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Thursday July 02, 2015

Nearly a month after the May 27 community forum at Chamberlin School, the Chamberlin Neighborhood Airport Committee reconvened to discuss the outreach results and outline next steps.

Only it wasn’t that simple.

While there was a plan to discuss and analyze the forum themes at the June 25 meeting, committee members felt that tackling all four themes in one evening would be a bigger task than they could accomplish. The evening also honed in on procedural questions as well as the future of the noise land region.

To start, committee member Kim Robinson requested to add discussion about the format of the forum, as well as to allow time to talk about project funding, how the consultant, Resource Systems Group Inc. (RSG), was selected, and the scope of the consultant’s work.

Senior planner, Lee Krohn, of the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, explained that before the committee was formed by the city council, the city received two bids. When the city chose RSG, it also chose the list of sub-consultants selected by RSG. The scope of the consultant’s work can be found on www.ccrpcvt.org/chamberlin.

In terms of money, in December 2013, South Burlington was awarded a $17,000 Municipal Planning Grant by the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development. The grant was to assist with the initial planning process, which focused on future uses for the properties adjacent to the Burlington International Airport left vacant by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) home buyout program. The City of South Burlington provided a $4,500 match. Additionally, the project received funding from the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission (CCRPC) with a $150,000 grant.

Shifting to the analysis, Bob Chamberlin of Resource Systems Group, Inc. outlined the four committee objectives, reviewed the five questions asked at the outreach meeting, and then categorized recurring points into four different themes: (1) strengthening the neighborhood, (2) resilient streets, (3) superlative walkability, and (4) noise mitigation.

Under each theme, Chamberlin revealed a list of talking points. Creating civic space/gathering spaces, knowing your neighbors, vistas, multigenerational neighborhoods, front porches, and affordable houses were some of the bullet points under strengthening the neighborhood. Creating resilient streets included adding traffic calming, building an Airport Drive extension, and a possible land swap between the city and airport, among other points. Complete sidewalks on both sides of the road, on-street bike lanes, and improving the safety of existing neighborhoods were some of the points listed for superlative walkability.

Finally, for noise mitigation, members could talk about FAA funds for mitigation, and types of mitigation, among other topics.

Seeing overlap in these themes, committee member Kim Robinson proposed a revised set of themes, which fellow members agreed upon:

• Mobility
• Noise
• Land use
• Affordability and community

Afterward, there was dialogue about how to proceed with the analysis. Originally, members were going to break up into four groups--one group per theme--and then share their main points with the full committee, but members had discussion as to whether that would be an effective strategy.

Ultimately, they agreed that tackling all four themes in one night would not be feasible and would therefore require more meetings for review.

Committee member John Simson suggested holding some meetings without the consultant and having a city staff member facilitate them. All members concurred and decided to add two meetings: July 7 and July 13, both at 7:00 p.m.; the locations are to-be-determined. Committee member George Maille recommended inviting Airport Director Gene Richard and other airport officials to the meetings to address questions as they arise.

“We’re ignoring the elephant in the room.”

Before deciding on the two July meetings, committee member Marc Companion brought to light a topic that he and his neighbors have been troubled about.

“I was very impressed with the ideas that came out of the meeting, but the elephant in the room is what happens if that noise line moves down and encompasses several hundred houses,” he said. “… What are the options to be considered by the AP, by the city, by the RPC, by the state, by our congressional delegation? What things do we prepare for in that discussion? Are there benefits to doing some studies to look at that potential noise land expansion issue…”

“Any time you launch a study there are levels of uncertainty,” Krohn said. “The challenge is that it might move, it might not. If we wait to find out if it moves, we’ll never do the study because it could always change in the future. That’s not to ignore it or pretend it doesn’t exist.”

“The hope of this study …is to try to figure out how we can make the best out of the situation we know today, and what sorts of changes are affordable and achievable no matter where that line goes,” he added. Krohn also said that if the line moves, “it doesn’t create any legal obligation to continue buying out homes.”

“The same argument applies to what happens to Airport Drive. It may or may not be upgraded, it may take 10 or 15 years for the TIF to find funding for the queue to receive money to upgrade,” Companion responded. “…I want to make sure we don’t lose track of another very real, very important possibility that may or may not happen. It’s an unknown, but one of the most important unknowns, as is the future of Airport Drive.”

“Would there be FAA funds going forward? That’s the federal government,” Pat Nowak, the committee’s airport commission representative said. “There isn’t any plan to buy out any more homes other than what’s been committed to…it’s not like there’s tons of money sitting there to buy additional houses.”The contract has bandwidth for 19 more homes, but beyond that, no more homes are planned, she added.
From a city councilor’s perspective, she noted, “Our side of the street of Airport Drive is ours and we are controlling zoning.”

Richards confirmed to The Other Paper that no more homes are being bought, noise mitigation will be discussed, and that he is aware of and will attend the July 7 and 13 meetings.

SORCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent