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Burlington property owners putting up fences to discourage vagrants, violence

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Drug use, violence, and vagrancy are driving some Burlington property owners -- including the Chittenden County Courthouse -- to take matters into their own hands.

A new fence over six feet tall now separates the Chittenden County Courthouse at the corner of Main and Church Streets from an adjacent problem property at 184 Church Street.

“I’m hoping it’s going to deter a lot of the problems that we are having,” said Chittenden County Assistant Judge Suzanne Brown.

She says the action was prompted by an increase in syringes, people camping, and increased violence. “I think it’s going to make it a lot harder for those who are coming from that area -- the house behind the courthouse -- and maybe some of the side streets.”

When complete, the fence will be gated and surround most of the courthouse and the parking lot at a price tag of over $100,000.

And it’s not the only downtown property adding barriers. The Ronald McDonald House will be increasing its existing fence to 4-foot-8 to prevent people from trespassing. The city denied their request for a 6-foot fence.

The Hilton Garden Inn on lower Main Street has also filed an application for a fence.

“It’s a problem that we have reached the point private property owners feel they need to make those interventions and we gotta turn that around,” said Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger. He says he is asking for state and federal help to fight issues like drug use and homelessness but that the city will also be targeting problem properties, including 184 Church Street, which he calls the most problematic in the city. “We are calling for the certificate of compliance to be revoked there until that property can be brought into proper compliance and stop being the problem it is in the neighborhood.”

The property’s owner, Charlie Handy, says the people causing the issues don’t live there and that he pays for security to sweep the area every day. “People don’t have a place to live. They just move in and sleep in the hallways, you remove them, they come back in,” he said. He doubts the effectiveness of the mayor’s initiative. “If we evicted every single person, where are they going to go? The city can’t handle it. They already have homeless people all over the city, they want 20 more?”

It’s not clear when the fences will be completed at the other properties.

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