Home News and Features Council Votes to Advance Development on Former Montpelier Beverage Property

Council Votes to Advance Development on Former Montpelier Beverage Property

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Planning and Community Development Director Mike Miller, left, speaks to the city council April 3 while council member Adrienne Gil takes notes. Screenshot by ORCA Media.
Montpelier City Council took steps recently to further development on the plot of land next to The Drawing Board, where Montpelier Beverage used to be. By a unanimous vote April 3, councilors voted to approve a request for proposals to developers to see what responses come back. The 6,600-square-foot-property located at 1216 Main Street could have retail property on the first floor and up to five additional stories of residential apartments.

“I want to see it developed. I want to see the housing,” said council member Cary Brown.

City Manager William Fraser said the city acquired the property during the Taylor Street transit center project. The building that was located there, which housed Montpelier Beverage, was taken down and a pedestrian/recreation path bridge was built behind the property. A previous building design had already been approved, Fraser said. The approved design was for three upper floors, according to Community and Economic Development Specialist Josh Jerome, but the city allows up to six floors at that location. 

“I’d be in favor of pursuing the RFP project with the caveat that we would let that property be on the tax roll,” said council member Tim Heney prior to the vote. 

Liquor Licenses Approved

The city council also approved liquor licenses for Charlie-O’s outdoor venue, Hunger Mountain Co-op, Veterans of Foreign Wars (class 1 and outside consumption), Yankee Wine and Spirits, Capitol Food Court (the Statehouse cafeteria), and Arandas Mexican Cuisine. And, while he did not want to hinder business, Heney talked about how the noise coming from Charlie-O’s outside venue could be heard by those who live downtown, but voted to approve all licenses. Montpelier’s noise ordinance says that sounds have to be below 55 decibels at the “receiving property” after 9 p.m.

Zoning Amendments Adopted

A majority of city council members agreed to adopt the amendments proposed at their regular meeting on March 13. Planning and Community Development Director Mike MIller said the proposal had not changed since the previous discussion. At that time, the key amendment was to change zoning regulations at the Country Club Road property to urban residential zoning in order to allow a housing development. The property had previously been zoned for use as a golf course, Fraser said. A member of the public, Thomas Weiss, asked about solar access, but council member Lauren Hierl reported she had not gotten any feedback from the Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee.

Heney said the council is making a big change to urban residential zoning for just one property, and he was interested in how those zoning rules could expand to other properties. Miller said they are taking an incremental approach in order to “work on detail and not a whole lot” because the last round of zoning changes in 2018 involved 14 changes that “felt like a lot.” Miller said they refrained from re-zoning Sabin’s pasture following intense public discussion in 2018, which resulted in a compromise of allowing development on 10 acres while keeping the rest of the 90-plus acres rural. Mayor Jack McCullough said he thought the conversation about expanding the zoning district would continue. 

Council member Adrienne Gil asked how zoning related to creating more housing. “Where can we go in terms of increased housing and does this help us get there? I don’t see the connection between zoning and housing,” Gil said. Miller explained that zoning regulations can be a barrier to housing development because builders can be prevented from doing things in certain zones, but that zoning alone can’t fix the situation. The economics of housing development can be an obstacle apart from zoning issues. For example, Worcester and Williamstown have little if any zoning, and they still have a housing problem, Miller said, adding that Montpelier has a 0% vacancy rate in the rental market. The city would need to add about 240 housing units to possibly make a difference. As it is, Montpelier saw an addition of 140 residential units between the 2010 and 2020 censuses. Changing the zoning to increase building density would allow people to build accessory apartments on their existing property, Miller said. 

McCullough suggested moving the matter to a vote, and his suggestion was taken up by Hierl, who “moved to adopt the amendments to the unified development regulations using the April third draft as presented.” It passed 4–1, with Heney voting ‘no.’

Flood Hazard Amendments

Next, a public hearing was set for April 17 concerning amendments to the river hazard regulations. Miller said he felt the need to quickly take action because two proposals have crossed his desk seeking to construct residential units within downtown commercial buildings that are below flood elevation. Additionally he has had three more people ask about doing the same thing. Miller said a loophole exists where a nonconforming commercial building with space below flood elevation can be converted into living space. This would not be allowed in a new building.

“We had 12 buildings — 20 units — where flooding happened into the first floor of those buildings. People were displaced from those houses, and they are going to be displaced for many years,” Miller said. The goal is to prevent this from happening going forward, especially after experiencing the difficulty of working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

McCullough suggested setting it up as a public hearing. Miller said only one public hearing is required for an interim change, which could precede a full adoption process. Miller said a hearing for April 17 had been warned.

Second Short-Term Rental Ordinance Hearing Set for May 8

The Montpelier Housing Committee brought a proposal forward about limiting short-term rentals in town, such as Airbnbs, but the council had concerns ranging from cost to enforcement. Rebecca Copans, a member of the housing committee, presented the proposal. Copans said, considering the housing shortage, the committee wants to send a message to investors not to buy homes and turn them into short-term rentals. Copans said such an ordinance would only allow people to rent out rooms on a short-term basis in owner-occupied buildings. But if someone wants to rent out their house for one weekend per year, or to a legislator for four months, that would be okay. The ordinance would exclude hotels, motels, schools, group homes, hospitals, sober living houses, and similar facilities. Owner occupancy would be determined/evidenced by homestead declaration certification. Additionally, those who did have short-term rental units would need to register with the city at a cost of $110 per year in order to allow the housing committee to collect data to see who is using short-term rentals and how many there are, Copans said. Units would also need to comply with safety requirements, which are not now imposed on short-term rentals. Penalties would be imposed on property owners who did not comply. Copans said the committee did not know how many such properties were being used this way in Montpelier. They could only estimate the number by looking up short-term rentals online.

Heney said he is concerned about the economics and lack of information regarding the topic. “We are trying to draft a solution to a problem that we don’t understand,” Heney said, pointing out that it would be expensive to enforce such an ordinance. Heney said if there are 88 Airbnbs, that would rake in around $8,800, which would not support the manpower needed to run a short-term rental oversight program. “We are really not in a budget position to add programs like this that aren’t a priority,” Heney said. Gil said she was concerned that the voice of people who own Airbnbs was not included in the presentation. 

After further discussion the council voted 4–1 (with Heney voting ‘no’) to hold another hearing on May 8.

In addition to the above actions by the council, Miller presented on the Planning and Community Development Department and Assistant City Manager Kelly Murphy presented on the 2024–2025 goals for the city. The planning department is working on flood recovery and steadying operating costs in addition to planning and implementing plans. The city manager’s office is concentrating on goals and policies, such as advancing housing projects, reviewing policies and ordinances, and considering the city plan recommendations.

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