Brothers Rick and Mark Bove of Chittenden County, the subject of recent unflattering press coverage about management of their many apartments, may, within a month, purchase a lot in Montpelier and apply for a zoning permit to build a 42-unit apartment building, they told The Bridge in an email. They also cautioned that nothing is confirmed at this point.
The lot the Boves are considering sits where the Brown Derby restaurant once stood at the corner of Northfield Street and Derby Drive. The proposed building would be four stories high, with a footprint of 62 feet by 194 feet, housing mostly one-bedroom apartments, with a sprinkling of efficiencies and two-bedroom units. All units will be rented at market rate, which the Boves said a third-party study found are in strong demand here. Across the street, the Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity is pursuing a project to build 50 to 60 affordable housing units.
Asked how soon construction could occur if a zoning permit gets issued, the Boves said the answer is complicated. Between the permitting process and the pandemic’s effects on businesses “there are too many issues out of our control to provide a specific date at this juncture,” they said.
While city officials and many residents are eager to see more housing in Montpelier, the project has generated concern, including traffic flow, the size of the building, and the Bove’s controversial background.
If the Boves file a zoning application, it will be subject to “conditional use review.” That means the Montpelier Development Review Board (DRB) will review factors such as capacity of community facilities, traffic, and character of the neighborhood and can apply conditions to the project or even reduce its scope.
“Roaches and Broken Locks”?
The Boves, who also run a jarred pasta sauce business based in Milton, were the subject of a recent joint investigation by Vermont Public Radio and Seven Days. The weekly newspaper ran a seven-page story about the Bove brothers titled “Roaches and Broken Locks” in its Nov. 3–10, 2021 issue. The article said the investigation found “swaths” of the 400 rental units the brothers own in Chittenden County, St. Albans, and Hartford (nearly 100 of them rented to low-income Section 8 voucher tenants) are “plagued by neglect.”
“Health and safety issues such as broken doors, leaky ceilings, and loose handrails have been left unrepaired,” the article said, even though many of the Bove apartment complexes were built in the last 20 years. “Dumpsters overflow. Fire and emergency systems aren’t properly maintained.”
In 2019, Seven Days reported, a Vermont Housing Finance Agency inspector found “systematic maintenance and management failures through all Bove Brothers Realty properties.” That agency and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board threatened to claw back years-old public subsidies that had been given to the Boves, but after they wrote to Bove’s attorney, improvements were eventually made, the paper reported.
In a statement to Seven Days last November, Rick Bove wrote that “Bove Brother’s Rental Properties is proud of our participation in the community” and “disputes any allegation that we are not good landlords.”
Asked what assurances they can give that any Montpelier apartments will be well managed and avoid the problems allegedly found elsewhere, the Boves wrote to The Bridge: “We have worked hard at improving our operations throughout the state, especially over the past few quarters, to be more consistent and address any gaps on our end. Specifically for this project, we have approached a local management company in Barre that comes very highly recommended. We feel it will be a tremendous asset for this development to have this management team based in the local community that is already well established and respected in Montpelier.”
Neighbors Weigh In
The Bove development team held an informal meeting with Montpelier’s Design Review Committee last May at which it revealed a possible design (shown on this page). They met with a group of neighbors Feb. 7. Meanwhile, last fall the DRB approved a subdivision application that allows the owner of neighboring Econo Lodge to sell the 1.5 acre-lot where the 42 apartments with over 50 parking spaces could be built.
An Oct. 5, 2021 letter signed by 36 neighborhood residents and sent to the DRB before the subdivision hearing said they favored more housing, including in their neighborhood, but were concerned the project would have “significant implications for safety and quality of life in our community.”
“We are particularly concerned that the boundary lines as drawn in the subdivision proposal would push traffic from future development projects onto Derby Drive, rather than Northfield Street,” the letter stated. “Derby Drive is a small residential street that already experiences a higher-than-average volume of traffic due to the presence of National Life and GPS navigation programs routing traffic to and from the interstate via Derby.”
Montpelier’s zoning regulations discourage curb cuts on larger roads in corner lots, instead encouraging using smaller roads as traffic feeders, according to Montpelier Zoning Administrator Meredith Crandall. Nevertheless, she said, the Boves discussed the possibility of a curb cut on Northfield Street with the Montpelier Department of Public Works (DPW).
The Boves confirmed this, saying that after listening to neighbors’ concerns, they have submitted site plans including various options for feedback. Crandall said DPW’s decision will depend on the design. “It is not a big parcel,” she said. “There needs to be room for everything and a good traffic flow.”
A Northfield Street entrance may appease neighbors, who expressed disappointment with the Bove team after their recent meeting. Peter Cohn of Mountain View Road, said in a recent posting on Front Porch Forum that the neighbors’ primary concerns, in addition to the traffic issue, are “the planned size of the structure and number of units, potential disturbance of the neighborhood/proper building and property maintenance, and maintaining some of the existing natural barriers to separate new construction from existing homes to keep privacy.”
Neighbor Peter Kelman of Mountain View Road said he prefers the building be three stories, spread over a larger footprint, instead of four stories. Under prior zoning, construction was limited to three stories, but a 2018 revision intended to increase housing density allowed four stories. The zoning revision also upped the percentage of a parcel in this lot’s zone (Mixed Use Residential) that can be built on from 50% to 70%.
Kelman is critical the of the Boves’ response to neighborhood concerns and also questions why city officials “encouraged Bove’s project in the first place, advised them to avoid interactions with concerned community members,” and “have applied the narrowest of interpretations” of the role of zoning staff and the DRB in considering the subdivision of the Econo Lodge lot.
Does Past Predict Future?
Whether the Boves’ reported maintenance issue elsewhere can be considered when they apply for a zoning permit in Montpelier is an open question. Crandall said the zoning does not allow consideration of such factors because that could be a form of discrimination.
“Board decisions are not supposed to discriminate,” she said. “When we start looking at the individual applicant rather than the application before us, I get a little nervous.” She said she had not found anything in the city’s regulations she would feel comfortable citing when it comes to looking at an applicant’s track record in other cities and towns. “But the board makes the decisions,” she said. “I am just an advisor.”
Other towns have viewed the matter differently. In November, the town of Essex denied the Boves a zoning permit for a 60-unit project, citing health and safety violations at their existing buildings there, Seven Days said.