By Bill Moore
The recent decision by the Act 250 District 5 Environmental Commission to allow the construction of the Hampton Inn and related parking garage in Montpelier is welcomed news indeed. The Act 250 process is one that most developers dread because of the significant, stringent requirements that must be met.
How stringent is the Act 250 review? Applicants must address 10 specific areas of impact, including air and water pollution; water supply; impact on water supply; erosion and capacity of soil to hold water; transportation; educational services; municipal services; aesthetics, scenic and natural beauty (including historic sites and rare and irreplaceable natural areas and wildlife habitat); impact of growth on a variety of touchstones (primary agricultural soils, productive forest soils, earth resources, extraction of earth resources, energy conservation, private utility services, costs of scattered development, public utility services, public investments and settlement patterns); and consistency with local and regional plans.
The Commission has issued a permit for the 81-room hotel and 348-car parking garage. While there are still conditions that have to be met to satisfy the permit requirements, the hotel, proposed and financed by the Bashara family, should be built. The parking garage, to be built by the city of Montpelier, was approved 2,459 to 1,877 by voters in November. The vote followed at least 14 public hearings by Montpelier’s Design Review Committee, Development Review Board, and City Council. Incidentally, the initial proposal from the Bashara family for the hotel and smaller 248-car garage was approved following 11 public hearings. The list of hearings can be found here.
The Central Vermont Chamber has supported the proposed hotel and garage since it was first announced in November 2017.
The direct benefits of the combined project are obvious. The hotel will generate additional economic activity for the area, Montpelier gets a 26 percent needed increase in downtown parking, local residents will get the value of the additional parking with no increase to their property taxes, and the bond will be paid by parking fees and a percentage of the new property tax revenue generated by the hotel. As an added bonus, the city will acquire the land for the parking garage through a very generous donation by the Bashara family, an approximate $500,000 value.
The construction of the parking garage was earlier identified as a critical infrastructure need, and the preferred spot downtown. In fact, both the hotel and parking garage are consistent with the City Master Plan and the city’s Economic Development Strategic Plan.
The hotel itself will have an important, positive impact on Montpelier. First and foremost, the new hotel will add 30 to 50 new good paying jobs. The city’s grand list will be increased as a result of the $17 million in new investment in Montpelier. Next, think of the additional spending that will occur downtown and regionally by the visitors and business travelers.
Whether they are stopping for a bite at Julio’s or relaxing with an 802 brew at Capitol Grounds or stopping into Capitol Stationers for a purchase, those will be new dollars spent downtown. Think of additional ticket sales at Lost Nation Theater or guests watching a game at the Langdon Street Tavern. Think of the visitors to area attractions and the spending on purchases throughout the region. The influx of new negotiable federal reserve notes will be a benefit to Montpelier — and all of Central Vermont.
This is exactly the type of clean, positive development that the region needs. The Act 250 approval is the last in a long list of approvals applied for and granted, including the Montpelier Development Review Board permits and all relevant state permits. In other words, the project has met all proper regulatory tests and passed them.
It is time for the objections to the project to end. The voters have overwhelmingly spoken. The appropriate, required state and local regulatory entities have spoken. The only thing that continued appeals will accomplish is delay and layer additional costs on this very worthy project. Now is the time to schedule the ribbon cutting ceremony, not the next court date.
Bill Moore is president and CEO of the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce.