Development Review Board continues hearing on Champlain Housing Trust appeal

The DRB continued its hearings on the Harbor Place Notice of Violation at its Aug. 17 meeting.
The DRB continued its hearings on the Harbor Place Notice of Violation at its Aug. 17 meeting.

At the Aug. 17 Development Review Board meeting, attorneys representing the Town of Shelburne and Champlain Housing Trust questioned officials from the housing trust about Harbor Place, a former Econo Lodge now operated to provide emergency housing for people in need.

In October 2015, the Town of Shelburne issued a Notice of Violation to the Champlain Housing Trust (CHT) that Harbor Place does not meet the definition of a hotel or motel. The latest DRB meeting continued hearings on the matter.

During her testimony, Margaret Bozik, associate director of asset management and program development at CHT, read from the contracts and Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) that CHT entered into with the Vermont Department of Children & Families (DCF) and other agencies or nonprofit organizations regarding rooms at Harbor Place. The attorney for the Town had her read how these documents referred variously to “short term transitional housing,” “temporary housing,” “transient housing,” and “short term housing.”

Bozik stated that despite the use of these terms, Harbor Place was functionally operating as a hotel or motel, and that a vacancy sign is posted when rooms are available. Bozik she said that the Shelburne police chief had asked CHT not to post a vacancy sign, but that CHT later decided to do so. Bozik also noted that room rates for Harbor Place were set at a price point between Days Inn and Quality Inn for walk-ins, and that walk-ins have occurred though no rooms have been rented in that manner.

Michael Monte, the COO and CFO of CHT, said during questioning that the existing contract with DCF is being renegotiated to reduce the number of rooms guaranteed daily from 30 to 20. Thus, more rooms will be available to the public, and CHT plans on exploring on-line booking options and advertising. Monte stated that neither had been necessary in the past because Harbor Place had been operating at full capacity until April or May of this year.

Monte stated that the former DRB Administrator had asked for copies of CHT’s contracts and MOUs in June 2015, but that the request had not been made in the context of such contracts and MOUs being violations of the Zoning Bylaws. Monte reiterated that CHT never received specific guidance from the town on what CHT was doing that differed from a hotel or motel. He stated that he viewed the services offered at CHT to be comparable to concierge services a hotel or motel would offer its guests, and that Harbor Place does have a license from the State of Vermont to operate as a hotel or motel. He added that Harbor Place is different from a shelter because it requires payment for rooms and individual rooms are offered.

The town’s attorney noted that Harbor Place does not provide daily housekeeping service and requires guests to take out their own trash, which is not the case at hotels and motels.

In summary, the attorney for CHT stated that the violations listed in the Notice of Violation are not mentioned in the Town’s Zoning Bylaws, and thus there is no basis for deciding that Harbor Place is not operating as a hotel or motel.
The DRB then voted to continue the hearing until Sept. 7.

The DRB also considered a Sketch Plan Application submitted by Susan Baldwin for a nine-lot subdivision at 93 Webster Road. This is the first application submitted that will be considered under the recently adopted Form Based Code. Baldwin proposes subdividing an existing two-acre lot into nine lots for the existing house, which will be converted into a duplex, six single-family home lots, one duplex lot, and one open space lot. The DRB will conduct a site visit to the property on Sept. 7 at 5pm and will then continue its hearing on the application.

In other business, the DRB approved:
• A Design Review Application for the placement of a pre-built tiny house in Shelburnewood. The Historic Preservation and Design Review Commission had recommended approval of the application with the addition of elevations and front entrance step details.
• A Final Plat Application to resubdivide property on Cheese Factory Lane so that the new lots would not cross the boundary line between Shelburne and South Burlington. Under the subdivision, one lot will be wholly located in Shelburne and another wholly located in South Burlington.

The next meeting of the DRB will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 7 at 7pm in the Municipal Center.

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