Planning Commission Considers Citizen Cider: Is there a Future for Agricultural Enterprise Use in the Southeast Quadrant?

Home » City » Planning Commission Considers Citizen Cider: Is there a Future for Agricultural Enterprise Use in the Southeast Quadrant?

Thursday December 08, 2016

In March, Citizen Cider introduced a proposal for an agriculture-enterprise operation on the mature orchard site west of Hinesburg Road and Van Sicklen Road. Formally known as the Marceau orchard, the land is currently owned by developer Joe Larkin. That has since opened up a broader conversation among planning commissioners about the possibility of including agricultural enterprise as a new use category in the Southeast Quadrant (SEQ).

Citizen Cider

Due to its extensive growth, Citizen Cider turned to South Burlington as a possible site for a full operation. The 75,000 square foot facility would include space to produce the cider, a retail store, space for outdoor events, administrative offices, loading docks, and possibly a greenhouse for research and development.

The facility would be set back from Hinesburg Road and a road aligned with Van Sicklen Road would grant entry to the site. Furthermore, the plan introduces the possibility of rooftop solar or a green roof. The site is east of the Claire Solar Farm, which the building could also use.

Justin Heilenbach, co-founder and president of Citizen Cider, has expressed that this location would embody Citizen Cider’s commitment to community and help promote agricultural tourism. Even though Citizen Cider would still need apples delivered from growers across Vermont and New York, Citizen Cider said it would consider expanding the existing orchard, which is almost eight acres. “We can get growers to grow for us on associated land,” he said. “It is very much so our intention that if we have the option, to purchase our fruit in one spot.”

After sitting in on an October commission meeting, Paul Dandurand, owner of the property across the street on Van Sicklen Road, said he would be open to talking about expanding the orchard onto his property, which could add about 10 more acres.

Suitable for the SEQ?

Heilenbach said he also understands that this is no small feat for the commission, as this will require changes to the land development regulations if this is something the commission wants to pursue. “I recognize that this is an extremely challenging zoning situation,” he said at the Oct. 11 planning commission meeting.

There are light manufacturing and manufacturing zoning districts where this proposal would fit, but Heilenbach has a different vision. “We’d like to be on farm land,” he added. “If this doesn’t work out, then I’m going to find another site on ag land. I don’t just want to be off in an industrial park, which I know makes this complicated…[but] I think it’s the right thing to do for the business and for the community. Orchards are public; they’re gathering places.”

“My concern is that we’re really missing an opportunity,” said Joe Larkin. “I know Citizen can go in a number of places, but it does feel like we’ve talked a lot about unique opportunities that come from this particular place. It seems like if we ignore that, and say, ‘this is the current zoning, we’ve got to live by it’ - we know what that looks like in 20 years. That looks like 150-200 homes on that land. That might be ok.”

When it was first introduced to the commission, members were fascinated with the idea. However, the site contains open space, natural area, and is an agricultural resource, all of which currently align with the Land Development Regulations and Comprehensive Plan for the SEQ.

Therefore, looking at the bigger picture and weighing neighbor’s concerns, they asked themselves if this change was right for the city. If it is, what language would be needed to reflect the kind of development they desire?

“Let’s dial 20 years out. What could this eventually be if Citizen Cider decides to move to another location?” Commissioner Ted Riehle asked. “Our role is planning for the long term, not the next year or two. Is there something that we’re doing irreversible? What could go there?”

Fellow commissioner, Art Klugo, chimed in. “What are the goals? Diversify the business opportunities in South Burlington? Span the agriculture business opportunities? Create a new district? Or protect additional land? What is it we’re trying to do here by bringing Citizen Cider beyond the fact that they’ll bring themselves?”

If there are changes to zoning, it must be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan, as required by state law. Under what circumstances would a facility of this size be acceptable in the SEQ to align with the goals of the city? Would it be allowed in the Natural Resource Protection District (NRP), Village Residential (VR), or part of an overlay district?

After extensive talks, Commission Chair Jessica Louisos said that members decided not to allow it in the Natural Resource Protection District, that it, “didn’t feel right.” They are willing to explore the potential in the Village Residential (VR), which allows for residential development at high density. If South Burlington and Citizen Cider were ultimately in agreement with this route, Transfer Development Rights (TDRs) would likely come into play.

The planning commission is also trying to avoid spot zoning, which is the process of singling out a parcel of land for a use different from that of the surrounding area for the benefit of the owner of such property and possibly to the detriment of other owners. To that end, the topic has drawn the attention of neighbors who are concerned for their quality of life.

“Our biggest concern is Van Sicklen,” said Debbie Ruppel of Stonehouse Village. “It’s a dangerous road now. When you head over the hill, there are cars parked right there, and I feel like I’m going to get rear-ended one of these times.” She added, “It’s getting congested already around rush hour. We’re concerned about noise. These are our houses and our property values we’re thinking about.”

Resident George Wyand wrote to the commission about how the surrounding area is already slated for higher density. “Over the next several years, Cider Mill Phase II will begin construction, meaning the land to the south will become heavily populated.”

In addition to existing safety and traffic issues on Van Sicklen Road, noise, and possible unpleasant odors, and the issue of pesticides are topics that will be explored. Densie Aronzon from Stonehouse Village cited Canadian standards around pesticide drift; she said those standards recommend a half a kilometer buffer to allow for pesticide drift around agricultural components.

“If you look at a map of where Citizen Cider would be, half a kilometer eats up all of the Stonehouse Village, the back of Butler Farms, and the back of the Cider Mill development,” she said.

Going Forward

Planning and zoning staff has since taken this list of concerns and compiled a fuller list of possible impacts. Taking it a step further, staff is working on not only defining these impacts but drawing mathematical comparisons between an agricultural enterprise use of this size and several residential units. For example, the amount of impervious surface on an agricultural enterprise site would be equivalent to a particular number of residential driveways.

Other impacts being vetted include sewer, open space, square footage, peak trips, surface parking, recreation space, Transfer Development Rights (TDRs), trucks, noise (daytime and evening), water, events, energy, and lighting, among others.

Staff said that some equivalencies may be difficult to calculate, but others can be determined with the help of national data or city departments like the Department of Public Works. Researching similar facilities, like Smuttynose Brewing Company in Middlebury, should help provide valuable information as well. Moreover, commissioners have contemplated what lens to view this topic. Staff proposed a few different options:

1. Van Sicklen Node: this process would require a Master Plan for the area, could trigger a change in the LDRs and Comprehensive Plan, and could take 12 to18 months.
2. Agricultural Enterprise Use: This could trigger a change in the Future Land Use Map and the Comprehensive Plan depending on location and how much of this use would be allowed. This process could tie into the Planned Unit Development Project (PUD) that the city is currently working on with the help of a consultant. This process, being more focused, has a shorter timeline and could take 4 to 10 months.
3. Agriculture “Soup to Nuts”: this would look at all forms of value-added agriculture and where they fit into the city. This could take 10 to 12 months.

Commissioners are split between the Van Sicklen Node and the Agricultural Enterprise Use tracks. Even so, the timelines of all three may exceed Citizen Cider’s hopeful deadline for construction, which is the summer of 2017.

“There are decision points on both sides here,” Paul Conner, director of planning and zoning, explained. “We’ve been advocating all along and continue to advocate to address challenging questions as early as possible so that it’s not six months from now, and in the last conversation everyone says, ‘we can’t make this work.’”

Regardless of the outcome, this puts the future of agricultural enterprise opportunities in the SEQ on the table for consideration. If the planning commission decides to ultimately pursue this, the formal public hearing process will be implemented. All meetings are open to the public.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent