By John Odum
After the better part of a lifetime in politics, the one thing that still drives me absolutely bananas is when myths or incorrect assumptions about an issue or cause are in circulation that benefit one party or another. Sometimes those myths are actively propagated. Unfortunately, the dustup over the parking garage and hotel project approved by city voters has its share of challengeable or outright incorrect mythology, and in the final analysis it’s not good for the city.
First of all, if we’re to be honest, the idea that the garage and hotel project can be separated into two projects is patently, demonstrably untrue—as has been said time and time again. Any remaining insistence that you can be against only one of them and not the other is not credible. Opponents of the garage and hotel have been told this frequently enough that I sincerely hope this particular fallacy is no longer in active circulation.
Second, it is not a true statement that opposing the garage and hotel is environmentally responsible. In fact, opposing the project runs contrary to Vermont’s most fundamental and signature environmental priority.
To keep Vermont Vermont, generations have advocated for the need to promote compact urban development over continued sprawl. That’s the only way to protect our landscape as well as limit the use of cars in this most rural of states. Being located in a walkable downtown is an advantage over a location that is miles from everything of interest, in terms of vehicle use and the subsequent emissions generated.
And regarding sprawl, one thing is certain: this hotel is happening somewhere. If not here, it—and its parking needs—are going to Berlin. Nobody disputes this. That means more sprawl on a portion of our nearby landscape that’s already overdeveloped.
There’s also the matter of infrastructure for electric cars. It’s another fallacy to suggest that a parking garage can only serve as infrastructure for fossil-fuel vehicles. There is nothing inherently gasoline-powered about a parking space.
The move from a carbon economy is not going to be a move to abandon cars, it will be a move toward zero-emission cars—a move that has already begun, if incredibly slowly. Not only will electric vehicles need parking places, too, a garage will provide a more efficient means for deploying charging stations than going down each block and installing them next to parking meters. The current garage design already comes with quite a few charging stations, in fact.
Finally there’s the one that really gets to me. The myth that the litigants’ effort will simply improve the project, or allow for more time and input, is in full circulation.
Make no mistake, this legal challenge of the Development Review Board’s go-ahead decision, if successful, will kill the garage and hotel—not improve it, not take more time with it, not get more public input, but kill it dead—for now and for all time. It will not come up a second time if it goes down from this challenge.
At this point there are two—and only two—possible outcomes; the garage and hotel project happens or it doesn’t. it’s worth noting once again that the latter runs afoul of Montpelier voters, who made a clear choice for compact urban development over further sprawl.
And it probably should go without saying that the opponents have the advantage. All they need to do is run a delaying action long enough for the project to get priced out in the face of steadily increasing building costs, or for Hampton Inn to give up and head to Berlin. There is no in between on the table, or even possible.
And if opponents do feel that killing the hotel and garage is the right thing to do, they should say it loudly and proudly and not allow these myths to spread further. Run it up the flagpole and see who salutes. Make the case and give their neighbors the benefit of the doubt to draw their own conclusions on the merits of their effort.
John Odum lives in Montpelier and serves as city clerk.