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Carr Lot: No Shortage of Opinions

Carr Lot Design Committee member, John Snell, leads the conversation on the first walk-through of the empty lot.
Carr Lot Design Committee member, John Snell, leads the conversation on the first walk-through of the empty lot. Photo by C.B. Hall.

by C.B. Hall
Montpelier residents got their first opportunity for direct input on Redstone Commercial Properties’ plan for the 1 Taylor Street transit center development at a May 6 “community participation event” hosted by Redstone, the city of Montpelier and Gossens Bachman, the project’s architectural partner.
Upon convening at the Christ Church Parish House, the approximately 75 attendees were assigned by program organizers to groups of 10 or 12, each of which then departed for a leisurely walking tour of the Carr Lot development site and its environs to examine the project, literally, from different angles.
The theme of the event—first in a series of four, to wrap up in July—was the broader community perspective: How will the one-plus-acre site, once developed, fit into Montpelier’s social, cultural and physical landscape?
This reporter’s walking group, led by Carr Lot Design Committee member John Snell, focused largely on aesthetic and architectural factors that went far beyond what “transit center” might bring to mind. Will “the building” (everyone’s shorthand for the structure to rise at the site) obstruct the view of the city’s steeples? How much rearrangement of the Winooski’s banks will the law allow? What about putting a mural on the back of the Capitol Plaza Hotel to spice up the view as one approaches from the Taylor Street Bridge?
However gussied up, the site will nonetheless remain surrounded by a city that did not jump off of a landscape architect’s drawing table. “You can’t block everything out,” Montpelier’s Ron Wild opined, as group members gazed across the Winooski at the posterior of the Sunoco and Shell stations on Memorial Drive. The river-hugging industrial corridor, he said, is “part of the city’s history.”
Snell’s commentary and his interlocutors’ statements made it clear that questions about the bike path’s route through downtown, whether the building’s upper story should house a hotel, apartments or office space and whether the site could shoehorn in a home for the Capital City Farmers’ Market (CCFM) are all “up in the air,” as he put it.
Discussion of the potential for passenger service on the railroad tracks that skirt the site prompted Snell to articulate his focus: While such a possibility has dim prospects from today’s vantage point, “having this as a transportation hub is something we don’t want to forget,” he said.
Also unresolved is the parking problem, including where to put the hundred or so cars that state employees currently park at the site each workday. In a May 8 phone interview, City Manager Bill Fraser characterized as merely “introductory” an April 29 meeting between city and state representatives on the possibility of building a parking garage across Taylor Street from the transit center to relieve the parking shortage. No specifics are yet on the table, but the state was “an interested listener,” he said.
Resolution of the role of the farmers’ market is also a ways off. Contacted at the season’s first outdoor market on May 10, CCFM president Lila Bennett said that a meeting with Redstone is planned for May 17, but that no concrete proposal is yet under consideration. She termed fitting the entire market onto the 1 Taylor Street site “doable, depending on what else is there.”
Each walking group at the May 6 program included a notetaker, and an assemblage of notes on the participants’ comments will be published on the city’s website. That compendium was not ready by press time, but a limited collection of the comments, made available to The Bridge by Gossens Bachman, indicated that aesthetic concerns will be a top priority. Decision makers reading the comments will find a laundry list of obvious concerns such as burying telephone lines and keeping the view of the Capitol dome clear, as well as more fanciful suggestions, such as running a gondola or zip line from the transit center to National Life.
The compendium of comments also highlighted a range of sentiments on the other big issue facing the project: the interface with the Capitol Plaza Hotel, owned by the Bashara family and located directly adjacent to the site. Four commenters wanted to “hide,” “soften” or “screen” the view of the hotel’s rear, but other comments suggested sympathy for the Basharas, as they face the possibility of a rival hotel going up next door. One participant was recorded as saying “not a need for another hotel,” and another participant was recorded as discerning a need for “more marketing to strengthen CP.”
No shortage of ideas, that is, surround the project. Leading his group through the gathering evening, Snell emphasized that 1 Taylor Street is still a virtually clean slate. The transit and bike path components of the project are the only real givens. Even how many structures the site will encompass is fodder for debate. When repeated references to “the building” at the transit center prompted this reporter to ask why the Redstone artist’s conception of the site included two buildings, Snell said, “That’s just a drawing, to get the discussion going. Throw that away.”
“It’s all about listening,” said Gossens Bachman’s Gregg Gossens as he described the evening’s mission before the walking groups set out.
How well project implementers do listen will become clear once all the drawings are done and the cranes and bulldozers, at long last, get into action.