Decision on 1 Taylor Street’s Upper Floors Still a Ways Off

by The Bridge staff

Plans for the transit-oriented development at 1 Taylor Street, Montpelier, remain half-formed in the wake of the City Council’s July 9 decision to delay a final decision on the use of the transit center’s upper floors, as developer Redstone Commercial Properties has yet to complete an analysis of the relative feasibility of the two remaining options—residential housing and office space. A third option, favored by Redstone but rejected under the terms of an agreement with owners of the Capitol Plaza Hotel, adjacent to the development, would have put a new hotel on the upper stories.

At the July 9 session, every member of the council expressed a preference for housing, or possibly a mix of housing and offices, as did the members of the public who offered comments. Council members felt, however, that not all the comparative data were in, and declined to upstage Redstone by making a final decision before the developer could submit its suggestions, based on the results of the feasibility analysis.

“Either [housing or offices] could work,” 1 Taylor Street Design Committee member John Snell told The Bridge. “I think there’s some distinct advantages to housing if [the units] fit the need of a certain group of people in Montpelier,” he elaborated, referring to aging middle-income residents.

Under the agreement between Redstone and the city, Montpelier will own and manage the transit center portion of the building on the ground floor, while Redstone will build, own and manage the upper floors. At the July 9 meeting, Redstone’s Erik Hoekstra explained that the company is working to address and resolve competing ideas—including new suggestions for condominiums rather than rented apartments. He asked for scheduling flexibility to “sort through all the moving parts” and come back to the city with what would work best on the site. Indicating the complexity of Redstone’s task, he noted that determining parking requirements involved market perspectives as well as lenders and appraisers, rather than simply zoning ordinances.

It adds up to a slowing of the project’s pace. A public roll-out of the design had been scheduled for July 30, at the last of the four “public participation events” on the project, with the assumption that a final decision on the upper stories would be reached July 9. Now, however, the city’s website says the July 30 presentation will offer “initial design ideas,” with “one more chance for public feedback.”

Addressing the July 9 council meeting, Hoekstra anticipated that Redstone’s July 30 presentation would encompass the building footprint, the transit plan, green space, and a rough “massing” of the building, but he didn’t expect to have any finalized recommendation on the use of the upper floors by that date.

Hoekstra emphasized that the transit center will drive the basic design of the space, given the imperatives of the federal funding available for the project. One of those imperatives appears to be bus circulation through the property, which according to City Manager Bill Fraser has been a requirement of the Chittenden County Transportation Authority and the Green Mountain Transit Agency since 2002, when discussion of the prospective transit center began. The federal requirements will govern the number of on-site parking spaces, which will, in turn, limit what can be done upstairs and the amount of green space on the site.

An economic analysis by Westford’s Northern Economic Consulting, commissioned by the city to help guide its decision making, indicated no clear economic advantage for either the office complex or residential apartment options. Those who support housing or mixed use argue that the space would be occupied and alive at night, rather than becoming a dead zone after business hours, as office properties on Stonecutters Way do. Redstone’s analysis, however, may argue otherwise on the basis of the dollars-and-cents details.

Hoekstra told The Bridge on July 14 that Redstone is now talking with real estate agents to gauge the demand for a residential condo project, and with businesses who might be interested in buying office space—in contrast to Redstone’s earlier assumption that it would remain the space’s owner, and rent it to tenants. A couple of the strongest potential users of office space, he reported, are only interested in buying space, not renting. The developer is also still pursuing rental options, however.

“Clearly, there’s strong public support” for the housing option, Mayor John Hollar told The Bridge. “I agree with that. I think there’s also a possibility for some mixed use on the site. There’s certainly going to be a housing component.”

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