by Carla Occaso-
MONTPELIER — It’s a bus terminal. It’s an apartment building. It’s both and more. It’s One Taylor Street.
To call the overall project “complex” is no exaggeration. The grand scheme of this multimillion dollar development plan also involves a public park, turnaround space for buses, parking, a bike path leading to a new pedestrian bridge that will cross the North Branch river behind Shaw’s supermarket and will connect the area where the Capital City Farmer’s Market is held to the area behind Montpelier Beverage. The building site currently serves as a parking lot for state workers and was formerly a discarded auto and metal scrap yard. And, to further complicate matters, the building site is classified as “Brownfield,” meaning a site that’s polluted and will require cleanup to make it safe for people to inhabit, though much of the cleanup work has already been completed.
In addition to the tangible bits and pieces of the project are the multiple players involved: Project planners, landowners, local, state and federal agencies, permitting bodies and the project’s commercial developer (Redstone Commercial), not to mention the most important entity of all: the taxpaying public. If a property that has been under discussion for the past 20 years and that began as a junkyard and morphed into a parking lot can be transformed into a downtown gateway and transit center with 40 market-priced apartments — the years, planning, discussions, delays, and the mega-dollars involved, may just be worth it.
“We felt having 40 units in the center of downtown is going to be good not only to deal with the housing need, but will add to downtown vitality. You are going to have people eating, working, living; so for part of the recipe to having a healthy downtown is to have downtown residents,” said City Manager Bill Fraser.
Fraser and Assistant City Manager Jessie Baker sat down with Nat Frothingham and Carla Occaso on May 26 to explain what is going on with this municipal behemoth. Current rents on the drawing board include studios at $950 and up one bedrooms at $1,010 and up and two-bedrooms at $1,500 and up. The apartment building is being privately funded and developed by the Burlington-based Redstone Commercial Group. The architects are Gossens Bachman Architects.
When asked about whether the project could offer housing that is more affordable to people with lower income levels, Fraser said with this particular public/private plan low-rent apartments were not feasible.
“We did look at affordable housing, but we didn’t think we could make it work. The regulatory hurdles were going to make this project even more difficult. We already have two federal agencies involved. And so, I would say, as a general rule, the city does agree that affordable housing is important and that is one of the reasons we have the housing trust fund, Community Land Trust and help develop housing throughout the city, so we are not deaf to those needs.”
The apartment building is to sit on top of the transit center and occupy the second-through fourth floor of the overall structure and is just one facet of this intricate plan which has faced unexpected twists and turns throughout the initial land purchase phase followed by the public hearing. Such complications pushed back the original scheduled date for groundbreaking from October 2014 to April 2016 and the overall design is still very much on the drawing board. Those involved in weekly planning sessions are closing in on cost estimates, which are to be released later this month, according to Baker, who is overseeing the project for the city.
One Taylor consists of three categories: the transit center, the public works improvements (bike path, pedestrian bridge and land acquisition for rights of way) and the private apartment building. “The project is primarily financed from the city’s end by a couple of major federal grants from the Federal Transit authority and Federal Highway Administration. The FTA money is going to deal with the bus transit center and the federal highway money is going to build the remaining site. So when we talk about the budget being tight financially, there is kind of two different things: One is the city’s public portion of the project staying within the funds we have available, the matching funds and those kinds of things and that has to do with the cost of site work, the cost of the transit center, the cost of materials and we are working through that to try to bring the project in on budget,” Fraser said. “This side of the river is being paid for by the federal highway (administration) as part of a grant to revitalize downtown Montpelier.”
Baker emailed the current state of the funding (see below graph).
“We have two challenges. One is bringing the transit center in within the funds available for it, and (the other is) bringing the public portion of the project in within the funds available,” Fraser said. In addition, Redstone has to finalize plans to see if they can afford the project as designed.
“Their construction is tied to our construction somewhat,” Fraser said.
Why the Delays?
Regarding delays, Fraser said, “One of the key things with schedules and processes: You can have a schedule, but each step determines the next step. We spent last year selecting the outline and layout of the project.” Then they sought community buy-in. And over the winter they drew up a development agreement. “Now we are addressing the cost aspect,” Fraser said, adding that they can’t do final permitting until they figure out costs.
Rights of Way?
Rights of way for the bike path crossing still need to be obtained from Capitol Plaza, Tim Heney, Jesse Jacobs, the railroad and Mowatt Trust, also known as Montpelier Beverage. But obtaining final rights of way must wait for the final design, Fraser said.
“This is an extremely complicated project, which is great, that is what makes it exciting, but it takes a long time, especially when you are dealing with federal regulations,” Fraser said.
For more information, go to montpelier-vt.org/group/102.html