Council Pushes Back on Airport Encroachment

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Thursday February 02, 2017

At a special meeting Monday, January 30, the South Burlington City Council addressed affordable housing covenants and continued its efforts to push back against further airport encroachment in the ever-shrinking airport neighborhood.

A council resolution, which was passed January 23, challenges the airport’s Land Inventory and Re-use Plan and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funded home buyout, which currently slates another 39 homes for purchase and demolition prior to the start of a sound insulation program for remaining homes. The resolution put the council and airport neighborhood residents at odds. The resolution initially called for an immediate halt to the voluntary buyouts, but homeowners, weary of living in a state of limbo while waiting for their futures to be determined, pressed to have the freedom to negotiate the buyouts if they chose to do so. The language of the 17-point resolution crafted by Councilor Meaghan Emery was changed to eliminate the passage that would have halted the current buyouts, deeming 36 of the 39 homeowners free to pursue or finalize plans to sell their property. The amended resolution passed 3-2 on January 23, when Tim Barritt joined Helen Riehle, and Emery voting in favor, Pat Nowak and Tom Chittenden voted against.


The council reconvened January 30 to resolve the details of the remaining three homes, which fall into a special category. These Lily Lane homes, located just off Kirby Road, are part of a cluster of seven energy efficient cottages built in 2010. Due to affordable housing covenants signed at the time of purchase, three Kirby Cottages homeowners were caught in an unusual conundrum which prevented them from accepting the purchase offer from the FAA. The homeowners asked the city to release them from the covenants, which were designed to provide affordable housing in perpetuity, so they could be legally free to participate in the buyout program.

Councilors had previously expressed concern about preserving these affordable homes as established in the city’s Land Development Regulations (LDR), and didn’t want to set a precedent or reverse the goals of affordable housing under the city’s Comprehensive Plan, stating that stewardship and fiscal responsibility add to the complication of the issue. In order to confirm that the price these homeowners receive does not exceed the maximum amount allowed under the conditions of the covenant, councilors requested more information.

City Attorney Andrew Bolduc and Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner walked the council through a 9-step formula based on the Certificate of Compliance required by the covenant. They determined that each of the current relative home values are approximately $290,000 under the covenants. However, the assessed values of the homes range from $222,000 to $229,000, close to fair market value. While the actual price offered by the FAA is not known, the offers are generally based on fair market value, with additional incentives to purchase a comparable home and pay for moving expenses and closing costs along with additional reimbursements.

Emery noted that the figures seemed high for affordability standards and suggested that the formula is not doing what it was intended to do. She said that by releasing the covenants they “were doing something good for the three families, but doing something wrong for the Chamberlin neighborhood.”

Tim Barritt expressed frustration regarding the uncertain future of the seven Kirby Cottage homes built with energy efficiency in mind and 10 inch walls to address noise, only to be demolished. “I hold out the hope that we can save these homes for someone else,” he said.

Tom Chittenden said, “I would not want the airport to take any more homes down until there is a plan to mitigate sound.”

Helen Riehle surmised councilors were in agreement that they did not want the homes to be demolished and would like additional forms of sound mitigation explored beyond windows and doors. Riehle noted the saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” and said it was time for the council to make some noise.

The council voted unanimously to direct the city manager to release the homeowners from the covenants.

Letter to the FAA

About a month ago, the council directed City Manager Kevin Dorn to draft a letter to the FAA regarding Burlington International Airport’s Part 150 noise study. The primary thrust of the letter indicated the city’s desire to have noise modeling conducted with F35 data in order to assist the city and homeowners currently living in the Chamberlin neighborhood with information for future planning and zoning. In a response received January 23 from FAA Regional Administrator Amy Corbett, the request for resources for noise modeling was denied. Dorn also identified several inaccurate statements made in the response and asked the council’s blessing to politely correct them and push harder for the funding in a follow up letter. A point was made that two other cities have had similar studies conducted, but were not going to be receiving the F35s. The compelling argument that this type of modeling has been done elsewhere at a nominal cost was not acknowledged by the FAA.

Resolution Revisited

The council returned to the topic of the January 23 resolution which presses the FAA to withdraw its grant approval for the noise compatibility and land acquisition programs and strongly urges that the FAA and Burlington International Airport include the city in their decision making processes regarding items that could affect South Burlington neighborhoods. Council discussed an additional cover letter and supporting information that Meghan Emery had drafted to potentially include with the council’s resolution, which was due by close of business January 31 to Director of Aviation Gene Richards and Mary Walsh, manager for the FAA regional airports division. The letter states, in part that the the airport director resisted public communication and dialogue with the city council and the CNAPC committee during the time when public comments were being gathered. It also says that the lack of transparency was compounded by communication issues between South Burlington’s Airport Commissioner and the South Burlington City Council. A lengthy debate ensued on the language to include in the letter after which the letter and documentation was approved 4:1, with Nowak voting “nay”.

The FAA will be holding a public meeting at the airport February 16 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Parking is free.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent