Home News Archive 1 Taylor Street Plan Gets Council Nod

1 Taylor Street Plan Gets Council Nod

Artist's rendering of 1 Taylor Street development. Courtesy city of Montpelier.
Artist’s rendering of 1 Taylor Street development. Courtesy city of Montpelier.

by Page Guertin

At its September 10 meeting, the Montpelier City Council voted unanimously to support residential use of the new building to be constructed and managed by Burlington’s Redstone Commercial Group. Redstone controls the privately owned portion of the 1 Taylor St. redevelopment project.

The council had delayed its vote on the use of the private portion of the transit-oriented development to give Redstone time to complete its own comparison of the residential and office options.

At a presentation to about 50 citizens at the Montpelier Senior Activity Center on September 3, Redstone made it clear that its analysis confirmed what Montpelier residents have been saying all along. Redstone’s Erik Hoekstra stated that, after learning that the rental vacancy rate in Montpelier is only 1.8 percent, the company realized that “the city is undersupplied with rental housing.”  City officials and partners Redstone, Gossens Bachman Architects and Wagner Hodgson Landscape Architects accordingly presented site plans and a mock-up of a transit center with a 30,000-square-foot apartment building, as well as parking, a shared-use path, and green space with plantings and river overlooks.

The proposed residential structure will rise over the transit center and a bus loop. It will include 30 market-rate apartments, ranging from studios to two-bedroom units, with anticipated monthly rentals in the $950-$1500 range. Because plans call for a “net-zero” building that offsets fossil fuel consumption with renewable sources, it may have a large array of solar panels on the roof, and is expected to utilize the city’s district heat.

The proposed transit center, for which details are pending, will provide more space than the transit companies need, leaving an opportunity for retail or a state welcome center. Transit companies required a bus turnaround loop, and the architects maximized space by routing buses around the transit center and under the residences. (See graphic.)

One of the looming questions concerns the operating cost of the transit center, shared-use path and public space. City manager Bill Fraser projected the annual cost at around $160,000, most of that for bond and mortgage payments. These costs will be partially offset by contributions to operation and maintenance from bus operators Green Mountain Transit Agency (GMTA) and Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA), and by leasing space to a welcome center or other occupant. Revenue is also anticipated from property taxes on the apartment building, commissions on Greyhound ticket sales, and possible leasing of parking spaces to Redstone. Fraser emphasized that in 13 years the transit center bond will be paid off, leaving a positive revenue stream from the venture, but much is still under negotiation, and the net annual cost to taxpayers remains a moving target.

Residual chemical contamination in the soil presents another concern. Complete removal of contaminated soils is simply unaffordable. The city has a federally and state-approved corrective action plan (CAP) for the site; the plan includes removing seriously contaminated soils and isolating the rest with a special fabric and a foot of clean soil—a common practice in brownfields nationwide. The city has budgeted $550,000 for environmental remediation, but again there are unknowns.  For example, the CAP states that only limited testing for lead has been done, and that soils disturbed during any construction will need to be tested and either removed or remediated so that lead will not leach into the river. Current cost estimates do not include that expense because, according to the CAP, “the volume of soil which may be removed and disposed of is not known at this time.”

Many people at the September 3 presentation praised the work done by the city and its partners in developing a creative proposal for a difficult site while dealing with competing priorities. The tradeoff between parking and green space, however, generated considerable heat. Some expressed disappointment with the limited public space, despite the designers’ efforts with plantings, rain gardens, reintroduction of native plants along the riverbank, creative seating, and the tentatively named Confluence Park at the junction of the North Branch and the Winooski.

Several individuals asked the city for more creative leadership in developing alternative parking options—in accepting that the community is moving beyond reliance on automobiles. For instance, CarShare vehicles might be allocated to the apartments, reducing the residents’ need to own cars. Hoekstra explained, however, that Redstone’s lenders would require at least 1.5 parking spaces per rental unit. Asked about permeable brick pavers, which allow water to drain between the bricks rather than remaining on the surface, he said they would be considered if found affordable.

In a follow-up email interview, Fraser told The Bridge he would refer to the city’s technical experts questions about whether trees can be planted as shown in the site plans, given the presence of the contamination barrier, and whether parking areas could someday be returned to green space.

With council approval for the use and general site plan secured, the project will now lumber through final design phases and the permitting processes, with the goal of beginning construction in summer 2015.