Home News and Features Isabel Circle Housing Proposal Updated After Neighborhood Meeting

Isabel Circle Housing Proposal Updated After Neighborhood Meeting

Gabe Lajeunesse addresses a crowd of neighbors in Isabel Circle, at a meeting about a proposed housing development there. Photo by Cassandra Hemenway.
In an increasingly familiar struggle between new housing in Montpelier and the desire to preserve open spaces, nearly 40 people gathered at the dead-end of Isabel Circle to speak to developers about a proposed housing project. The possible 56-unit “cottage cluster” development on a 73-acre lot that sits uphill from Route 302 and downhill from Isabel Circle brought up concerns ranging from increased traffic to losing wilderness to acknowledgement that Montpelier has a housing crisis.

Developers scheduled the May 19 meeting to solicit community feedback before the proposal goes to the Development Review Board, Gabe Lajeunesse of Aacred Development Holdings said earlier this month. In fact, he said, as a result of the feedback, some of the plans are being revised.

Most of the neighbors who spoke at the meeting did not want the development and voiced concerns about increased traffic, noise, and losing a wild space they have enjoyed, in some cases, for decades. Several people commented that they thought the project should include a wider variety of housing options, including handicap-accessible and smaller homes than the 1,400-square-foot, three-bedroom houses originally planned.

“We are making some adjustments based on community feedback,” Lajeunesse said in an email to The Bridge on May 20. He added that “updated plans will include options in the smaller cottage design to range from one to three bedrooms (800 to 1,100 square feet) to allow greater diversity of housing options, a potential for permanent conservation of undeveloped land via expansion of the existing city park, as well as a potential for partnership for some affordable housing units.”

“Once we have some of those items hashed out we will submit for sketch review, which is a similar process to what we did with the community, but from the Design Review Board … to get their initial feedback before doing the extensive engineering of the concept.”

Who’s Who

On hand at the meeting were the developers: Lajeunesse (who in addition to being managing director for Aacred Holdings also serves on the Montpelier Planning Commission), Jeff Zweber, project manager with VHB (an engineering firm), and investors Thom and Karen Lauzon. Thom Lauzon is also a Barre City Councilor and former Barre City mayor as well as a real estate developer with his spouse and business partner, Karen.

A crowd of neighbors gathered in a semi-circle in folding chairs and on the surrounding hillside to hear what Lajeunesse and Zweber had to say. The land on which Lajeunesse and his business partners want to build has served as an unofficial recreational area, adjacent to the nine-acre city-owned Stonewall Meadow Park.

“We’re eager to see both more parks for that side of town and also more housing, so hopefully this project holds some promise for both!” said Montpelier Parks Director Alec Ellsworth in an email to The Bridge after the meeting. 

Cottage Cluster Housing

If the project moves forward, Lajeunesse said, it will be the first “cottage cluster” development in Montpelier. Cottage cluster describes a style of development designed around shared green spaces and, often, smaller homes. The proposal calls for 36 units for the cottage cluster and another 16 house lots. Lajeunesse said the plan is to build on part of the lot, and conserve 40 or more acres.

“The cottages are targeted to first-time homeowners and people trying to downsize,” he told the crowd, many of whom wanted to know exactly how much the cottages cost. “We’re not putting a price on it,” he said, adding that construction costs are unpredictable. “The price of lumber doubled last year,” he noted.

Zweber said Isabel Circle will be the only road into the development. He also spoke to concerns about water flow, saying part of the plan is to capture water and treat it according to Vermont water standards. He also said that VHB designs ski slopes and brings that experience to designing housing on steep slopes such as the lot in question.

“We also want to be good stewards of the land during construction,” he said.

Neighbors Speak Out

One of the first neighbors to speak was Hebert Road resident Howard Coffin.

“I’ve lived 25 years in Stonewall Condos,” he said. “[I’m a] seventh generation Vermonter. If there’s one word that defines my feelings on this it’s NO.” 

“We have as close to paradise as you can get right here,” Coffin continued. “And we’re sitting here hearing they’re going to solve the housing crisis. That is not true. They’re here to make money and leave us with the results — more traffic. … This is our park … if you want to do us a favor buy this land and [give] it to us as a park. We’ll remember you well.” The crowd applauded.

After several more people spoke, 12-year-old Callum Sherriff stood up: 

“I’m the representative for the children of this neighborhood,” Sherriff said. “Quite a lot of the children in this neighborhood don’t think it will be safe with more cars. And what about our pets? … and there’s an enormous green space. Why would we want to get rid of it?” 

Bob Sherman, of Taplin Street (downhill of the project), talked about on-going basement flooding he has experienced from the land now slated for development. 

“Our perspective is [that this is] a death sentence you’re proposing,” he said. “I bet you wouldn’t want to impose on yourself what you’re trying to impose on us. I’m sure you’re nice guys but you’ve made enemies among us.”

“That’s my church,” said Trish Eatin, the self-described “rebel of the neighborhood,” pointing to the woods that flanked everyone at the meeting. “That is always going to be the place I go to to meditate. The only thing I hear sometimes is the train coming through. We want to retain that same feeling.”

Eatin said she and her late husband created most of the trails that are now widely used by hikers and bikers.

Housing Crisis: “We Can Do Something About This.”

After more than a dozen people spoke up about concerns, neighborhood resident Heather Cipolla addressed the crowd.

“The housing crisis in this state and in central Vermont is real. The impact it’s having leaves people just bereft. Thirty-six units loosens the faucet,” she said. “’We can do something about this by not immediately shutting down a proposal. This is a cluster development — it preserves that place where Trish finds her sanity. Let’s not reject this out of hand and think of other Vermonters besides ourselves.”

While this was an unofficial meeting organized by Lajeunesse, the proposal is currently slated to go before the Montpelier Development Review Board in July.