Home News and Features Council Backs Disc Golf Plan for Old Elks Club Site

Council Backs Disc Golf Plan for Old Elks Club Site

Rebecca Copans, left, discusses short-term rentals during the Montpelier City Council meeting June 12. Screenshot from ORCA Media.
Montpelier’s Country Club Road property, former home of the Elks Club, would be a good place for a disc golf course according to two men who pitched the idea at a recent city council meeting. Recreation Director Arne McMullen and Efficiency Vermont Managing Director Peter Walke presented a proposal to install a disc golf course during the June 12 meeting. Walke said such a course would mesh well with a proposed housing development, trails, and the wooded area on the property. It is a low-impact sport that would attract thousands of visitors and is compatible with walking, hiking, and biking uses, Walke said. 

Walke further asserted that he has worked with Disc Golf Vermont, an organization that hosts disc golf tournaments, which attract between 250 and 300 people per tournament. Walke created a “L3C” — a low-profit-liability company — in order to set up just such a venture and “become an economic driver” to the area. He said the course could be set in areas that would not conflict with the future housing development. 

“You can use wooded areas and open space and get a really professional disc golf course to help the local community,” Walke said. There are also disc golf courses at Wrightsville and Barre Town Forest, but the Wrightsville course is in disrepair.

Council member Cary Brown said it sounds like a great idea, and she asked if it would be free or have a fee. Walke said if the city would like to charge a $5 or $10 fee, his organization could facilitate fee collection. Brown also asked about what it would cost to maintain such a course, to which McMullen responded it would mostly cost the amount it takes to mow around the holes. Councilor Pelin Kohn asked if it could be used in conjunction with the summer camp program. Councilor Tim Heney said it seems like a significant asset. Council member Sal Alfano asked about tree cutting, and was told some minor tree cutting might occur to trees that have fallen and become hazards, but it would be limited.

Community member Steve Whitaker said he was concerned that it was not part of a comprehensive planning process and that it might conflict with an emergency shelter for people who are “already fragile from living outdoors or who just got kicked out of motels and deserve some sort of privacy.” 

After further discussion, council members voted to approve authorizing Walke and McMullen to go forward and bring a more detailed proposal before the city council.

“This is an exciting thing. We’ve been talking for years about recreation becoming an economic driver, so I’d like to see this happen,” said Mayor Jack McCullough.

Short-term Housing Public Hearing

Following a more detailed presentation from Rebecca Copans than her previous appearance in April about a short-term housing ordinance, the Montpelier City Council voted to set another public hearing for July 17. At issue is that a proliferation of turning housing units into short-term rental properties, such as Airbnbs, is making the housing crisis worse for residents in Montpelier, she said. It is also driving up prices for existing rental units. 

Copans, a member of the Montpelier Housing Committee, said the mission of the committee is to create more long-term housing in Montpelier and that curbing short-term uses is “the first salvo,” but not the end of the problem. Many factors contribute to the housing crisis, including zoning and lack of new development. However, Copans said this ordinance could put units back into the long-term housing supply quickly. Addressing zoning would help as a “medium-term” solution, and building new housing units would be a “long-term” solution.

Copans noted that Vermont’s median home price is $309,000 while Montpelier’s is $370,000. The median gross rent in Vermont is $1,070, while in Montpelier it is $1,106. She also said the rental vacancy statewide is 3.2%, while in Montpelier it is 0%. 

Heney, a local realtor, refuted that figure saying, “I have four vacancies now and a few coming up, so there is some turnover happening. It is low, but it is not zero.” Heney also said he struggles with the idea of such an ordinance because it could create a few more longer-term rentals, but he has concerns about the amount of staff time it would take to operate such a venture for a relatively small impact. He also expressed concern about the proposal to enforce the rules using volunteer labor. Per the ordinance as proposed, Heney said, “We have to enforce legally with volunteers. It’s people’s lives.” Heney did say he favors having the short-term rental registry as proposed.

The proposed rules against using property for short-term rentals exclude hotels, motels, inns, sober living houses, schools, hospitals, and people’s primary residence. In other words, short-term rentals would be allowed on property already claimed as the landlowner’s primary residence. A second public hearing is scheduled in July.

Council Sets Second Reading for Parklet Fee Waiver 

The council plans to schedule another hearing about “parklets” — seating areas in parking spaces in front of local eateries. The three in Montpelier are in front of Positive Pie, Three Penny Taproom and Langdon Street Tavern. City Manager Bill Fraser said Montpelier Alive approached him about waiving the fees to displace the parking fee income the city would otherwise get as revenue from the parking spaces. This would be a temporary arrangement in consideration of how much money was lost by those restaurants because of last summer’s flood. Some people said they thought this was an unfair benefit that businesses without parklets would not receive from the city while others said those businesses had to invest extra money to create the parklets, and so deserve an extra benefit.

Vitzthum Proposes Small Houses at Elks Club Property

The city council heard a proposal from Montpelier architect Sandy Vitzthum about designing a housing development that involved small houses on small lots on the Country Club Road property rather than the multiple-unit dwellings currently proposed. Vitzthum said she wanted to see how small one- and two-bedroom homes might cost less than rent if banks would cooperate on the financing. She said her designs of small houses on small lots would take up almost the same footprint as the current development proposal but would go further into the woods. She said she would return when she had further information.