EDITORIAL: Attorney Gerald Tarrant: Slow Down “Radicalization” Of Montpelier Zoning

by Nat Frothingham

At press time The Bridge invited planning chief Mike Miller to summarize the assumptions and thinking behind the planning commission’s proposed new bylaws and regulations.

Miller began by noting that Montpelier has excess capacity in its water treatment plant and its sewage treatment plant. “We are paying for schools that are underused,” he added.

Miller said that earlier drafts of the proposed bylaws “would have more drastically increased our densities.” But now the commission, he said, “is proposing densities to match those densities we have today.”

He did say that the new zoning would allow modest infill building to match the existing character of our neighbors.

“We have set a goal of 500 additional housing units (in Montpelier) to accommodate as many as 500 to 1,000 new residents spread out across town. We plan to do this — maybe in 10 years. Let’s share the financial burden of paying for sewer, water, schools. We are not looking for drastic tearing down of buildings.”

Miller said that in Montpelier we are looking at many older houses  that once accommodated larger families of five or six or more people. These houses could be renovated to add an apartment or a unit over the garage to accommodate more people.

Attorney Gerald Tarrant Photo by Michael Jermyn

Attorney Gerald Tarrant
Photo by Michael Jermyn

Miller encouraged members of the public to participate in the current round of public hearings.

In an email message to Michael Miller and in subsequent remarks at a public hearing Jan. 9, Gerald Tarrant criticized the planning commission’s proposed new bylaws and regulations.

As part of his email message, Tarrant wrote, “I am writing this as a longtime resident of Montpelier and owner of an apartment complex on Main Street situated mid-point between the (Kellogg-Hubbard) Library and the (traffic circle) rotary.”

I own a mid-19th century Gothic apartment building at 144 Main St., a six-story brick apartment building at 142 Main St. and a 19th century brick carriage house at 144B Main St. which is also a residential rental.

I have put an enormous amount of time, energy and money into these structures with the understanding that I was part of an historic neighborhood with protective zoning regulations (and that this neighborhood) was probably one of the most viewed and iconic neighborhoods in the city.

In his public testimony, Tarrant stated his objections to what he called “the radicalization of Montpelier” — such as allowing for five or six story buildings and allowing also for so-called “infill” development.

In objecting to plans that would call for adding to the city’s population numbers with 5,000 more people or 2,000 more people and the like, he said, “There are reasons people come to Montpelier to live and work and visit. And many of the times when I visit my friends and family out-of-state they say, “Boy, I wish I could live in a city like Montpelier.” Well, you want to change it and you want to change it to what really the rest of America has seen over the last 20, or 40, or 50 or 75 years. We’ve all been to many historic centers around the Northeast, beautiful, beautiful places around Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia that 50 years ago were much like Montpelier only older. Now they have six story buildings, parking lots. People don’t want to live there there — it’s a shame what they’ve done.

“I ask you to move slowly. I ask you to consider the consequences and they aren’t all good.” Some of the consequences he mentioned as part of his testimony were more traffic and a greater need for parking and more crime — and even higher taxes.

Instead of plans to attract many more people, to allow for greater housing densities and infill development he suggested a handful of precisely targeted renovation projects such as residential units in the upper stories of the French Block or above Asia House on State Street, or by redeveloping parts of the College of Fine Arts for housing.

As he concluded his public hearing remarks, he said, still on a theme of taking things slowly and in careful steps:

“I think it’s one thing when you read about zoning — well there’s infill over here and some infill over there and there’ll be another 200 units in Sabin’s Pasture. Let’s talk about what the impact of another 200, 300, 400, 500, 600 units are. What are (these impacts going to be like) for downtown Montpelier.

OK, good, we do it just like we do it at home. Jobs. Some income. Some energy downtown. More business for the businesses. What are the negative aspects? There’s going to be more traffic. There’s going to be more people.

Finally, Tarrant talked about why people want to live in Montpelier. “A lot of people here like to live in the country in the city. That’s the great part of Montpelier. When I moved here it was $1,800 a year for taxes. I’m (now) paying $13,000. I don’t like it. But I don’t really like what you’re proposing. I think what we can do is start taking baby steps. To try to understand what the threshold is in this community for allowing development.”

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