Burlington’s Community and Economic Development Office is reaching out to the Old North End about the emergency housing units the city is spending federal pandemic recovery money on. However, if neighborhood concerns are any indication, CEDO may still have more outreach work to do.

CEDO director Brian Pine has said previously that ten potential sites were considered before settling on the city-owned parking lot on Elmwood Avenue. The goal is to place 30 individual-use shelter pods on the lot by July 1.

In March, the City Council voted 11-1 to repurpose the Elmwood Avenue lot into an emergency shelter. The individual pods would be there for three years, and an admission process would determine who gets to use them.

“They will have their pod for up to six months, perhaps — the goal being to provide those supports and wraparound services to move them, transition them to something that is a lot closer to housing than a pod,” Pine said Thursday night at a Ward 2 & 3 Neighborhood Planning Assembly meeting.

Cooper Siegel said she lives across the street from the parking lot and said that she feels defeated.
She’s not opposed to the idea of the shelter pods being placed there, but she’s distraught about how she learned of it.

“We had to find out on the news,” Siegel said. “That is not fair. That should not have been how — we shouldn’t have had to look this up because we saw a news camera outside of our house! Do you not understand how insulting that is?”

One person living around the corner from the lot didn’t give his name when he gave his remarks. He agreed that communication from the city, and from CEDO, about the shelter pods has been lacking.

“What is the city going to do to ensure that the quality of life of the neighborhood where this is being placed is not negatively impacted? Because none of that has been communicated,” he said. “More information is going to fill in the gaps, and gaps create fear.”

Vermont Legal Aid staff attorney Barb Prine said she’s lived in the Old North End since 1983. She added that previous fears about additions of neighborhood housing support services never materialized.

“I’ve lived through the neighborhood opposition to St. John’s Hall and to Monroe Place and to the Family Shelter and COTS on the corner of North St. and North Ave.,” Prinse said. “And…we’re all OK!”

Pine acknowledged that he knows there’s fear and concern in the community because of knowledge gaps.

“The permitting process hasn’t even started yet because we’re still doing the community engagement process, but we have chosen this site as the site,” he said. “The site is not going to be somewhere else unless we’re turned down by the Development Review Board.”

If the DRB is going to turn down the Elmwood Avenue lot proposal, that would happen when it meets on Tuesday, May 17. Pine is also returning before the Wards 2 & 3 NPA at its next meeting on Thursday, May 12 to discuss the shelter pods further.