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Burlington City Council votes on housing, transportation items

Published: Mar. 21, 2022 at 11:49 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 22, 2022 at 6:40 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Burlington city councilors worked early into Tuesday morning, voting on three issues WCAX News has been following for weeks.

Three big items were on the agenda Monday night. An override veto failed on a short-term rental ordinance, moving forward with homeless shelter pods passed and a bike lane that will remove 40 parking spaces in the Old North End passed after lengthy deliberation.

“I am saddened to see a 30-pod homeless community downtown,” said Scotia Jordan, who lives in the area. “There is an elderly housing subject right next to where this is going.”

Jordan said she’s not opposed to sheltering homeless people by building pods but she doesn’t think Elmwood Ave. is the right place.

Citing crime and the location of the Burlington homeless pod community, some still stand firm against the pod project.

Others call it necessary.

“With the hotels shutting down and other issues they have, we have to give them a name,” said David Call, an Elmwood Ave. resident. “We have to give them a safe place to be.”

In an 11-1 approval, the council supported the administration’s plans to build a low-barrier emergency shelter pod community on Elmwood Avenue.

It’s part of Mayor Miro Weinberger’s 10-point plan to address homelessness. It will include 30 climate-controlled shelters, on-site toilets and showers, and a Community Resource Center.

They would be available for three years.

“The goal is that this not be a permanent facility, that this be in the interim over the next three years,” said Brian Pine, the Community and Economic Development Office director.

The votes also rolled in, advancing the bike lane vision coming to North Winooski Avenue in a vote of 8-4.

The project would remove 40 parking spaces while still allowing safe passage from downtown Burlington to Winooski. But many who spoke overnight were not in favor of the plan.

“If we lose all our parking spaces, it will hurt business,” said Jade Lin, a North Winooski business owner.

The council also voted on short-term housing.

An ordinance originally passed 8-4 and would have stopped landlords from renting out certain housing to tourists, and instead, focus on long-term housing.

“Do we want to think about the interest of property owners and large corporations like Vrbo and Airbnb?” David King, a Burlington resident asked councilors. “Or do we want to think about young people and our low-income people?”

The mayor vetoed the short-term rental bill, and the council wasn’t able to override it.

Weinberger, D-Burlington, says the ordinance will only deepen the issues the ordinance is intended to address by discouraging them to rent further.

“I think the fact that so many new ideas have come up so late in the game speaks to the fact these ideas are not fully vetted. We deserve to do it right,” said another person in attendance at the meeting.

But Joan Shannon, D-Burlington City Council, says keeping the status quo around rental regulation will only hurt renters in the city.

“It will allow continued conversations of existing housing units into bed-and-breakfast lodging units, and I think it’s really going to hurt renters in our community,” said Shannon.

An ordinance originally passed 8-to-4 and would have stopped landlords from renting out certain housing to tourists, and instead, focus on long-term housing.

The mayor also urged the council to quickly bring forward a new version of the ordinance without the specific problematic provisions that restrict homeowners from operating short-term rentals in their owner-occupied properties.

Overall, the mayor says these votes will move the city’s housing and transportation goals forward.

“Tonight was a good night for our efforts to end homelessness, create new homes, and expand transportation options,” said Weinberger. “I am grateful that this council met well into the morning hours to complete this critical agenda.”

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