JAM Golf / Highlands Amended Settlement Approved

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Thursday March 30, 2017

City council unanimously approved the Highlands Development Company, LLC and JAM Golf litigation amended settlement agreement with the City of South Burlington at their March 20 meeting. Although the settlement was approved years ago, there were several items that needed to be addressed, especially in regard to Act 250. The agreement has been signed by all councilors except Chair Helen Riehle who participated in the meeting via phone and will sign the document when she returns to town.

If you feel like you are experiencing deja vu, that is because the city has been involved in litigation with Highlands Development / J.A. McDonald since the Development Review Board (DRB) rejected portions of an amended master plan for the 400-acre-plus build-out that included residential neighborhoods and the Vermont National Country Club golf course along Dorset Street in 2001. In 2011, a compromise was reached where both the developer and city received parts of what they wanted. The agreement allowed the developer to build four short of the number of units he wanted, with housing types ranging from single family homes up to four dwelling units, and the city would get the right to conserve some of the valuable land which had been identified as a wildlife corridor area.

According to Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner, as part of the original settlement agreement, the city council agreed to a land exchange between the city and Jam Golf / Highlands Development in which the city would give 7.25 acres of land from the Wheeler Nature Park, and the Golf Course would give 22 acres of land along the east side of the golf course, along the boundary with Butler Farms and Oak Creek Village.

At Monday night’s council meeting, Conner provided an overview of the key points of the revised settlement; the most notable involving agricultural soil mitigation to address anticipated Act 250 requirements.

“Of the 7.25 acres of land, there are approximately 3.5 acres of prime/statewide agricultural soils that will need to be offset as a result of the subdivision of that land from the rest of the Wheeler property and ultimate development of that land from JAM Golf / Highlands Development. Under state rules, any such loss of prime/statewide agricultural soils need to be offset, or mitigated, at a ratio of 2:1. The settlement allows this mitigation (of seven acres of land – 3.5 x two) to take place on another portion of the Wheeler property. That mitigation will take the form of an Act 250 permit requirement that those seven acres of land be kept available for potential future agricultural use. The city will retain full ownership and control of that land, it will simply have this permit restriction on it. Another 14 acres of land on the Wheeler property already have this same restriction,” Conner explained.

Additional items in the amended settlement include adjustments to the development review time frames for certain portions of the golf course development that were agreed upon in the original settlement. “This amendment allows some of the development areas to move forward with development review and decisions from the DRB, but still requires that the land exchange be completed before any subdivision mylars can be recorded in the land records and before any zoning permit for construction can take place,” according to Conner.

There is also a financial compensation component to the agreement in which JAM Golf/Highlands development will pay the city $7,861 in consideration of the city’s agreement to allow a portion of the Wheeler property to be used as mitigation for agricultural soil impacts. The city and JAM Golf also agree in the settlement to meet to discuss the construction of a missing segment of sidewalk/recreation path that is set to be built by the applicant.

This was the second amended agreement between the parties. The first amended agreement was put into effect August 2015. That agreement and its provisions remain active, but now include the modifications approved by the council Monday night.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent