Voters to Weigh in on Large Downtown Redevelopment Proposal in Burlington, Vermont

On Election Day, voters in Vermont's largest city will weigh in on a redevelopment proposal that could transform the core of downtown Burlington.

"This is a great opportunity for the city of Burlington," said Mayor Miro Weinberger of Burlington. "It's going to be a huge step forward for the city."

Weinberger and a coalition of project supporters spoke Thursday in favor of a "yes" vote on two special city ballot questions, numbers three and four.

Question three centers on a zoning change to allow a 1970s mall, the Burlington Town Center, to be converted for a mix of uses.

The mall, which has been plagued by vacancies in recent years, would be reborn as a center for offices, new retail, parking, and housing, including units for lower-income residents.

The redevelopment would be a roughly $250 million job from a private developer.

"It has an opportunity to really add new economic vitality downtown that has been lacking for a period of time," said Kelly Devine of the Burlington Business Association as she voiced support for the project Thursday.

Question four on the ballot tackles whether the city should take on public infrastructure improvements and new traffic flows around the property, including reclaiming portions of Pine Street and St. Paul Street that were blocked by the mall's construction during a period of "urban renewal" decades ago.

Under that tax increment financing, or TIF, mechanism, the promise of eventual tax revenues from the redeveloped mall property will pay back the debt from the more than $20 million in proposed street upgrades.

"Vote for progress and vote to make Burlington a more affordable city," said Kurt Wright, who represents Burlington's New North End on the City Council.

Wright said he believes expanding Burlington's tax base by adding property in the heart of the downtown will result in more revenue for the city, and eventually, tax relief for homeowners across the city.

The project's proposed height has been divisive.

The peaks of the redeveloped mall property would be about four stories higher than anything else on Burlington's skyline.

"We feel this is being forced upon us," Genese Grill of the Coalition for a Livable City told necn affiliate NBC5 Thursday. "We don't want big, corporate high-end retail stores, we don't want high-end-luxury apartments, we don’t want above-ground parking garages, and we certainly don’t want 14-story buildings in the center of our town."

Grill urged voters to say "no" to Tuesday's ballot questions. She said she has helped distribute signs to residents across the city to help them voice their opposition to the project.

However, advocates pledged to continue working through the weekend to convince city voters that now is the time to chart a fresh future.

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