To the Editor,
I am profoundly disappointed that 18 individuals are attempting to thwart plans to build a new hotel and public parking structure in downtown Montpelier.
I’ve been in business in Montpelier for nearly 11 years, and in that time I’ve seen retail shift dramatically, not just downtown, but universally. As Montpelier merchants, we all exist because awesome locals make a conscious choice to support this downtown. But I am here to tell you that the loyal support of our local customers is simply not enough anymore. With big box stores and Amazon nipping at all of our heels, it is not enough.
Capital Kitchen is my livelihood, and Montpelier is my home. I’ve devoted myself to this store, and it’s been such a joy to do so. I love it so much, and I want to keep going, but I honestly don’t know if that plan is sustainable if we can’t succeed in growing this city in a real way. Many merchants share my feeling that sustained success just isn’t possible if Montpelier doesn’t grow.
We need the estimated 30,000 visitors a year that this hotel will bring to Montpelier. And they need a place to stay and a place to park. We want new visitors to get the opportunity to explore our downtown, to shop at our stores, eat at our restaurants, and experience firsthand what makes this downtown such a lovely place. People who are simply visiting from surrounding communities need a place to park, too. Not everyone is within biking/walking distance from downtown.
While I can understand the appeal of a vision for a carless utopia, it’s not going to happen tomorrow, not when we don’t have a public transport infrastructure in place to support it. Bottom line: this hotel cannot be built without a parking structure. It’s been communicated in a dozen different ways that it’s not a possibility. We need this hotel, and we need the public parking that will come with it.
Back in November this project was supported on the ballot with a majority of almost 2,500 votes. Last month this small opposition group of only 18 people was unsuccessful in collecting enough signatures to get this issue back on the ballot in time for Town Meeting Day this March. To me, it sounds like the majority of Montpelier residents support this project. We support this plan for a hotel and public parking structure. We support development in our core downtown. We support building something that will attract 30,000 visitors each year to our beautiful Capital City.
Yet this small group continues to appeal this project, which will likely halt any progress for years while legal fees accumulate for the developers, and, yes, for our own city. This small group of 18 is trying to kill this project, despite the fact that the majority of us have already taken to the polls to clearly say that we support it.
I have deep concerns that if this project is indeed killed by the 18 people who have opposed it through legal appeals, it will send a clear and damaging message to future developers that Montpelier does not welcome development, that we do not welcome change. It will send a message that we don’t want to grow or to increase our vibrancy as a downtown, that we accept stagnation. And it will send a message that majority support is meaningless as long as there is a handful of individuals with the means to initiate legal action. It’s a very harmful message.
I’ve been very hesitant to seek out public forums to discuss these kinds of issues. I’ve been afraid that being vocal would be damaging to my business. But these 18 people who have decided to manufacture all of this legal red tape are damaging to my business. They have decided that they know better than the downtown businesses that have continually voiced unanimous support for the hotel and parking structure. And they have decided that our ballots are meaningless.
Just 18 people.
Jess Turner, Owner of Capital Kitchen, Montpelier
To the Editor,
I’ve noticed in discussions in town recently regarding the parking garage that some folks are trying to portray the vote last November as a close vote and, since it was such a close vote, that they are justified to use the court system to derail the development of the hotel and garage.
The ballot article received 56 percent of the vote. That’s a significant win. That’s not a close vote. In fact, in the last 20 years, only two gubernatorial candidates in Vermont have ever gotten more than 56 percent of the vote. The voters were solidly in support of the garage in November.
Another point that concerns me is when folks dismiss the public process that was used to review and discuss the project. There were 13 public meetings where the garage and hotel were discussed. This was not done in the dark and railroaded through.
When there is a public and lengthy process followed by a town vote in favor of the project and people dismiss all of it by publicly disparaging the process and then pursue legal action to undo the outcome, it erodes the public’s confidence in our local processes and institutions.
The small opposition group to the garage is trying to undermine our confidence in the Planning Commission, Design Review Board, City Council, and local elections. These established procedures are important to our community and it’s a shame to see them subverted.
Brian Murphy, Montpelier