story and photo by Nat Frothingham
At a late afternoon meeting on August 4, about a dozen residents of the College Hill neighborhood met with Win Turner of Montpelier and Jamie Hansen of East Montpelier who are exploring the feasibility of a proposed (now-scaled-back) eight-unit apartment building at 25 Sibley Avenue that would house 16 adults and 12 children and provide parking for a 12 cars.
The College Hill neighborhood lies east and south of Vermont College of Fine Arts and is roughly defined by Sibley Avenue to the south, Sabin Street to the east along with Center, Foster and Kemp Streets.
A number of residents acknowledged a local discussion about the need to add to the city’s housing stock, particularly to its affordable housing stock. Although there were a range of concerns about the proposed Sibley Avenue apartment building – it was the size of the proposed building and thus its alleged incompatibility with the neighborhood that was the principal concern of those who met with Turner and Hansen.
In a phone conversation with The Bridge right after the meeting, John Waldo, neighborhood resident with a house at 35 Foster Street, expressed the prevailing sentiment of most of those who attended the meeting.
Said Waldo, “You’re bringing in a fairly large commercial building into a stable, long-term neighborhood.” Waldo characterized the neighborhood as essentially “one-owner — one-unit” and noted that the proposed apartment building is “more than twice the size of the largest house in the neighborhood. “That building is four times the size of the average house in the neighborhood.” He described the existing neighborhood as “longstanding, safe and secure.” “Secure” has to do with value — he said — “a secure investment.” Underlying many of the comments from neighbors was a concern that an apartment building of the size proposed might lower property values.
In separate conversations with Win Turner and Jamie Hansen after the meeting, Turner described the changes he and Hansen have made to the project to respond to neighborhood concerns.
Speaking generally, Turner said that what he and Hansen have been trying to do is “in-fill, high-quality housing to meet Montpelier’s housing needs. “That was the primary goal for us. We thought the city wanted that. There have been several people who have said to us, ‘We believe in in-fill housing.’ “And (we believe) this is a great lot for that.”
Then Turner discussed changes to the proposed project in response to neighborhood concerns.“I think we’ve made huge concessions.”
He and Hansen altered the original proposal by reducing the footprint and mass of the main building by 70 percent. They are also keeping the project footprint away from the slope. In the new proposal they have 14 off-street parking places and they have increased the green space. But they are not giving up on their commitment to a high-quality, energy efficient building.
As first proposed the apartment building had 16 units. The new proposal cuts those units in half – to eight units – and those eight units are diverse offerings. Turner said, “One of them is a studio. Three of them are one-bedrooms. Some of the apartments are quite small with only one or two occupants in those apartments.”
In conclusion, Turner suggested that perhaps what the concerned neighbors really want is a four-unit building on the site. But the financial numbers don’t add up for that. “We want to work with them,” he said. “If they have another way of moving forward, we are ready to work with them as partners.
But Turner also acknowledged that perhaps coming to agreement with the neighbors just might not be possible. “But I’m unlikely to be part of this project if the neighbors continue to oppose it. Although Turner did say that his partner, Jamie Hansen, might continue to be interested.
In a conversation with Hansen, he said, “When we first contacted the city, they said we could propose 23 units for the site. We proposed 16 units. After we talked with the neighbors, we scaled the project back to eight units. And we’re continuing to talk.
“Is there a chance that reasonable people can reach agreement on a project that will work on the site? I hope so,” Hansen said.