Council Passes Resolution in Response to BIA Land and Re-Use Plan

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Thursday January 26, 2017

After marathon meetings January 17 and 23, city councilors hashed out the details of a resolution aimed to stop the momentum of a neighborhood in transition as the latest rounds of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funded home buyouts are taking place. Councilors and residents debated a complex set of circumstances as they contemplated the city’s response to the airport’s Land Inventory and Re-Use Plan.

Late Monday night, January 23, the council passed an amended resolution that presses the FAA to withdraw its grant approval for the current Noise Compatibility Program (NCP) and land acquisition program, and suspend any future additional acquisition of homes under the Part 150 program, with the idea of preserving affordable housing in the Chamberlin neighborhood.

Among the concerns addressed in the resolution drafted by Meaghan Emery are the city’s loss of affordable housing, the resulting decimation of a neighborhood, and tax losses to the city as well as the state’s education fund. The resolution asserts that the plan is based on outdated information, and asks for an updated Noise Exposure Map (NEM) to be facilitated now, well before the 2019 arrival of the F35s. The 17 point resolution also strongly urges that the FAA and Burlington International Airport include the city in any decision making processes regarding items that could affect South Burlington neighborhoods.

After Emery presented her resolution, councilors and citizens had the opportunity to respond. While Tom Chittenden said he agreed with most of the resolution, there were some items he just couldn’t accept. But his primary sticking point was the suspension of the home buyout program for the 39 homeowners on the current list, some of whom have already entered into contracts with the airport. Chittenden said he believes in collaborative approaches and is against impeding the purchase opportunity for homeowners. He also was interested in exploring the options of not tearing down the homes and the associated costs involved.

Pat Nowak said that she could not support the document as it stood mainly because she felt the resolution was limiting owners’ rights by telling the FAA to stop the home buyout program. She also took issue with several of the other items on the 17 point list. Nowak, who lives in the 65 dnl and supports affordable housing said she doesn’t want to lose homes and was open and willing to discuss noise mitigation programming. Nowak said she felt a resolution wasn’t necessary to have a dialogue with FAA.

Tim Barritt said for too long the airport has been blindsiding the city. He said it was like they have a toy “ray gun on a control tower zapping out homes, but haven’t offered real viable solutions to the city to mitigate noise.” Barritt said he was in favor of the airport building a sound wall, and while he supported the resolution overall, he wanted to find a way to reconcile for the people who have home buyout offers. “I sincerely believe we shouldn’t interrupt the purchaser and seller agreement,” Barritt said. “If they want to go, they need to be able to go.” But, he said later, we need to draw a line in the sand, “—no more after these 39 homes.”

Chair Helen Riehle reminded everyone that the resolution was in response to the re-use plan, and the council was obligated to express their thoughts. “It doesn’t make it law, but maybe it causes them to think a little differently,” Riehle said, “We need to seize the opportunity to ask for what we want, if we don’t ask now, when the heck are we going to? It’s a request for them to change the way they do business with South Burlington.”

Prior to taking a vote on the resolution, concerned residents and Chamberlin neighborhood homeowners were given an opportunity to offer their thoughts. The comments were varied and impassioned, and many expressed their desire to be able to sell their homes to the airport and move on to another residence, either in South Burlington or elsewhere. Fourteen homeowners have either signed contracts or are in the process of closing. Homeowners who are still waiting to receive offers fear they may lose the option of a sale, and are living in a state of limbo.

Carmine Sargent, a 45 year resident of the neighborhood and chair of the Chamberlin Neighborhood Airport Planning Committee (CNAPC) that worked to explore solutions to noise and neighborhood preservation, felt that her work with the committee was all for naught when the airport unveiled their plan to buy more homes shortly after her committee had compiled their final report. “The tenor of the neighborhood is totally different...we have to stop this, there has to be an end need to protect us from the predator the airport has become,” Sargent said.

Jason Tucker, a resident of Kirby Road said telling owners they can’t sell to the airport would be like telling them they don’t have a future.

David Bolger, a Hayes Avenue resident who lives outside the noise envelope said he cares about the well being of his fellow residents and referred to a motto young students learn in his classroom, “be safe, be kind, and be responsible.”Although Bolger spoke more to the issue of the affordable housing covenants on the Kirby Road/Lily Lane properties, he said “sometimes people forget what is right in front of them by looking toward the horizon. If you wait for 20 months to make a decision, these people will still be living in the red zone, with the FAA money gone, is that the horizon you’re proud of working toward?”

After public comment, councilors returned to their discussion, with Emery making some compromises on her resolution, particularly item 4 to read: “We request that by Tuesday, February 7, 2017, the FAA begin negotiations concerning these requests with South Burlington and other officials of the state and of any public agencies and planning agencies whose area, or any portion of whose area, of jurisdiction within the Ldn 65 dB noise contours is depicted on the NEM, and other Federal officials having local responsibility of land uses depicted on the map.”

In a 3:2 vote, Pat Nowak and Tom Chittenden voted “nay”, and with changes to item #4 which eliminated the request for immediate suspension of the acquisition of (39) homes included in the current program, Tim Barritt joined Meaghan Emery and Helen Riehle in voting yes.

After the vote, Helen Riehle said, “We try to keep emotion out of the process...there isn’t anything one could arrive at that would make everyone happy...I feel the resolution recognized very fully the 39 homes, and I’m hopeful this will get them where they need to go.”

Emery said, “I’m grateful to my colleagues on the council for taking this courageous step in order to protect our city’s assets and to preserve one of South Burlington’s most established and cherished neighborhoods that has provided the opportunity for home ownership to the middle class for generations and will continue to do so.”

Also on Monday night’s agenda was discussion about whether or not to release the affordable housing covenants on three Kirby Road/Lily Lane properties. The home owners must be released from the covenants in order to sell their homes to the airport. This item, however, remained unresolved and will be addressed again at a special meeting January 30.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent