The Burlington Business Association (BBA) has published a Burlington City Council Voter Guide for the 2021 Town Meeting Day Elections. The Voter Guide focuses on issues of concern to the members of the BBA and has been distributed digitally to BBA members, the candidates, and the news media.
This voter guide’s 4 questions focus on economic vitality, working with the business community, and transportation choice. All candidates for City Council have been afforded the opportunity to respond. The BBA does not make political endorsements
This Voter Guide is made possible by the financial support of AARP Vermont.
*Candidate responses on the voter guide have been edited for brevity and formating. Voters are encouraged to view candidates’ unabridged responses below.
North District – BBA City Council Voter Guide
Central District – BBA City Council Voter Guide
South District – BBA City Council Voter Guide
HULA Lakeside, The Burton Hub Project, and Cambrian Rise are all examples of adaptive reuse of underutilized industrial/institutional space. Have you or do you support these specific projects? Do you believe in this type of economic development? If not, please explain why not, and please provide an alternative.
Mark Barlow (Independent): “Yes, I enthusiastically support all of these projects. I would add CityPlace to the list because I also see that project as an adaptive reuse of the underutilized mall space. In all cases they add opportunities and value in Burlington that were not there before those projects were planned. With the limited undeveloped space in Burlington, adaptive reuse makes good sense. To me the HULA Lakeside and Burton Hub Projects are exciting because they are bringing business to Burlington. In recent decades it seems we have seen more businesses leave Burlington than locate here, citing higher costs and other challenges of operating here. We are still suffering the effects of those losses as we work to redevelop our downtown. So any opportunity we have to bring new business into the city is a win. Cambrian Rise and CityPlace are adding much needed housing to the city. Our affordability crisis is caused in part by the availability of housing in Burlington and these projects are adding hundreds of new units, including many affordably priced now. The additional people living in those projects also means more economic activity at businesses and restaurants. One caveat to my enthusiasm for Cambrian Rise is the unfortunate loss of some of the open space that was enjoyed by the community, but I do think that the plan that emerged — making the property economically viable by building housing while conserving some open space as city park land with increased bike path connectivity — was a pragmatic and reasonable compromise.”
Kienan Christianson (Democratic/Progressive): “Yes. I was on the Development Review Board and heard many of these projects. I think infill development is important because it allows us to build more densely, allowing for more green space and reducing overall carbon emissions. I do want to specifically highlight Burton as the type of project I like to support. Burton was sensitive to how its project could impact the local neighborhood and worked hard to solicit input from neighbors and get them involved in the process. Burton addressed the neighbors’ concerns, made changes to the project to reduce noise and traffic flow, and regularly attended the NPA to ensure it was meeting and exceeding neighbors’ expectations. While there was still some resistance to the project, I liked that Burton went out of their way to involve the community and bring them into the process. I would like to see more projects do this and commend Burton for the effort they put into involving the community.”
Joan Shannon (Democratic- Incumbent): “Yes, but my support is not unequivocal. In each case, I also have concerns. I love the Hula project, but have emphasized the developers need to be cognizant of how their parking demands will impact neighbors, if the demand is not met onsite. I appreciate the vision of the Burton Hub Project, but do not believe using this site for a regional entertainment venue is consistent with our Municipal Plan. I fully support Cambrian Rise and believe that the 12 acres of publicly accessible land in exchange for more development, closer to the street is a great example of providing public benefits through private development.”
Tiki Archambeau (Independent): “The projects mentioned are viewed more as in-fill developments than adaptive reuse, though the two are not entirely disconnected. There is a lot to like about these projects. They show economic vitality, opportunity, and hope. I will admit to holding concerns over conflicts in infrastructure. For instance, Cambrian Rise was an ideal opportunity to avoid yet another traffic light and install a roundabout. Alas, we will soon have a traffic light at that location. (It’s worth noting the exceptional efforts made by the developer to accommodate the transecting bike lane that passes the property on North Ave.) The Burton Hub Project is exciting, yet is heavily contested by neighbors who highlight a lack of accommodating infrastructure in the area due to its industrial zoning. I would like to see each of these projects succeed with buy-in from the community at-large. There will never be unanimity, but we also would agree that endless lawsuits are not in anyone’s best interests. If there is one areas I would like to see addressed in future mixed-use projects, it’s opportunities for entry-level home ownership. Condos priced for starting buyers would benefit Burlington by expanding the tax base and reducing the enormous percentage of renters, who are currently a majority of voters and vote accordingly. Entry-level homes/condos are not the biggest money-makers, but will serve Burlington’s best long-term interests.”
Peggy Luhrs (Independent): “I have not been thrilled with the lack of consideration for green building in most of these projects. I do think we should look to reuse industrial spaces. There are malls sitting empty in Burlington that could be turned to housing or small shops for local businesses, artists and craftspeople. We need to rethink most of what we are doing because our future is not going to be like our past. it will be more challenging and we need to be more innovative and creative to meet those challenges from climate chaos and economic breakdowns.”
If elected, what specific actions would you take to help small businesses, especially retail and restaurants, survive and recover from the pandemic?
Barlow: “I am a small business owner and understand the unprecedented challenges many businesses are facing. The impact is especially acute for retail and restaurants, many of which are on life support right now and face a long road ahead as we emerge from the pandemic. We should prioritize support for our business community during this difficult time, through both action and policy. During the pandemic and in the aftermath it is incumbent upon city government to ensure we have adequate business support in place through the Resource and Recovery Center (RRC), our Community Economic Development Office (CEDO), the State of Vermont, and other community partners. Direct aid through grants or loans should be prioritized based on need and equity criteria. We should continue to think creatively and expand the opportunities for outdoor dining and retail in Burlington, even while the pandemic winds down. The City should help lead on marketing and promotional effort to encourage local shopping and dining. Finally, Burlington shouldn’t be imposing new fees or taxes on businesses during the duration of the recovery.”
Christianson: “First, I would work to secure significant funds from the Vermont Legislature to help businesses bridge the gap. The federal government is working towards a significant stimulus package, and if I am on city council, I will work hard to obtain these funds and get them to local businesses as quickly as possible. Second, I will work to help our local business transition to an online setting and retail platform so that if in-person dining and shopping becomes unsafe, our local businesses can operate online. Third, I will work hard to push out the vaccine as quickly as possible to eligible Burlingtonians. The sooner we get our neighbors fully-vaccinated, the sooner we can begin re-opening.”
Shannon: “Its hard to know how to help, but I am committed to doing what I can, being responsive to requests and reminding the public to support our local businesses!”
Archambeau: “One action I already undertook was on the Public Works Commission. We granted the Director of Public Works emergency powers to eliminate parking in downtown areas where customers could more easily pick up items from restaurants or stores. We recognized the need to accommodate the intensely negative impacts of the pandemic on businesses.
Going forward, I believe the best help will involve opening as many doors as possible to survival. In my experience, pandemic survival for businesses involves two basic tenets: cash on hand or regular cash flow, and debt management or limited debt. The city may be able to help facilitate access to capital as stimulus funds are approved. Events normally held by the city need to evolve to accommodate pandemic times while also benefiting local businesses. Cold weather accommodations could be reviewed to preserve social distancing while also encouraging commerce. In the end, Burlington is a gold mine of intellectual resources. I believe we’ve hardly tapped the ideas that could generate revenues for our business community and thereafter our city’s coffers.”
Luhrs: “I would encourage low cost loans to local businesses and an ad campaign to educate and encourage residents to support local business. I support the City giving low interest loans to get affected businesses on their feet again. I would keep a sharp eye out for any State or Federal grants for such purposes.”
Working with the business community
How would you work with and engage the business community if elected to City Council?
Barlow: “It is absolutely critical that we create conditions that attract more businesses to locate here and enable those that do to thrive. Growth and economic development are central to maintaining Burlington’s vitality and those in the business community are key players. Commercial property on the grand list, tax revenue from economic activity, and local jobs all make Burlington more affordable for those who live here and make our city more competitive in the larger regional economy. If elected I would pursue business friendly policy and support smart growth in Burlington. We need more projects like CityPlace that address housing, downtown revitalization, increasing tax base, and increased economic activity. As a city councilor the business community would have my ear and my belief that they are vital partners in achieving a more prosperous and affordable Burlington”.
Christianson: “I spoke extensively about ways for us to better engage our business community during my roundtable discussion, available at https://kienanforburlington.com/roundtable-series/. I believe that small and local businesses are the lifeblood of Burlington and Vermontmore generally. My husband started three small businesses here and currently works at a small branding studio, Scout Digital, founded by three local Burlingtonians. I want to hear directly from local business leaders and owners on how the City can help support them, particularly through this crisis. I think as we move through the pandemic, ensuring all of our local businesses are able to function in an online setting is vitally important. I would encourage trainings and other resources to help local businesses transition to an online platform. For those businesses that require in-person service, working to help them openly safely or providing direct assistance through small business loans is important to me.”
Shannon: “I have presented to BBA meetings and Church St Marketplace meetings several times to engage the groups on issues of mutual importance. I would continue to do this. I also make myself available to anyone who has concerns. I’m always happy to meet with any stakeholders to problem solve, and work collaboratively on solutions.”
Archambeau: “My approach to the business community would be how I approach teamwork in my career. First, treat everyone on the team with mutual trust, accountability and respect. From there, I like to break down problems and ensure that there is team agreement on identifying those problems. Once the team has bought into the agreement, ideas can be brainstormed to resolve the issues. It’s important to honor any idea because the ultimate resolution may be a hybrid of multiple ideas. So in effect, the team is working towards the same goals with an understanding that working together will make for a common good. While all this may sound cliché, I am resolute in seeing Burlington as a team. All of us who interact with Burlington – including our networking circles – are Burlington. With this mindset, we can solve any issue before us.”
Luhrs: “I would encourage our business community to look for innovative ways to sustain business. I’d encourage the City to support local business and go against the grain of what is being imposed on us which is only big and internet business. I think if we focus locally we have the best chance of having some control of economic development.”
We have heard from some constituents that it is not easy to access our downtown. What transit and/or parking solutions would you propose to improve access to our downtown for everyone? What funding sources are available to invest in these solutions?
Barlow: “One issue that impacts New North Enders’ ability to access downtown is the lack of bus routes in the neighborhoods that feed into North Avenue. Some neighborhoods can be a mile from an available bus stop. Additional routes or regularly scheduled “Specials” would be a way to provide easier access, paid through ridership and state/federal transportation subsidies. For those who do drive downtown, parking can be challenging and off-putting. Reconnecting the street grid as part of the CityPlace project may open up additional travel and walking options that change parking dynamics in the downtown core and make some currently less desirable parking locations more convenient. Street reconnection will be paid for as part of the CityPlace development agreement. The public parking garage on South Winooski avenue is avoided by some because of its condition. A much needed makeover for that garage with improvements to the stair towers and elevator situation might make it a more attractive parking option. We would have to bond or find other funding for that improvement.”
Christianson: “Lack of parking downtown is a big contributor to folks in the NNE not being able to access downtown. We have a solid bus route in the NNE, but only if you live along or near the avenue. For many folks, particularly older folks, if they cannot walk to the bus stop, either because the sidewalks are not well-maintained or it is icy and cold, then they will not come to downtown. I would like to see a small set of shuttle vans that go out into the neighborhoods that will bring folks closer to the lake and the river to the Avenue so that when it is cold out, they can use the public transportation system. I would also like to see more incentives in commuting with a neighbor to and from downtown. So many of us work and travel downtown, that it makes sense to encourage folks to carpool. We can work with Montpelier and the stimulus money coming in to help fund some of these projects, though carpooling would require more of an organizational arm rather than an investment arm.”
Shannon: “I don’t know and I need to learn more about this. I will say our public transportation system, using the downtown as a hub makes it impractical for most places OTHER than downtown. But it does serve downtown pretty well. If the issue is that it’s inaccessible to people who drive cars and don’t want to use alternative forms of transportation, this is a problem in every successful city. I’m willing to work on solutions, but I do not have one today.”
Archambeau: “In my nine years on the Public Works Commission – three as Chair – I worked with Kelly Devine on the Downtown Parking & Transportation Management Plan. This was a big step to bringing city parking assets and private parking assets in line and available for visitors. While good in theory, we consequently hear from users that the experience is anything but equitable. Private lots charge more and are in some cases not as user friendly, according to those who reach out. To me, the user experience matters most. If it’s inconsistent, it is a recipe for frustration. So parking rates and fines need to be revisited. As for getting to downtown, it is surely not as easy as taking an exit off a highway and being there. At the same time, the drive down the hill to downtown is one of the most magical experiences one can have when entering Burlington. The view of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks coming down Main Street is unbeatable! I’m supportive of proportionally-sized shuttles running from top-of-the-hill locations like the Sheraton or Staples Plaza on a regular basis to keep from a negative vehicular experience. The College Street shuttle is often empty yet keeps running. It seems as though this could be revisited. Separately, the Champlain Parkway appears to finally be making headway. I am supportive of the Champlain Parkway only as it contains the associated Railyard Enterprise Project that will divert traffic away from low-income neighborhoods and onto Battery Street. Funding for the REP was recently secured and is on a healthy track to be completed in a few years’ time. There will be a gap in time where traffic dumps into the fragile neighborhoods of King and Maple Streets and the shorter that time lapses, the better. Both the Chaplain Parkway and Railyard Enterprise Project are to be funded primarily through federal and state resources, with minimal local matching dollars. This is a high ROI opportunity.”
Luhrs: “Hopefully the emphasis on rebuilding our infrastructure on the Federal level will bring some money to our City. I would like to see more bike and mobility vehicles routes right downtown. European cities have mixed transport and bike lanes. I am pleased to see the City adding some smaller buses that could run more often and be more economical. I do not favor more parking downtown as it adds pollution and congestion. I think we could have more parking in multi storied buildings with solar and green roofs on the outskirts of the City with jitneys to take people down town. We could also have a small rail on the tracks from downtown to the Intervale to allow people to access that area.”
Grace Ahmed (Independent- South District), Perri Freeman (Progressive- Incumbent, Central District), and Jack Hanson (Progressive- Incumbent, East District) declined to respond.