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Old 03-18-2009, 12:56 AM   #1
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Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Lebanon, Maine
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Burlington Update....

Burlington might be getting taller....

Police called to City Council meeting
By John Briggs, Free Press Staff Writer ? March 13, 2009

Burlington City Council President Kurt Wright, incensed by procedural interruptions from council Democrats Ed Adrian and Dave Berezniak during a zoning debate on how tall downtown buildings should be, called police to Contois Auditorium on Thursday night and threatened to have councilors removed if they continued to raise points of order. Democrats voted in a bloc Monday against allowing the regular City Council meeting to continue past 10:30 p.m., aware that they lacked the votes to block an amendment to the zoning ordinance that would allow commercial buildings downtown of up to 10 stories and 127 feet.

Mayor Bob Kiss called a special council meeting for Thursday to resume the recessed Monday meeting, but the three-day layoff didn?t calm tempers.

Proponents of the amendment, council Republicans, Progressives and the two independents, said the amendment was the result of a year?s work by a joint city council and Planning Commission committee to remedy a flaw in last year?s new zoning ordinance. The flaw had required large downtown developments to be 50 percent commercial and 50 percent residential ? a formula developers said was financially unworkable.

That issue was not in dispute. The amendment treated commercial and residential developments separately. At issue was the height. Supporters of the amendment said the increase from 105 to 127 feet for commercial buildings ? an extra story ? would provide an inducement for builders.

Opponents, the council Democrats, said the public hadn?t had enough time to digest such a proposed change in the city?s skycap, and said the measure, changed somewhat by the Planning Commission in the version being voted on, should go to the council?s Ordinance Committee for further review. There was no reason to rush, they said.

?There is no compelling reason it has to be dealt with (now),? said Russell Ellis, D-Ward 4. ?There are no builders standing at the gate.?

Supporters of the amendment said the Democratic intent was to delay a vote until the new Democratic-dominated council is seated in early April.

The tension was obvious early in the debate, as first Joan Shannon, D-Ward 5, then, repeatedly, Adrian, from Ward 1, and Berezniak, from Ward 2, raised procedural points of order on the process being followed to move the legislation.

They did that as Jane Knodell, P-Ward 2, was attempting to introduce a compromise amendment that would limit the heights of commercial buildings to nine stories, or 115 feet, and of residential buildings to eight rather than nine stories.

?We?re not going to continue with this,? Wright said angrily as Berezniak raised his hand on another point of order.

?This is unacceptable behavior,? Knodell said.

?It?s not going to be tolerated,? Wright said, as Berezniak persisted, and he called a recess.

He stepped outside and called the police.

Two officers arrived a few minutes later, with the meeting still in recess.

Wright explained quietly to them that some councilors were disrupting the meeting and he might have to have them removed. That, he told the officers, was the ?nuclear option,? and he didn?t want to use it.

Whether or not the police presence had an effect, the tone was calmer when the meeting resumed. Knodell?s amendment passed unanimously. The Democratic motion to send the ordinance back to committee failed, and the ordinance finally passed, 10-3, with Shannon, Adrian and Berezniak voting no. The ordinance returns for a final vote on March 30.

Two college zoning amendments also passed. The first, dealing with the University of Vermont density, building height and the housing of students on campus, won narrowly. The ordinance had called for the university to provide on-campus housing for 70 percent of its students by Sept. 1, 2014, and 75 percent by Sept. 1, 2017.

That provision was removed Thursday, to be dealt with in a memorandum of understanding between the city and the university.

Democrats opposed that approach, saying such an understanding was not enforceable.

The vote was 6-5 in favor of the abridged ordinance, with Democrats voting against it and Knodell and Clarence Davis, P-Ward 3, recusing themselves.

A third zoning amendment pertained to buffer zones around Champlain College and placed limits of 320 new beds (currently 210) the college can build outside the core campus.

The amendment passed unanimously.

The council will hold a special public forum on March 23 in Contois Auditorium to discuss the downtown zoning ordinance, and it will revisit the zoning ordinance March in a public hearing before voting that night on the final version.
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