The City of Burlington may take legal action against Brookfield Properties amid reports the developer is attempting to abandon the CityPlace project.
Jared Carter, assistant professor of law at Vermont Law School, says the city could make two claims if it sues Brookfield, both of which would require proving the developer knowingly and intentionally misrepresented the truth.
“Number one, Brookfield breached it’s contractual obligations to the city. Number two, that they acted fraudulently in terms of representing that they had the financing in place,” Carter said.
Carter anticipates Brookfield will use the defense of impossibility — that there was no way it could have fulfilled its contractual obligation.
“I would anticipate Brookfield arguing we could not get financing. We engaged in due diligence to get it, but we just couldn’t get it,” said Carter.
Brookfield’s commitment to the city was that the project would bring in more businesses and life to downtown Burlington. But the site has been a massive construction site for more than 2 years.
One Vermonter moved her business across from the development in 2017, one month before the project began. Christina DeMag, owner of Jubilance Salon said she was excited at first but that soon changed.
“My clients were kind of a little frustrated about the lack of parking downtown now between losing the garage and the street parking over here as well,” said DeMag.
He says Brookfield might also bring up the impact of the cornavirus pandemic
“I could see them talking about COVID-19. All the uncertainty around that. Are we going to need offices downtown? Is there a demand for hotels? Restaurants? There’s a lot of unknown there,” Carter.
The city could argue the power of eminent domain, in which the government can claim private property for public use.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that the city has the power to, quote-unquote, “use that against” the developer if it wanted to,” said Carter.
Allegedly, the project may be handed over to developer Don Sinex — who’s already been in charge of it once before. When asked for a response, he said he may have a statement in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, construction crews are creating more street parking to make the area more walkable for the time being.