can anyone explain to me that if the TIF is supposed to keep our taxes from going up while it’s in place, why our taxes have gone up in Burlington despite having two active TIFs – one downtown and one on the “waterfront.”?
I could go on, but this project – as it stands – and the unknown, negligible or negative effects on our community (as it’s currently planned) are too risky a scheme.
If someone wants to develop one of the most prime commercial real estate parcels in Vermont, and is asking for this many special favors from us – a change in zoning, $22 million of our tax money, and an expedited approval process, then we should be getting more out of this than we are. So either the folks in the city are the worst possible negotiators, or they just don’t want to try.
Let’s be clear – the project “benefits” that are being touted by proponents are the bare minimum standards that we as a community have set for development – inclusion of affordable units, reconnected streets, etc. Minimum. Yet, this developer wants more than the maximum we already offer in terms of how, and what, he can legally build.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Finally, let’s do away with the “this is our only chance” bullshit. Personally, I’m tired of the fearmongering and Chicken Little-esque statements from so-called “leaders” in this community.
Come on – like no one is going to want to develop the most prime piece of commercial real estate in Vermont in a way that the community wants? That’s why we have zoning standards, and it’s what our elected officials should be telling developers. If Sinex can’t do it, it’s because he’s a shitty developer. In fact, I’d just as soon see the city buy it off his hands if he keeps whining about it, and then put the project out to bid. Let’s see what other, local developers could do with that property.
It’s time to say No to #3 and #4, and Whoa to this strong-armed process being put forward by the Mayor and a select few. If (or when) this ballot goes down — leaders on both / all sides of this debate NEED to come together and work toward creating a better project and a community vision for this prime commercial parcel of real estate so that it benefits EVERYONE in our community, both today and into the future.
And, if these ballot items do pass, I would highly recommend that the supporters not gloat and ridicule, but find ways to incorporate the many, and legitimate concerns, into a public benefits agreement, and the final designs for the project. Doing that will go a long way toward healing divisions in the community, and put us on the path toward making the next big development project — Memorial Auditorium perhaps? — less of a battle, and more of a true community dialogue about what’s best for ALL city residents.