Airport Neighborhood Planning Takes Shape

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Thursday August 07, 2014

Long awaited planning for the future of the neighborhood adjacent to the airport has finally begun in earnest. 

The Vermont Supreme Court narrowly ruled in late July that Burlington International Airport can proceed with the removal of vacant homes in the adjoining neighborhood. In a 3-2 decision, the Supreme Court upheld 54 South Burlington zoning permits for the demolition or removal of the homes, affirming an earlier Environmental Court decision.  The court rejected arguments by airport neighbor George Maille that the removal should have undergone stricter scrutiny, or site plan review. The airport, which is located in South Burlington, is owned by the City of Burlington.

Last year, in anticipation of moving forward, The City of South Burlington secured planning grants to evaluate the possibilities for the airport neighborhood. At a a press conference held at the Chamberlin School in December 2013, the first phase of a planning process involving future uses for the properties adjacent to the Burlington International Airport left vacant by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) home buyout program was introduced. It was announced that the initial planning process would be supported by a $17,000 Municipal Planning Grant which was awarded to South Burlington by the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development. A $4,500 match from the City of South Burlington was proposed, and planning was set to begin in 2014.

True to the original timeline, Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner presented an outline of a work plan for the Chamberlin neighborhood/BTV at the February 3 council meeting. At that time Conner said that in addition to the planning grant, the city had submitted an application for a grant from the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission (CCRPC) in the amount of $150,000 to help begin making headway with the project. Now that the city has secured that additional grant, pre-planning concepts including a visions statement, project team, oversight committee structures, and objectives have been drafted. 

The Chamberlin neighborhood/airport area transportation and land use planning project has been created as a template to determine how to move forward. The draft was brought to the council and public at the August 4 meeting for an open discussion and revisions. 

The vision statement touts the virtues of both the Chamberlin neighborhood and the airport in regard to their social and economic contributions to the city. The statement continues, “The City of South Burlington, through this project, seeks to develop a vision and strategies for the future that will harmonize both the Chamberlin neighborhood and the Burlington International Airport. Furthermore, it is recognized that both face similar challenges in land use, transportation, and noise issues, and a coordinated approach will benefit all.” 
It was proposed that a project team of six to seven members would meet regularly and be responsible for project management. This team would be comprised of a consultant, a planning and zoning staff member, a department of public works staff member , the city manager, an airport staff person, a Burlington city staff person, a CCRPC staff person, and a school district or Chamberlin school administrator. 

The development of a project oversight committee, which according to City Manager Kevin Dorn, will “drive the bus” was the cause of much discussion at the meeting. The word “oversight” was removed from the committee title and instead the committee will be identified as the Chamberlin Neighborhood Airport Planning Committee or CNAP. Residents Carmine Sargeant and Rosanne Greco each expressed concern over having the appropriate amount of resident representation on this committee. In response, the council added two additional residents to the structure of the committee. Therefore, the configuration of the committee will include a planning commissioner,  South Burlington’s airport commissioner, one City of Burlington airport commissioner, one South Burlington community member (outside Chamberlin area) to be appointed by City Council, one Burlington City Council/Burlington Mayoral appointment from the community (outside Chamberlin), one school district appointed person, and eight residents that will be representative of a mix of individuals from inside and outside the 65 dnl line. Resident George Maille questioned the requirement that the chair must be approved by City Council, and it was finally determined that the committee will choose its own chair from among its members. 

Thus far, the objectives outlined for the team include: building a solid working relationship between the Chamberlin neighborhood and the airport; strengthening the neighborhood; retaining affordable housing; developing a transportation plan for the neighborhood and for airport access; creating a park and streetscape improvement plan; and developing a vision and strategy for long term co-existence which will include noise abatement strategy, land use plan and development regulations within the 65 dnl line and within the remainder of the Chamberlin area. 
The final report of the committee will come before the City Council with any land use recommendations sent to the planning commission for review.
Council Chair Pam Mackenzie acknowledged that the discussion and comments were very productive. Next steps involve advertising for committee positions and interviewing applicants so the committee can begin their work creating a neighborhood that works for everyone.