by Carla Occaso
MONTPELIER — Why shut down a successful business and lose 10 jobs? Where will locals redeem their cans and bottles? What about people who depend on the extra few dollars they make returning bottles and cans to survive? These were among the questions posed to city council during their meeting October 28 regarding the council’s move to condemn the Montpelier Discount Beverage building located at 12 Main Street in order to make way for a bike path as part of the proposed One Taylor Street Transit Center.
A public hearing was held to allow public input October 28 in city hall. Council member Anne Watson presided over the meeting since Mayor John Hollar was absent.
“The mayor is out of the country, but he had also recused himself from this proceeding due to what he believed was a conflict of interest that he — some of his public statements would lead him to not be neutral on this topic,” said City Manager William Fraser.
After some discussion on other matters, such as moving agenda items around, the council opened the floor to public comment regarding the plans for property owned by the Mowatt Family Trust and the retail business within, Montpelier Discount Beverage, which is popularly known by a former name, “M&M Beverage.”
Below is a sampling of comments (not in order) made by those who took the time to attend the meeting:
Mary Shepherd, employee:
“If you take our store, 10 people supporting 10 families will have no place to work. Our employees can’t make it without employment. There are 10,000 cans that come through that store a day that we recycle and take care of for the city of Montpelier. That is a lot of recycling we do for Montpelier and we do provide a service for the schools, for the senior centers when we take bottles for them. If they go to another city, Montpelier is going to lose a lot of that benefit. … We need to keep the store open.”
Gillis Moreau, former owner:
I owned that business at that location for 18 years and through those years we had between 500 and 750 employees go through there, we’ve brought a lot of kids — prominent kids — through there and they have grown up to be prominent citizens here in Montpelier. I feel this discussion to remove that building has been going on for a long time. And the alternative to that was to put a building beside it. When the Tomasi Block was next door to me, they had a store downstairs, the bakery was downstairs, but the upstairs was pretty much empty for the longest time and it was useless. When that building went down, a lot of things were done. The parking lot. The Tomasi people next door to me made promises and nothing happened. The city made promises and nothing happened. We beautified that building and the city thought we did a real beautiful job at the time, but things have changed. Now you guys want to put a bike path through there. This seems to be the all important thing to happen. I feel that business has run along all this time, has employed a lot of people and has done a service to this city for the longest time and there is an alternative to the bike path here. I didn’t hear it when I was listening to your discussion over there, but the alternative is either to put the bike path around the building, which could happen at a lot less expense than it is going to cost you to tear that building down, take it by eminent domain and put the bike path right through it, and also put a lot of people out of work and put a lot of people in Montpelier looking for a place to bring their bottles, but you have chosen to do that and I have not yet heard a good reason why you cannot give them an alternative of a variance to let them put a one story building next door. The two story building you are proposing is too expensive. They cannot afford to build a two story building and make it work. A one story building might work, but a variance would be needed from the city. I propose you make an alternative around that building for the bike path. There will be a lot more people using that store than using the bike path. That is my thought.”
“You have 10 families that are going to lose their jobs and the State of Vermont is going to have to pick that up and pay them unemployement. Or, the State of Vermont is going to have to pick them up and pay welfare to help these families out.”
“As I understand it, eminent domain is for the public good. Me, I don’t mind a park, I don’t mind a bike path, but what is serving the public good and how do we deal with it effectively? A lot of people use M&M for recycling. Is there going to be another, new recycling center established before we tear down the old one? Number two, about 20 parking spaces are getting killed off of said area. You guys know we have enough problems with parking as it stands. How do we address that? And then point number three: the traffic issues related to delivery trucks. If we wipe out that entrance for, say, Aubuchons, what are we going to do? Have that delivery truck out on Main Street for a half hour?”
“Why can’t the bike path go in between the tracks and the building. Why does it have to go through the building?”
“I don’t see why this can’t be a ‘win win.’ I realize there will be an entirely different cost if we were to try to build something to try to keep the redemption center in Montpelier. But zoning laws are made to be changed and altered. There is no reason we can’t have a ‘win-win’ and not lose a good property tax payer. We are already fighting to keep our property taxes where they are, but that’s not going to happened. But here you are going to take away a very vibrant business, and right now Montpelier’s got the image out there that we’re not business friendly. And it is getting worse. I have a sales rep on the road and I cover three states and our reputation out there is terrible. And we need to bring in business, not get rid of it and we are having difficulty as it is now. And all I can say is if what is proposed is an 88 cent per gallon fossil fuel tax coming up if the legislature goes through, we are all going to be driving bicycles anyways.”
“I live in Montpelier, and me and my husband take our bottles to M&M. And we wouldn’t know where else to take our bottles. And other people, they go around town and they pick up bottles that a whole bunch of people have just left there and they take them and they get a little money and it helps them out. And when we take our bottles back and we don’t have a lot of money and when we bring our bottles, too, we put our money in savings, so it helps us, too. So, we don’t know, if there was no redemption center, what we would do or what the people who pick up bottles that everybody leaves around, what they would do, either.”
“I’m a Montpelier resident also. I’m almost 62 and I thought that you guys wanted to save these old buildings. That building has been around way longer than I have. I remember when it was a gas station, when I was real tiny. And I don’t see the point … at least they are using an old building, and it is something very constructive. And, trying to put a bike path through that intersection, I think, is insane. I mean, it is hard enough to use the cross walk when you walk. And that’s all.”
“I am really concerned about eminent domain. It’s got to be the last resort. I am not totally sure where we’re at with this, I mean there’s been negotiations and there’s two sides on this thing, but I think it can be worked out and I think if you’ve got to move the building, or if the building’s got to go … something’s got to work in regard to that. That is just a vacant lot. Tomasi had a two-story building there. I know there was some discussion about it being a one-story building, and as I understood it, zoning said (the building has to be two or more stories tall). And I don’t follow that. I think that, really, this should be worked out. Eminent domain is not the history of this city. It just isn’t. And to start bringing this up is not good. These people are trying to run a business. They have a good business there. But I think that another building could be put next to it. I think that they are just driving them out and this is not right.”
No witness spoke in favor of eminent domain.
Public input stopped at 7 p.m., whereupon City Council turned the gavel over to City Attorney Bernie Lambek to discuss whether a bike path is legally considered a necessity for the public good. Council then proceeded to hear testimony from representatives for the city and for the property owner. The hearing continued until 10:22 p.m. and was adjourned to be reconvened on November 11 at 6:30 p.m.