City challenges garage project party status
MONTPELIER — A motion has been filed against a request to reconsider the denial of party status for people who have challenged a permit for a public parking garage in the Capital City.
The motion was filed Friday by attorney David Rugh on behalf of the city of Montpelier, which was granted permits for the subdivision of a 2.8-acre lot behind the Capitol Plaza Hotel owned by the Bashara family, which wants to build an 81-room Hampton Inn & Suites hotel and a 230-space parking garage.
The Basharas asked the city to partner on the project and build the garage. The city agreed but increased the size of the garage project to 248 spaces. A $10.5 million bond for the garage project was approved by voters in November.
A group of residents, Friends of Montpelier, requested party status to challenge the garage project when it received its conditional use permit from the Development Review Board in December. A hearing to consider the request for party status was held in January by the Act 250 District 5 Environmental Commission.
The commission denied the requests of three residents — Daniel Costin, Laura Biren and Jeff Parker — because they were unable to demonstrate they had special interests in the project. The residents were concerned about a range issues that included whether the project conformed to zoning laws, created environmental and safety hazards, restricted access to the riverfront and adversely affected the historic character of the downtown.
Only one resident, Les Blomberg, was granted partial party status because of his concerns about traffic and safety near his office on State Street.
Last month, attorney James Dumont filed an appeal with the Environmental Court against the denial of party status for the residents, questioning whether the city complied with its own zoning regulations in permitting the project. The motion said that the commission erred in denying party status because his clients were regular visitors to the area and didn’t have to demonstrate a “particularized interest,” which would suffice under Act 250 rules.
City officials said the appeal of denial for party status by the residents would add significant legal costs and time delays that could kill the both hotel and garage projects. In response, Dumont said his clients had a right to address issues they felt had not been satisfactorily addressed by the DRB during the permit process.
In the city’s response to the appeal, Rugh stated, “Petitioners failed to demonstrate a reasonable possibility of a particularized interest under Act 250 criteria … that is any different from that of the general public.”
Rugh noted said the appellants did not meet “a high bar” to justify their motion to reconsider, and would only be permitted to “correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence,” something the appellants had not done.
“Motion to reconsider should be denied,” Rugh said.
Rugh also challenged appellant claims that the Act 250 commission made procedural errors in denying party status. Rugh said the time to do that would have been before or during the commission’s hearing of permit applications.
“They did not, and as such, their argument should be barred,” Rugh said.
Nor could the appellants make new arguments in their motion to appeal denial of party status, Rugh said.
“Motion to reconsider pursuant to Rule 31(A) must be based on the existing record; no new hearings are held, nor is new evidence on argument taken,” Rugh added.
Asked to comment on the motion, appellant attorney Dumont said, “We don’t agree. We filed a motion to (re)consider (denial of party status), they had a right to reply and we’ll respond in a day or two.”
A status conference between the parties will be held Tuesday to decide how they want to proceed.