Development Review Board holds hearing on Harbor Place Appeal

The DRB heard an appeal regarding Harbor Place on June 15.
The DRB heard an appeal regarding Harbor Place on June 15.

At their meeting on June 15, the DRB heard the appeal by Champlain Housing Trust of the Notice of Violation issued last year regarding Harbor Place. The Notice of Violation, signed by Joe Colangelo in his capacity as Zoning Administrator, cited nine new uses beyond the scope of permitted uses for a hotel/motel, the approved use for this site.

The new uses listed were creation of one or more dwelling units; addition of short-term residential service use; addition of an emergency housing use; addition of a temporary housing use; addition of a transitional housing use; addition of a multi-family dwelling; addition of medical or dental office use; addition of business or professional use; and commencing other uses or activities on the property that are beyond the scope of existing hotel/motel use.

DRB members first disclosed any potential conflicts of interest they might have had in hearing the appeal, but none were considered sufficiently relevant to the matter at hand that recusing them was necessary.

Claudine Safar of the law firm Monaghan Safar Duncan represented the Town of Shelburne, while Karen Tyler of Dunkiel Saunders represented the Champlain Housing Trust. Discussions were held on whether certain documents could be entered into the record as evidence. Mary Kehoe, DRB chair, ruled in each instance after hearing from both attorneys.

Tyler then called Stephen Leffler, MD, who testified concerning why patients discharged from the UVM Medical Center were referred to Harbor Place. The Medical Center does refer patients to other area hotels, but based on financial needs, some are referred to Harbor Place. Leffler testified that doctors and VNA personnel make house calls at Harbor Place to follow up on discharged patients, but there is no medical office.

Sean Brown of the Vermont Department of Children & Families testified on the reasons why his agency referred people to Harbor Place. He said that DCF has a contract with Harbor Place for room rates, and that they also have negotiated room rates with other motels, but no contracts.  The individuals served by DCF present vouchers from the State of Vermont to the motel, and thus the rooms are exempt from payment of room taxes.

Brown noted that of the 124 households served this year to date, 2,737 room nights occurred at Harbor Place while 1,009 room nights occurred at approximately a dozen of other area motels; for the single people served in the same time period, 4,259 room nights were at Harbor Place while 3,378 room nights were at other motels. He added that open beds at shelters are the first priority, and Harbor Place is the second choice because their negotiated rate is better than at other motels. Harbor Place blocks off rooms for DCF clients, while other motels do not. Bill Wilson, the owner of the Ho Hum motel, testified that they do not hold a block of rooms for DCF referrals.

During questioning, Town Manager Joe Colangelo said that Harbor Place did not operate as a hotel/motel because it did not serve the general public, and that no one uses Harbor Place except those referred by agencies with which they have contracts. Tyler pointed out that Harbor Place does hang a “vacancy” sign out when rooms are available, offering rooms to those who are not referred under contract. She also said that people referred by agencies to Harbor Place are members of the “general public.”

Tyler questioned whether Colangelo has pre-judged the matter because of two factors: first, Colangelo had served briefly on the Board of Champlain Housing Trust before becoming Shelburne Town Manager, and had previously voiced opposition to the Harbor Place project; second, Colangelo had sent an e-mail to Selectboard Gary von Stange about a month before the Notice of Violation was issued, writing, “Harbor Place should never have happened. It’s a huge black eye for Champlain Housing Trust which otherwise has a pretty good reputation. Shelburne is simply not equipped to take on this burden and it’s not fair to the Shelburne taxpayers who pay high property taxes. It’s too much. It needs to stop…it’s a crazy situation.”

Colangelo denied pre-judging the situation, and said he did not view it as a conflict of interest. He said that the concerns expressed in this e-mail did not constitute the basis for the Notice of Violation, which he maintained was prompted by the fact that Harbor Place provided services beyond the scope of the approved uses for a hotel/motel.

DRB member Alex von Stange then questioned Colangelo about each of the items listed in the Notice of Violation while other DRB members asked what specific evidence Colangelo had for each of them. Colangelo generally responded that that these were based on his understanding of what was occurring at Harbor Place, and materials published by Champlain Housing Trust and others describing the facility. He added that some of the specific items were clearer than others, but that taken as a whole these activities go well beyond the permitted uses for a hotel/motel.

Kehoe summed up the DRB’s task by stating they need to determine whether Harbor Place meets the definition of hotel/motel by serving the general public, and whether other services cited in the Notice go beyond approved uses for a hotel/motel.

The meeting adjourned shortly after 10pm, and the hearing was continued to the DRB’s next meeting, which is scheduled for July 6. Champlain Housing Trust witnesses will respond to questions at that meeting.

In other DRB news, earlier in the meeting, the DRB approved:

A conditional use application filed by La Villa Bistro for the addition of three outdoor tables with no more than 12 seats. No table service will be offered at these tables; rather, they are available for customers who purchase gelato.

A subdivision sketch plan application filed by Linka Lee to re-subdivide a property on Cheese Factory Lane that straddles the South Burlington/Shelburne boundary line. Lee proposes to create a separate lot in each town.

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