Nissan relocation is back under consideration
RUTLAND—Early in 2016, Garvey Nissan filed an Act 250 application to build a new auto dealership on 16.5 acres at the border of Rutland Town and North Clarendon. The dealership had requested the application be held in abeyance while it worked to ameliorate “unforeseen technical issues,” but now the dealership’s officials are back in action. The building would occupy about 15,000 sq. ft.
Having purchased the Nissan dealership at 2201 Route 7 North in 2014, the new owners plan to move the business closer to other auto dealerships on Route 7 south of Rutland City. Attorney James Goss of Rutland law firm Facey, Goss & McPhee said the move would help the application meet Criterion 9L of Act 250, that of promoting “historic settlement patterns of compact village and urban centers separated by rural countryside.” The project’s co-location with three other “significant car dealerships” is a positive factor for its acceptance.
The application has been altered from its initial form to protect existing wetlands, Goss commented. Both the Clarendon Select Board and Clarendon Planning Commission have given unanimous support to the project, with the Select Board letter describing the new dealership as an “asset to the town.” The application asserts that the site is the “last developable piece of land” between the village of North Clarendon and Rutland Town. The project is presented to the Planning Commission in Rutland Town because the town is an adjacent property owner and therefore a statutory party.
Clarendon studying river corridor regulation
CLARENDON—Select Board meeting attendees learned the risks inherent in development within a river corridor at the board’s Nov. 28 meeting. Brayton West, Department of Environmental Conservation floodplain manager for the Southwest Region, explained that there is virtually no difference between a floodplain and a river corridor and there are no insurance requirements for a river corridor.
There are, however, economic repercussions. Property values decrease. Barbara Noyes-Pulling, senior planner with the Rutland Regional Planning Commission, suggested the Clarendon Planning Commission develop a list of vulnerable points and goals regarding river corridors. Town Planning Commission Chair Carol Geery responded that property owners will likely be involved in a community values assessment. Shrewsbury is also working to establish river corridor regulations for its section of Cold River; Clarendon should be aware of its neighbor’s regulations as it develops its own.
Rivers play an important part in Clarendon’s development. The Mill River carves the deep, rugged Clarendon Gorge with its 30-foot-long suspension bridge and waterfall. In addition to Mill River and Cold River, Otter Creek also flows through the town.
Rutland gets grant to tweak zoning
RUTLAND—The Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development gave Rutland City $20,000 Dec. 7 to make minor improvements to its zoning ordinance. The grant, requiring a $6,000 local match, is to pay for a facilitator to lead the public input process preceding the zoning rewrite.
Zoning Coordinator Tara Kelly foresees a comprehensive rewrite, helping the city clean up ordinances that are subject to interpretation and otherwise make the existing code less than predictable. The rewrite will consider ways to encourage “infill” development, including repurposing existing structures or creating new subdivisions.
The city may choose to incorporate such zoning innovations as an updated chart of uses that shows what sort of businesses are allowed in specific locations, Kelly said. She said a number of uses that have developed in recent years need to brought into the allowable-uses lists.
Michael Coppinger, Downtown Rutland Partnership executive director, hopes to see the downtown parking garage be counted as on-site parking for the hotel city officials hope will be built downtown. The existing code prohibits the structure from being regarded as available parking because it is not part of the development.
City budget trimming continues
RUTLAND—The Board of Aldermen General Committee slashed in half a program for homeless veterans Dec. 7, from $50,000 to $25,000. That tally followed a vote to drop the program altogether, which failed. In both cases, aldermen Thomas DePoy and Gary Donahue voted against financing the program, while aldermen Melinda Humphrey and Vanessa Robertson were in favor of the funding, and Alderman George Gides provided the deciding vote in both cases.
Mayor Christopher Louras constructed the proposal to assist homeless veterans in transitioning into their own housing, hoping to “plug a hole” left open by existing state and federal programs. His proposal was guided by input from the heads of both Dodge House and Open Door Mission, who are already working with homeless veterans.
DePoy said he resisted the proposal because, although he recognizes the need, it is inappropriate for Rutland City taxpayers to be asked to fill the gap. Alderman Sharon Davis also opposed the additional program, saying that Open Door, BROC, Rutland Mental Health, the U.S. Veterans Administration, the American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars all are exempt from property taxes, thereby already being supported by city taxpayers. In that way, the city is already supporting veterans’ programs by as much as $200,000.
Other budget trimmings the Aldermen have made include saving $85,000 by cutting an unfilled safety compliance officer position, $80,000 by deleting a proposed assistant city attorney position, and $25,000 by reducing the mayor’s contingency fund.
The safety officer position was a new creation by the Aldermen after hearing a Vermont League of Cities and Towns representative say that doing so would bring down workers’ compensation costs over time. Louras said he had worked with the VLCT on the official job description, and that “the need is still there.”
The mayor believes workers’ compensation expenses would have increased more this year had not the city’s insurer adjusted the rate under the expectation the position would be filled. Louras said he had no estimate of how much the rate would have been without that expectation.
Both aldermen Sharon Davis and Ed Larson objected to restoring the safety officer position in the budget. Davis viewed the position’s remaining unfilled all year as grounds for questioning its necessity. Larson described the position’s vacancy as demonstrating that its existence is “ludicrous and absurd,” promising to vote against returning it to the final budget.
Neither Davis nor Larson is on the General Committee. Committee member DePoy observed that police, fire, and public works department employees already receive safety training. He said he had approved the program last year because “overall spending was flatlined.”
The only committee member who spoke in favor of retaining the position was Humphrey, saying the city needs an organization-wide safety program and someone to promote a “culture of safety” in all departments. She cast the sole committee vote in favor of keeping the position.
The assistant city attorney position was an attempt to reestablish a position removed from the city budget about 10 years ago, and a position that City Attorney Charles Romeo said he has been lobbying to reinstate. This is the first year the mayor has asked for its return. Romeo said his department may be viewed as “a bottleneck or black hole,” in that every city department is waiting for something from the attorney.
Robertson was the only committee member who supported Romeo’s request, saying she has observed the workload in the city attorney’s office. She said she believes adding such a staff member is “not a luxury but more a necessity,” and provided the only dissent to its removal from the budget.
At that meeting, DePoy was the only committee member who attempted to remove a $16,000 budget item for bias training. The training has already been given to both police and department heads. Employees in the Recreation Department and clerk’s office as well as the Aldermen are scheduled to receive it next.
Although DePoy says he does not need it, Board President William Notte believes the entire board does, saying, “This is the training that will prepare us to lead.” At age 45, DePoy believes bias training is not something needed by adults and should not be funded by taxpayers. “We all have our biases,” he said. “I’m not going to change them because somebody tells me to, or instructs me to, or gives me the tools to.”
Larson disagreed. Regardless of where the funding arises, “It is good training, a valuable tool,” and will eventually protect the city in lawsuits, liability and other areas, he opined. Louras had already stressed that the training is beyond racial bias, also including socioeconomic status. He finds it “interesting” that race continues to be a major factor in the discussion. “Individuals who walk into City Hall to ask about parking tickets, wearing pajamas at 11 in the morning and pushing a baby carriage, are treated differently than someone dressed like Alderwoman Davis,” he continued.
Learning that the $16,000 cannot be cut in half because the training is a set amount, Committee Chair Donahue joined DePoy in voting to remove the funding, but they were outvoted by Robertson, Humphrey, and Gides.