After the Burlington City Council endorsed a plan to connect Battery and Pine streets by potentially removing part of the Independent Block building, some owners of businesses located there said they felt left out of the process.
The Burlington City Council moved forward Monday night with the plan as part of its Railyard Enterprise Project, an effort to ease travel between the waterfront and the South End by connecting the two major thoroughfares.
“I strongly feel that it should be going in the railyard, not taking out the building where we have our unique businesses here,” Nick Cavanaugh, co-owner of herbal shop Railyard Apothecary, said in an interview on Tuesday. “It’s difficult to consider moving somewhere else, if not impossible for us to find a similar location.”
The Department of Public Works said in an emailed statement on Thursday that the impact to buildings is not yet final and will depend on federal approvals and further design work.
Cavanaugh told the council Monday night that many of his neighboring business owners did not know about the plan to remove their part of the building.
“I think that somebody reaching out and asking and getting our input and getting our perspective on this would have been nice, for sure,” he told the council. “But even after the fact, at least letting us know that this is what they had decided.”
A couple of doors down from the apothecary, Judd Lamphere manages a large studio space where multiple photo and video artists work. Lamphere said he knew that a number of design options would bring the Battery Street extension close to the building, but was not previously aware that the preferred option would take out the part of the building his business occupies.
“There was no communication with the businesses here directly,” Lamphere said. He also worried that relocation would be difficult.
“There’s no other space like this here that I could find in town,” he said.
Multiple options had been considered to connect Pine and Battery streets. In plans shared by the Department of Public Works in March, the Battery Street extension is shown passing closely by the Independent Block.
But in plans updated in September, the department’s “preferred alternative” — chosen for its lower cost and environmental impact — outlines where buildings are expected to be removed, including portions of the Independent Block, lumber storage at Curtis Lumber and a small annex building at the former public works building on Pine Street.
The City Council unanimously approved the latter option Monday night.
Still, some City Council members voiced concerns about the lack of communication with business tenants, including Gene Bergman, P-Ward 2.
“I think that we’re at least a day late and many dollars short in terms of our communications,” he said, while noting he supported the railyard project.
Councilor Zoraya Hightower, P-Ward 1, asked public works whether programs might be available to business tenants impacted by the project.
In an emailed statement, Director of Public Works Chapin Spencer said funds will be available for tenant relocation as well as the acquisition of property because the Federal Highway Administration is funding a “large portion” of the project.
Spencer said the department reached out to property owners but “let them determine whether they wanted us to reach out to their tenants or whether they wanted to do it themselves.”
The owner of the Independent Block building, Jason Adams, said in an interview that until very recently, he was waiting to see what would happen. In earlier drafts of plans, he said, there were options that avoided his building. By August, all options went through his building, but he stopped short of making definitive plans for his building, given that the proposal must pass reviews with the federal government.
“I just decided that there’s not much I can do until we know exactly what’s going to happen for sure because the two options are so drastic for me,” Adams said.
Adams also said that, should the city really need to go through his building, he would be amenable to a sale rather than forcing an eminent domain process.
“That would be better for everyone,” Adams said.
Spencer said the current plan is not final until the Federal Highway Administration approves it. Even after that approval, the project will still go through the city’s design consultant, “so we are likely over a year away from understanding the precise impacts the project will have.”
The Railyard Enterprise Project is projected to begin construction in 2025, the city said.
The city’s preferred plan calls for a new intersection on Pine Street between the former public works building and Curtis Lumber. A new roadway and shared use path would then connect to the current end of Battery Street though the railyard and parking lot behind the Independent Block building.
Read the story on VTDigger here: Burlington moves forward with plans to connect Battery and Pine streets.