Thursday October 27, 2016
The City of South Burlington recently held a community meeting for residents affected by the newly expanded home buyout program announced by the airport in late September. The approval of a $14 million grant puts in motion another round of voluntary home buyouts in the airport neighborhood. City officials shared both what they know, and what they don’t know, and recorded resident’s issues to share with the airport in hopes that an answer can be found for the ultimate question: what next?
The meeting drew nearly 50 people, largely from Kirby Road and Queensbury Road. Paul Conner, director of planning and zoning, provided a summary of events leading up to the meeting and did his best to answer resident’s questions. All five city councilors, a handful of members from the former Chamberlin Neighborhood Airport Planning Committee (CNAPC), and City Manager Kevin Dorn–who recorded the discussion–were also present.
The Buyout Program
On Sept. 20, 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration approved the Burlington International Airport an estimated $14 million Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grant ($13,995,000) for home buyouts; a total of 39 homes are eligible to participate in the program.
South Burlington representatives first learned of the grant request at the Sept. 14 Airport Sound Mitigation Committee meeting; the Burlington City Council had approved the grant just days earlier. The airport went through with the process swiftly since the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, was approaching, according to Gene Richards, the director of aviation.
The 39 homes became eligible for the buyout program due to a change in the latest Noise Exposure Map; the map shows a shift in the noise contour line, which puts the properties in the 70-decibel day-night average sound level (DNL). The latest buyout includes homes on Airport Parkway, Delaware Street, Dumont Avenue, Kirby Road, Ledoux Terrace, Lily Lane, S. Henry Court, Shamrock Road, and White Street.
Conner said that 26 of those homes were previously in the old program but chose not to sell. The remaining 13 are newly listed and include a number of homes on the north side of Kirby Road, including the new Kirby cottages.
The airport has hired a consultant, Jones Payne Group, to assist with relocation efforts for existing homeowners. Residents will be contacted within six months and be guided through their options.
Richards explained that the airport wants to end the home acquisition program and transition to a sound mitigation program, which would use federal dollars to insulate eligible homes under the Part 150 Noise Compatibility Program (NCP). Having received a $405,000 AIP grant from the FAA in September, the airport–with services from Jones Payne Group–will also be updating the NCP to provide more land use options to airport neighbors, including sound insulation, sales assistance, purchase assurance, easement acquisition for new development, and real estate disclosure.
The Community Meeting
This opened the floor for several questions from both airport neighbors and city officials.
“When and how will these offers happen, and how long do we have to make a decision?”
“What will happen if all the funding isn’t being used? What if all 39 homes aren’t sold?”
“What happens if the line moves again after the arrival of the F-35s?”
“What if more homes move into the 70 DNL before the insulation program? After?”
For many pointed questions, Conner formulated answers based on what has been done in the past with federal programs but warned that it was speculative and that the city would seek the most accurate information.
For example, based on past federal programs, if all funds are not used, “Usually the entity can do something else that’s eligible under that same program. So maybe it could start the sound mitigation program if there were, say, $3 million left over,” he said.
Queensbury Road residents also asked if the city has spoken with Champlain Housing Trust, which is the owner under two different programs on the road: a shared equity program and a lease program. While Queensbury Road is ineligible for the buyout program, residents inquired about what will occur under a voluntary sales assistance program – one of the potential opportunities being pursued in the updated NCP. This option would require homeowners to list the property at fair market value and to convey an aviation easement prior to the sale.
George Maille, who served as chair of the Noise Subcommittee under CNAPC, provided advice throughout the meeting and informed residents as they consider whether to sell their homes to not “walk into it blindly.”
He advised looking into the Uniform Act: “It includes not only how they go about assessing the fair market value of your home, but it also talks about other things like the expense of moving into a new home. It also talks about not putting you in a greater financial situation with respect to the home you’re already in.”
“This program exists for airports that want to expand,” Councilor Meaghan Emery said. “The airport requested it. If we’re concerned about when will it end, and we’re not the ones doing the requesting, we need to find out what rights we have as a community.”
“I understand everybody’s angst over this,” said Carmine Sargent, former chair of CNAPC. “Please try to stay involved in airport meetings. Try to stay involved with airport personnel, particularly Gene Richards and Nic Longo.”
“Help each other,” Councilor Tim Barritt said. “As some people go through it first, they can teach other people what happened.”
City council held a session immediately after the meeting to review the issues and prepare questions for the FAA and the airport. The city will also leverage a consultant it used for CNAPC, which has FAA knowledge and noise abatement experience.
Airport representatives will be at a Nov. 14 special city council meeting continue the conversation.
SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent