Planning Process Begins for Airport Neighborhood

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Thursday February 13, 2014

At a press conference held December 9 at the Chamberlin School, the first phase of a planning process involving future uses for the properties adjacent to the Burlington International Airport left vacant by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) home buyout program was introduced. It was announced that the initial planning process would be supported by a $17,000 Municipal Planning Grant which was awarded to South Burlington by the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development. South Burlington was one of only three Chittenden County municipalities to receive this planning grant. A $4,500 match from the City of South Burlington was proposed, and planning was set to begin in 2014.

True to that timeline, Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner presented an outline of a work plan for the Chamberlin neighborhood/BTV at the February 3 council meeting. Conner said that in addition to the planning grant, the city has submitted an application for a grant from the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission (CCRPC) in the amount of $150,000 to help begin making headway with the project. “We want to make sure the project is done to the level the community deserves,” Conner said.  

One of the top objectives involves building a working relationship with residents and users of the airport to ensure this becomes a collaborative community endeavor. Other objectives include strengthening and retaining the affordability of the neighborhood, discussing future uses for the land (parks, streetscapes, etc…), determining what individuals want to see as a community, and developing a basic transportation plan involving a city road network and discussing how that should be stitched together.

To kick-off the conversation, an initial meeting was held January 24 with 7 or 8 residents, City Manager Kevin Dorn, Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard, Police Chief Trevor Whipple, Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner, Public Works Director Justin Rabidoux, and City Councilor Rosanne Greco as well as airport representatives Bob McEwing and Ryan Betcher. The group discussed concerns about traffic and parking in the neighborhood, much of which is related to the airport.  Another meeting with residents will occur in February, on a date to be determined.  

Conner presented a proposed two tier management system for the project. The first tier, a project team, would guide the process and be made up of representatives from South Burlington, Burlington, and Burlington International Airport. Tier 2, a steering committee, would make policy. Tier 2 would largely be volunteer-based and would include stakeholders, residents, and airport commissioners. Conner emphasized that determining who would be involved in these tiers is still in progress, but he stressed that working with the schedules of community members will be of utmost importance. Having meetings that work with residents’ schedules and perhaps incorporating technology into the process will be beneficial as well. Pam Mackenzie said that it was also important to have school officials involved in the committees. 

Although all councilors voiced their support of the outline presented, Helen Riehle pointed out that developing a vision that then informs the airport plan will be most challenging due to competing interests. 

Resident George Maille said that from a planning standpoint, he agreed with what had been presented, but added that it will be important to become informed of the airport’s master plan as well as the intent of  the City of Burlington. Maille said he would also like to see the airport’s new noise exposure map, as that could impact even more homes surrounding the airport and thus, the visioning process for the neighborhood. 

Since the FAA’s buyout program began in 1992, the vacant homes have generated much angst among residents of the neighborhood and city officials. Since the program’s inception, approximately 137 houses have been purchased. There are 12 houses remaining in the FAA approved program and there are over 60 homes currently vacant. 

Staff would like to get the project started in late spring or early summer. City Manager Kevin Dorn said, “We’re planning to plan, but it’s necessary to start the project with a vision of how we’re going to finish it.”

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent