Funding for Maintenance of Parks and Open Spaces Considered

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Thursday April 16, 2015

The City of South Burlington is fortunate to have a multitude of gorgeous outdoor spaces to enjoy year round, from the beach at Red Rocks Park to the gardens at the Wheeler Homestead and now, the Underwood Property. But how and at what cost are South Burlington’s open space properties maintained to assure future generations will be able to enjoy these natural wonders? This topic generated dialogue among city council members when the Underwood Property Task Force presented their findings at the March 16 council meeting.

Drew Pollack-Bruce and Mark Kane of SE Group presented the vision framework for the Underwood Property. They discussed the importance of short term agricultural uses, site analysis and constraints, and the overarching themes that emerged from community dialogue about the property. What they discovered is that residents envision a natural space that is multi-dimensional, multi-generational, low-intensity, low key, low impact, innovative, and sustainable. In addition, natural resources, recreation, and agriculture came to the fore as areas of focus for the future. The consultants also provided rough estimates of costs for various proposed park projects such as infrastructure, natural resources, agriculture, recreation, engineering and planning, and the neighborhood stormwater feature. The estimates range from $2,420,000 to $4,400,000.

While councilors were impressed by the recent work regarding plans for Underwood, they were also cognizant of committee work focused on the necessity of developing maintenance plans for the Wheeler Homestead and Red Rocks Park, and wondered how the preservation of these spaces could be funded?

One compelling option was presented by Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard, at the April 3 council meeting. What if one-half cent of the open space fund was used to fund projects to maintain the parks while the remaining one-half cent continued to be used for the purchase of open space land? The city could borrow $1.3 million now, at current rates, and over a period of ten years, the annual cost of the loan would be funded by the one-half cent with no additional cost to taxpayers. In order to move forward, the council would need to approve this concept, then it would go to the voters for ultimate approval.

Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner and Hubbard put together a preliminary, list of projects that could have an immediate impact on open spaces. These projects include completing all accessibility recommendations for the properties as outlined in the ADA report. At Underwood, a formal park master plan, along with providing some off road parking are recommended. At Red Rocks, suggestions for designing a new plan for parking, improving the beachfront, restoring scenic views and repairing trail erosion, along with targeted removal of invasive species (from focus areas identified in the Red Rocks Management Plan) were identified. Remediation of the watershed area and testing stream hydrology, along with parking and circulation issues would be included in the focus at Wheeler Homestead. Completing the pedestrian trail and amenities from Cheese Factory Road to the Scott Property are recommended. Proper vetting and prioritization would need to be accomplished by the committees affiliated with these properties as well as obtainment of exact costs for projects.

The city is also exploring a potential partnership for expanded services with the Winooski Valley Parks District, which could involve the management of some of these properties.

The concept of re-purposing money the city brings in through the open space tax made sense to the council, but if this idea moves forward, it will ultimately be up to the residents to decide how they want to allocate their resources.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent