Thursday July 10, 2014
Plan Proposes Purchase of School for Retail Development
At a special steering committee meeting of the South Burlington School Board and City Council held on July 7, a proposal for City Center was presented by Gene Beaudoin of Boston based development firm Saxon Partners. Beaudoin began his presentation by giving an overview of the city’s establishment of form based code to guide City Center development and said that this was a compelling reason for his firm to become involved with South Burlington. “Our proposal delivers against this (form based code) vision” Beaudoin said.
Beaudoin proceeded to reveal a proposal for a two phase project comprised of City Center Commons and City Center Place which offers a combination of civic, retail and residential housing elements. Phase one would involve creating “anchor” retail spaces on land currently occupied by the Marcotte Central School. This part of the proposal envisions several nationally recognized retail tenants that, according to a press release from Beaudoin, “would anchor the overall City Center project, creating Tax Increment Financing (TIF) revenue for civic space that would be incorporated in Phase Two of the project.” Saxon Partners is prepared to offer 7 million dollars for the school.
Phase two, City Center Place, envisions the creation of intimately scaled retail shops along Market Street with residential housing above. Beaudoin showed streetscapes of Church Street in Burlington, Rockville, Maryland and Clarendon, Virginia to illustrate his vision.
According to Beaudoin, the City of South Burlington will be able to use related TIF monies to create civic infrastructure within the project, thereby keeping the costs of infrastructure from raising residential taxes. Possible uses could involve a library, a town green, gardens, and a festival street.
In order for this to occur, residents would need to approve both the overall City Center Commons Project and the financing for desired municipal infrastructure such as a library. Beaudoin estimates the tax revenues resulting from such development would be over 1.5 million dollars annually after real estate and local taxes are considered. City Center Commons is expected to cost 25 million dollars and City Center Place has been estimated at 80 million dollars.
At the conclusion of his presentation, Beaudoin asked the school board to accelerate their visioning process so that an agreement for purchase of the school could be complete by September 1, 2014. He explained the process would involve approval from the school board, an independent appraisal, and the execution of a purchase and sale agreement along with the completion of TIF documents prepared by the city attorney. Beaudoin’s timeline would put a city-wide vote for the sale of the school on the November ballot.
This was the first time the school board and council members had been privy to this information and everyone agreed it was a lot to digest. School Board Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald spoke first and reminded everyone that the steering committee is not a decision making body and that since no action had been warned, conversation would be the only thing happening during the course of the meeting. “We have a sincere interest in the visioning process,” Fitzgerald said, “we have over 400 students who would need to find a home. There may be equally compelling reasons for keeping a walkable school in City Center. When we were talking about the fifth grade transition to the middle school, we never talked about shuttering schools. Our primary concern is providing a quality public school education.”
Board member Julie Beatty said she was completely taken aback by the information and stressed the importance of communicating with the public and setting up arenas for public comment.
Superintendent David Young said that digesting the information is going to take awhile and that there is a lot to consider.
“I understand the proposal,” board member Dan Fleming said, “but I can think of a lot of problems this will create...we don’t have a list of items this solves.”
Board members and councilors agreed the timeline proposed by Beaudoin was quite aggressive. Councilor Pat Nowak said, “This is huge and a bigger piece than I was expecting. I think the date of September 1, 2014 is premature.” Councilors Helen Riehle and Chris Shaw agreed. Riehle said she did not foresee this project receiving a positive vote from residents if it were to be put on the ballot in November. “That doesn’t allow enough time for visioning,” Riehle said.
While board and council members consider the information presented, Beaudoin’s proposal can be found at www.citycentercommons.com .
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent