Mayor’s Office

Office of Mayor Miro Weinberger

Mayor Miro Weinberger

November 2019

This month, I’m thinking about the new infrastructure on St. Paul Street and the transformation of this part of our downtown, creating more homes, the updated proposal for CityPlace Burlington, and the policy tools that we need in order to meaningfully respond to the climate crisis.

Transforming St. Paul Street

Just a few years ago, the two blocks of St. Paul Street south of Main Street were dominated by asphalt-covered lots and the abandoned former Eagles Club. Today, these same blocks are a vibrant part of Burlington’s core, with many new homes and businesses. Now, some of the new property tax revenue being paid by these new buildings has been invested in new infrastructure on the street, resulting in  three times as many trees, wider sidewalks, safer crosswalks, many new benches, enhanced lighting, undergrounded utilities, parking for cars and bikes, and more.

Some of the most exciting parts of the new street aren't that noticeable at first glance. Next time you're there, take a look at the 11 new stormwater gardens, which are planted with grasses and flowering perennials that beautify the landscape of the street (and will even more as the plants grow) while also capturing rain that runs off the rebuilt streets and sidewalks. (It is fun to show kids how the gardens work if you are downtown during a rain!) This multi-purpose “green infrastructure” helps us slow and clean stormwater, in order to prevent it from overwhelming our system during the increasingly severe storm events that we have been experiencing – and do so in a way that's more cost effective than traditional pipe and basin infrastructure. As we build more green infrastructure we make the frustrating overflow events that close beaches less frequent, and we keep the phosphorous that creates blue-green algae out of Lake Champlain.

Look out for more celebration of the new street in the spring, including the installation of new public art. For now, stop by and visit the businesses who have been patient through construction. I am grateful to everyone who has made this work possible, including our dedicated City team, partners like Champlain College and the businesses along the corridor, and voters, who approved the use of the City's downtown TIF district to fund this work in March 2015.

Looking at the Data on Housing Creation

Every month, I get together with all 17 of the City’s department heads and we dig into the data about City operations and services, evaluate our work and look for ways to improve, deploy resources in new ways when see opportunities, and then follow-up rigorously. We call this effort BTVStat. We started it in 2016, and more than three years later I still walk away from every monthly meeting with new ideas and valuable insights. Last month, one of the things that we focused on was housing creation. Our CEDO team pulled the numbers, and what they found was that since 2012, we have created more than 900 new homes in Burlington, more than one-third of which are permanently affordable. That’s a huge, and important, increase from the rate of housing production that we were seeing in the years prior – according to data from a local firm, we created just 67 new market rate apartments in Burlington between 2006 and 2012.

This higher number gives me hope that the strategies we have been using to address our housing crisis are starting to work, even as we continue to reform local rules to make housing more available and affordable in Burlington. If you’re interested in more information about BTVStat, I invite you to follow along at burlingtonvt.gov/it/btvstat, and stay tuned as we reboot a tool that we call our BTVStat Dashboard in the months ahead.

Updated Proposal for CityPlace Burlington

On Monday, Brookfield Properties, the managing partner of CityPlace Burlington, took an important step forward and presented an updated proposal for the project to the City Council. The images that they shared are available here.

With this proposal, the developers have met the demands that I outlined in my September 27 letter (available here), and appear to have resolved internal disagreements that have delayed the project. The revised plans that Brookfield presented would achieve all of the major goals that the City has held for this site from the beginning, including restoring lost public streets, creating hundreds of much needed new homes and downtown jobs, and generating substantial new public revenues. While I welcome this overdue progress, Brookfield still has substantial work to complete before the end of this year to preserve the project, and get this effort to fix a long-troubled part of the downtown back on track.

A Tailwind for Our Climate Efforts

As Burlington has advanced nation-leading climate and energy policies in recent years – from becoming the first city in the country to source 100 percent of our electricity from renewable generation to, now, working toward becoming a Net Zero Energy city – I have seen how these initiatives have benefitted our local economy and also allowed us to meaningfully respond to the climate crisis at the local level. This work has also shown me something else: That until we appropriately price the true cost of carbon pollution on our health and environment, we will be fighting the climate emergency with one hand tied behind our back.

Because of this, as part of the City’s “Roadmap” for how we achieve our Net Zero Energy goal, we also analyzed the economic and environmental benefits of a statewide, revenue-neutral Vermont carbon pollution fee. The results provide strong evidence that we can take critical action to mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis and benefit Vermont’s economy at the same time.

The analysis shows that a well-structured fee would cut emissions by 37 percent by 2040 when combined with existing clean energy policies – while also boosting state economic growth, adding an average of $21 million annually to Vermont’s GDP as we shift purchases away from out-of-state and international fossil fuel companies and toward local, renewable energy producers. Under this revenue-neutral proposal, virtually all of the revenue collected by the fee would be rebated out to Vermont households and businesses, and the analysis projects that the average Vermont household would make more from the rebates than they would spend in fee payments.

The fossil fuel industry is already pushing back against this proposal with misinformation and scare tactics. But it’s important to remember: While oil and gas companies falsely state that a proposal like ours will drag down the economy, it is climate change that is already damaging our economy and communities, and this damage will certainly rise as Irene-like storms become more frequent, our ski areas lose their snow, algal blooms expand, and more. Fairly pricing carbon pollution is a policy that is direct, transparent, and will bring us closer to the future that we need. As we have in so many other ways, Vermont should lead the way to a better world.

As always, I encourage you to join me at the Bagel Café on North Avenue on Wednesday mornings from 8:00-9:00 am to share your thoughts and questions about these or any other topics that are on your mind. You can also visit my Facebook page at facebook.com/MiroBTV for more information on the work of the Mayor’s Office and our City Departments. I look forward to seeing you soon.

Warmly,

Miro