During the March 22 city council meeting, 45 virtual and in-person participants learned of unanticipated costs associated with Act 250 permiting and infrastructure for the Country Club Road project and an asbestos problem and potential closure of the Barre Street Recreation Center as they listened to long-anticipated reports about the Country Club Road Project and a report on homelessness from Parker Advisors.
The public questioned the proposed community service center at the Barre Street Recreation Center – as outlined in a report commissioned by the Homelessness Task Force – instead of addressing the affordable housing crisis in Montpelier. Councilor Tim Heney brought up the need to conduct expensive, unbudgeted engineering studies and road access at the Country Club Road site, and two items on the consent agenda were discussed: the potential future purchase of state buildings, and a new recreation center feasibility study.
At 10:45 p.m., city manager Bill Fraser announced that asbestos issues at the Barre Street Recreation Center ”may be worse than we thought,” and that it is likely the building will need an expensive abatement or that the building will have to be closed. After a citizen request to look into it, Chris Lumbra, the city’s facilities and sustainability coordinator, directed the environmental contracting company, Environmental Hazards Management, to examine the center. The written report and recommendations are forthcoming, he said, but Lumbra was given verbal assurances that there is no imminent problem, and recreation activities can safely continue. The asbestos problem is limited to the basement boiler room in heat wraps on the boiler pipes.
Country Club Road
The city’s Country Club Road project has entered phase 2 of its development and will need to address complicated infrastructure issues including addressing the upgrades needed to support any increased traffic and the engineering needs and costs of studying, then building, new sewer and water systems, pump stations, and utilities. There is also a community value issue of whether or not there should be single-family homes built, and if those homes are built should they be built in a separate area from mixed housing. Representatives from the city’s consultants White + Burke repeatedly noted that real estate developers will have control over many aspects of the housing they build. See the full story here. Homelessness Taskforce Report
A report by Parker Advisors, a follow-up to a 2019 report, reviewed existing services, needs and gaps in services, recommended services, and estimated cost of recommendations to address the needs of those experiencing homelessness in the area. The report, commissioned by the city council, suggested using the Barre Street Recreation Center as a “hub” for homeless services by repairing its roof, bringing an entrance up to ADA compliance, and continuing to share the space with the Recreation Department.
As a backdrop to the report, the state’s crisis motel voucher program and the Christ Church emergency warming program are both ending, leaving up to 450 people unhoused in central Vermont. According to those who spoke at the meeting, the needs of the chronically homeless and the need for public bathrooms are unaddressed in the report. Fraser promised a “new housing plan this summer” and at the same time stated that the city has no dollars for upkeep, site management and supervision, or land or buildings to address long-term shelter and services. Fraser asked “What are we willing to commit to and do?” He added that he will provide funding information to the city council at its next meeting. Federal funds are currently used.
110 State Street
Through the consent agenda, Mayor Jack McCullough requested the council endorse a letter sent on March 13 by himself and Fraser to Alice Emmons, chair of the Vermont House Institutions and Corrections Committee requesting that Montpelier be provided a right of first refusal to purchase 110 State Street, currently the state’s attorney and sheriff’s building. The letter stated “This is a significant building and location in the core of our downtown. As such, it seems reasonable that the city government have the opportunity to steward its future use.”
During the general business section of the meeting, Montpelier state representative and former council member Conor Casey requested the sale of 110 State Street be brought to everyone’s attention. Casey said he has added language in the capital construction bill that the state give Montpelier the right of first refusal for this property, and he recommends the city take advantage of similar “options” in the future. The city will need to make a decision on this purchase within a year, probably by July 2024, he said. Fraser indicated in an email to The Bridge that such a purchase “would certainly be a full open conversation.”
Recreation Center Study
Councilor Carey Brown requested that the Phase 2 Montpelier Recreation Center Feasibility Study by the consultants Ballard and King be pulled from the consent agenda to be heard on its own.
According to Fraser and assistant city manager Kelly Murphy, this study actually began before the pandemic and is not site specific. Rather, it is about community recreational needs and wants. Councilor Heney questioned if another $14,500 consultant study is needed. Murphy said that $39,000 was allocated for the study and $20,000 has been spent, so $4,500 is added to the total contract cost of the study. The original process, which began in 2018–2019, is dated, so according to Dona Bate, current information is needed. The study was approved and will evaluate current sites-to-program needs, evaluate programs, and conduct program-cost modeling.
Declaration of Inclusion
Shaina Kasper, chair of the city manager’s Social and Economic Justice Advisory Committee presented the committee’s draft of the declaration of inclusion, which the city council adopted. The declaration of inclusion is a statewide grassroots effort to support diversity, fairness, and equity. To date, 100 Vermont cities and towns have adopted a declaration of inclusion. The Social and Economic Justice Advisory Committee has been trained by Creative Discourse, a Burlington consulting and training group that helps organizations solve problems and build equitable communities. The committee has conducted an equity assessment in Montpelier and is looking for new members.