Thursday January 19, 2017
South Burlington is calling on the Burlington International Airport (BIA) and the City of Burlington to address a number of concerns that are negatively affecting the quality of life of South Burlington residents.
Ever since BIA revealed at a September 14 airport sound mitigation committee meeting that 13 additional houses were eligible for the voluntary home buyout program (26 existing, for a total of 39 homes), South Burlington has been on high alert regarding future airport development and procedures.
Since that time, airport residents have absorbed program information on-the-fly and some are working against the clock to make a life-altering decision before the 90-day deadline set by the FAA.
The F-35s and how their arrival will alter the Noise Exposure Maps (NEMs) have also been the cause of much anxiety, which ties into an unfortunate discovery for some residents of the Kirby Cottages on Lily Lane.
Affordable Housing Covenants leave residents in limbo
At city council’s January 3 meeting, the city’s attorney surfaced a unique situation: the airport cannot purchase three of the seven Kirby Cottages on Lily Lane under the buyout program since they are bound by affordable housing covenants.
The Kirby Cottages were built in 2010 and have been lauded for their efficient design and affordability.
The FAA is offering to purchase homes at fair market value, but because these few homes have an attached affordability covenant, the offering is about $30,000 more than the covenants allow.
Now, the Kirby Cottages neighborhood dynamic is changing--one home, one decision at a time. This issue is also causing residents to seek housing alternatives outside of South Burlington as a result.
The city council will have to decide whether or not to release the covenants. Councilors followed up with homeowners at a special city council meeting on January 11 to continue the conversation in detail.
Gail and Dean Kirby of 12 Lily Lane never intended to sell their home. So when Steve Cleary of O.R. Colan Associates, a subcontractor for the FAA, came to their door with a proposal to purchase, they had to seek alternatives. They signed an agreement to move to the Rye Meadows neighborhood, just off Hinesburg Road in South Burlington, but the covenant is holding up the sale.
The Kirbys were not able to receive an extension on the sale, and the 90-day window is just over the horizon: February 28.
“When I reach March 1, my life savings will be gone. I can never recoup that money. That locks me into Lily Lane,” Dean Kirby told councilors. “I want to stay in this community. I’ve got a new granddaughter in our area five blocks away, and she’s the only joy right now I have that relieves my stress. We want to stay, and the only way for us to do this to be released of this covenant.”
“We had to have that hard conversation. We had to ask ourselves, what’s the worst we can live with? Can we live with that?” Gail Kirby said.
The Kirbys said that an FAA representative told them that they could not sell their home to another person. They later learned that they could after bringing it to the Director of Aviation Gene Richards’ attention.
Even under that circumstance, these residents are in a difficult position.
“We can sell for pennies on a dollar,” Brian Kelley of 10 Lily Lane said. “These are direct damages to me.”
“When we signed these covenants, we didn’t ever expect this to be a situation we’d be in, but we’re in it, and we’re in it together. We know what we want to do, and this is the only thing that’s holding us up from doing that,” explained Allison Schwartz of 18 Lily Lane. If the city does not release the covenant, she said she would have to leave South Burlington.
Everyone in the Kirby Cottages plans to sell. One home has already been sold, vacated, and is now occupied by an airport employee to prevent the home from being vandalized. Jonathan Hart, resident of 14 Lily Lane does not have an affordability covenant and will be moving out of South Burlington.
“The place we chose in closing is not of equal value in energy efficiency, and the number of bed and baths,” Hart said. “It’s not close to the envelope. It’s not close to what we have.”
He said the incentives he personally received were good; this included an appraisal, an additional $34,900 differential (a number determined by the FAA to purchase a comparable home, which must be spent to receive it), coverage for moving expenses up to a 50 mile radius, attorney fees (residents are seeking additional clarification around this point), inspection costs, covering hookup costs (phone, cable, etc.) and closing costs. Residents have the option to either accept the offer, decline it, or counter it.
“A big part of what we have is a community of each other, people we like,” Hart added. “It’s been important to all of us who have made the decision to join that community. To do that, to buy those houses at a good value, a great home, in a community we wanted to be a part of.”
“We’ll never find neighbors like the other six neighbors,” echoed Dean Kirby.
All things considered, the city council wrestled with how to address these residents while also looking to the future. The feelings were split.
“We have to look further down the road,” Meaghan Emery said to residents at the January 11 meeting. “After you’re gone, there will be others like you who receive phone calls and letters…We have to think about them, too.”
Emery’s standpoint is that releasing the covenant will set a precedent and reverse the goals of affordable housing under the city’s Comprehensive Plan.
Moreover, with the arrival of the F-35s, the 73-decibel DNL zone may shrink, and the homes may be outside of that zone, she said at the January 3 city council meeting.
“Six minutes of noise to lose all of this affordable housing is not appropriate,” Emery said. “These are three houses that were built very carefully in regard to airport noise with thick walls, they are to be held in perpetuity for affordable housing.”
Council Chair Helen Riehle concurred: “This is kind of a Sophie’s Choice. I really have to think more about what is in the best interest in the city. Our stewardship and fiscal responsibility…it’s a more complicated issue sitting in this seat, but I certainly empathize with your desire and need to have a quick decision.”
Councilor Pat Nowak expressed a different perspective.
“I don’t want to see someone lose their life savings….I don’t want you to miss an opportunity because you can’t make a decision without knowing,” Nowak addressed residents.” If we don’t have another circumstance like this in the city, don’t we have some wiggle room with this?”
“I took a look and said, ‘what did it cost the city out-of-pocket to have three affordable housing homes in that area?’ she added. She asked to have the numbers run to see what the difference in property tax revenue would have been, and the cost estimate for 2011-2016 came to about $12,800. Nowak also followed up with John Dinklage, the chair of the Development Review Board that made the decision to bind the covenants on the homes.
Rather than have the homes be demolished, the city is looking into whether the homes can be relocated. City Manager Kevin Dorn said that he and the moving company, Messier House Moving & Construction Inc., went out and looked at the site, and they believe the homes can be moved.
For potential locations, the city is talking with Brad Dousevitz, real estate developer and managing broker, about a site out at Rye Meadows. The Jaycee Park site where the O’Brien home will be demolished is another site for consideration. The third option is an undeveloped site on Hinesburg Road, which has not yet been permitted.
From there, the city will see if Champlain Housing Trust will take ownership, thus releasing the existing covenants, and the homes would become permanently affordable. The city is waiting on Burlington and the FAA regarding the logistics of what can be done.
At the January 17 city council meeting, which ran well past midnight as councilors grappled with the topic, Nowak moved that the city council remove the covenants on the properties located at 10, 12, and 18 Lily Lane for the purpose of their sale, and Chittenden seconded. The motion failed 2-3. Barritt noted that even with this vote the discussion is not over. Council is awaiting more information and the topic will be discussed further at a special meeting on Monday, January 23 at 6:30 p.m.
Council Resolution and Comments in response to BIA Land Inventory and Re-Use Plan
As a larger issue, on January 17, the city council reviewed a resolution drafted by Emery in response to the 2016 BIA Land Inventory and Re-Use Plan as well as a comment letter addressed to Director of Aviation Gene Richards and Mary Walsh, manager at the New England Regional Airport Division under the FAA. The Land-Use Plan is required of the airport, having used FAA funds for the acquisition program, and outlines how the noise land (land acquired under the buyout) will be used.
Both the resolution and comment letter are frank about the negative ramifications the FAA Noise Compatibility Program has on the City of South Burlington and its residents’ quality-of-life, affordable housing stock, and sense of neighborhood identity.
With an anticipated decrease in military operations at the airport (Vermont Air National Guard deployed to the Middle East in December), the resolution states that the 39 homes eligible for buyout are no longer in the 73.3 DNL contour, deeming the noise levels as obsolete.
The resolution formally requests that the FAA retract its approval of the recently-approved NEM and NCP under these circumstances, and it calls for the suspension of all activity under the Part 150 program related to purchase and demolition of homes.
Instead, it requests assistance from the FAA and the airport to, with the help of a consultant, create a new noise contour map with projected F-35 data to help plan for the fighter jets’ arrival in 2019.
To avoid being “blind-sided,” the resolution requests that the city be looped into future communications regarding noise mitigation programs and documents detailing their implications on the city and residents before submitting grant requests/receiving approval from the FAA.
Many of these points are mirrored in the comment letter, prompting requests for certain revisions in the Land Use Plan. Moreover, it draws attention to the financial burden the Part 150 Program has had on the city and the South Burlington School District. The letter also proposes using Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds for passive or constructed noise barriers such as berms or sound walls.
After reading the resolution, councilors stated their positions. They were generally in favor of improved city/airport communications and the request to run an updated NEM with the F-35 projections for 2019. The strongest difference in opinion surfaced with suspending the Part 150 Program.
“I don’t want to have residents that are in this current situation stuck in the middle,” Councilor Tom Chittenden said. “This is a governance issue.”
Councilor Tim Barritt shared a similar sentiment and said that they should turn to legal counsel.
“In light of all of this, I ask that we table the resolution until we verify all of the items,” Nowak said, “I think we have an obligation to them [residents] in many ways. It’s to protect them, but it is also to turn around and hear from them.”
Several residents provided testimony, many of whom were unaware of the resolution until the morning of the January 17 meeting. Some of the residents have already signed contracts, some are nearly ready to sign, and others are waiting for their buyout proposal to come forth.
“Put yourself in our situation,” said Ross Duncan of Kirby Road with his wife Stacee by his side. He referenced how the city felt blind-sided by the buyout program and that the resolution felt like a blind-sided action to residents. “It’s a trickle-down effect.”
“If this buyout doesn’t go through for us, we will be essentially condemned to live in that home for the rest of our lives,” Stacee Duncan added. “We will never have the opportunity to take a job out-of-state, move closer to family who live out-of-state. You’re taking a choice away from us.”
“It’s unfair for us to be blocked from making a decision that we feel will keep our family safe,” Amanda Ferguson of Lily Lane stated. “We’re also in-progress. We had to give great thought into where we want to move.”
“Please don’t take that opportunity away from us,” Kim Gaboriault of Kirby Road pleaded. “We have to live. We can’t live in this vulnerable state of not knowing what’s going to happen with us. It’s really hard.”
Regarding affordable housing, resident Sandy Dooley posed an idea of residents selling to the airport “as long as the airport agrees to sell every single one of those homes to Champlain Housing Trust or a comparable organization at a discounted price that would enable the homes be a part of the Champlain Housing Trust shared equity program.”
The Land and Reuse Plan and other documents cite that once the airport purchases homes, it is deemed incompatible for residential use, but council is still seeking to have that conversation with BIA.
Councilors have tabled the resolution and letter to the January 23 special meeting to review councilors’ comments. The airport will be collecting feedback until January 31 regarding its Land Inventory and Re Use Plan.
SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent