Conceptual plans introducing a wide range of possibilities were presented for consideration and discussion at the Underwood public design workshop.

Conceptual plans introducing a wide range of possibilities were presented for consideration and discussion at the Underwood public design workshop.a

Finding Balance for Underwood

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Friday February 06, 2015

The third and final installation of public design workshops, held on January 28, had City Hall’s first floor teeming with more than 50 residents eager to hear potential concepts for the future of the Underwood property.


The Underwood property, a 60 acre parcel on the corner of Spear St. and Nowland Farm Rd., was originally zoned for residential development. The city purchased the land in February 2013 after being approached by a realtor who explained that the family visualized the land as a park and wanted to see if the city was interested. The city put a down payment of $1 million toward the Marie Underwood Revocable Trust from the Open Space Fund, followed by three annual payments of $220,000. The Open Space Fund collects $0.01 cent on the tax rate annually, totaling about $280,000 a year to pay for maintenance or acquisition of open space or park lands. This acquisition will be fully paid for by September 2015.

Last fall, the city council interviewed candidates for the Underwood Task Force, a group charged with shaping potential uses for the land. The council selected five individuals; additionally, there is one representative from each of the following committees: Recreation and Leisure Arts, Bike/Pedestrian, Natural Resources, and the Sustainable Agriculture subcommittee. The task force has been working closely with the city-hired consultant, SE Group, since November and have since developed 3 concept plans.

The Process

Mark Kane and Drew Bruce of SE Group reviewed the scope of the process. The group conducted two site visits, and held five task force meetings prior to the public workshop. Bruce explained that the plans are solely conceptual, with the purpose of helping to better identify and understand the public’s desires.

“Really the idea behind this is to bookend the range of things that might happen on the parcel. So we’re not saying that one of these options is necessarily the one that you pick but some pieces and parts of each one can be put together,” he said.

After conducting a site review and analysis of the parcel, several layers of protection, zoning, and other considerations came into play. The topics under scrutiny included Natural Resource Protection zoning, view protection overlays, the Spear St. Wildlife Study area, stormwater management overlays, prime agricultural soil, and impaired watersheds, among others.

One main overarching theme that recurred during task force meetings was the desire to have minimal impact on the parcel. Discussions of sustainability and remaining ecologically sensitive to the land with a focus on multi-generational use resulted in a trianglular framework, with one of three primary goals at each corner: agriculture, recreation, and natural resources.

Concept Plans and Feedback

Although each concept leans more heavily toward one of the primary goals, they all incorporate a portion of each goal. A trail network for pedestrian and bike connectivity, “wild play” (using natural resources for recreation), various numbers of parking spaces, and community gardens were some common themes among the plans.

Natural Resources concept plan:

This concept shows the least intensive development, has the most passive recreation, can include green buildings and infrastructure, and offers opportunity for restoration (forest land, meadow land, etc.) and stormwater management. This plan designates 32 acres for natural resources, 15 acres for agriculture, and 11 acres for recreation.

Feedback: The public liked the wild play concept, the treehouse, use of community gardens, and all the other proposed natural resource amenities. A fenced-in dog park was another recommendation for all concepts. The natural resources plan received the most interest from the public.

Agriculture Resources concept plan: This plan shows moderately-intensive development, passive and active recreation such as a pump track, a treehouse and open fields, and is moderate in cost. It could provide varied agricultural uses such as raised beds, an orchard and possibly a grazing concept (i.e. sheep), a livestock barn or event pavillion, three support structures, on-street parking, and provide minimal activity in the woods.This plan designates 27 acres for natural resources, 24 acres for agriculture, and seven acres for recreation.

Feedback: Residents wondered if the plan was too heavy on agriculture; conversely, residents speculated if it would provide the city with revenue opportunities. There was also a desired connection from Spear St, to the property. Residents liked the community barn structure and felt it was a “nod to the city’s historic character,” but expressed differing opinions regarding the no parking status on Nowland Rd.

Recreation concept plan: This plan shows the most intensive development of the three concepts. It would likely be the most expensive of the three concepts and would provide for the most parking. The plan would have two separate access points, more intensive recreational use, wild play and pump tracks in the wooded area, restoration along the brook, a traditional playground, and a fitness loop concept. This plan designates 40 acres for recreation, 16 acres for natural resources, and the remainder for agriculture.

Feedback: The public liked the informal recreational fields, although some residents felt there were too many of them. The event pavillion received positive feedback. Residents emphasized the importance of protecting the ridgeline along the park, suggested adding an access trail system from Spear St., and inquired about about phasing projects over a period of time.

Two members of the Underwood family were in attendance and were pleased with the direction of the project. Although neither live in South Burlington anymore, the sisters both share fond memories of growing up on the land and were receptive to the proposed plans.

“I think any of the proposals that get picked, we’re happy with,” said Patricia Underwood Weaver, “We think it’s a nice use of the land. I came in thinking recreation was the only way, but now I’m leaning toward natural resources or agriculture,” she added.

“It’s nice to have a place for people to go, be outside and just enjoy it,” said Mary Underwood Galle.

SE Group and the task force will work toward providing the city council with a plan in March. The next Underwood Task Force meeting is February 12 and is open to the public. Have a comment or idea? Contact Betsy Terry, member of the Recreation and Leisure Arts Committee, at

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent