Vacant homes in the airport neighborhood await demolition.

Planning to Begin for Airport Neighborhood

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Thursday December 12, 2013

The first phase of a planning process focused on future uses for the properties adjacent to the Burlington Airport left vacant by the Federal Aviation Administration’s home buyout program was announced at a press conference held at Chamberlin School Monday afternoon, December 9.  The initial planning process will be supported by a $17,000 Municipal Planning Grant recently awarded to South Burlington by the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development. The City of South Burlington will add $4,500 to the funding. 

The planning collaborative, in addition to the cities of South Burlington and Burlington, will include the airport, the South Burlington School District, and state and federal government agencies. The participants in Monday’s press conference all expressed a desire to work collaboratively and to include Chamberlin neighborhood residents in the process. Present at the press conference were City Council Chair Pam Mackenzie, City Manager Kevin Dorn, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, BIA Director of Aviation Gene Richards, VTANG Brig. Gen. Richard Harris, Superintendent of Schools David Young, Charlie Baker from Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, and Lawrence Miller, Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

“This grant provides the funding we need to do the foundational work toward developing a more comprehensive plan for the future use of the area currently occupied by the vacant homes and the transition into adjacent neighborhoods,” said City Council Chair Pam Mackenzie. “This part of the process will be heavily focused on public engagement that builds toward a neighborhood vision for the area, and in engaging multiple partners in a collaborative planning program.”Since the buyout program began in 1992, the vacant homes have generated discourse among residents of the changing neighborhood and city officials. Concerns about vandalism, declining property values, and noise mitigation have been the topics of recurring discussions. 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 that are currently vacant.

One resident of the neighborhood, George Maille, has taken his concerns all the way to the Vermont Supreme Court. Maille, a 35-year resident of Logwood Street, contends that the city’s decision to grant the zoning permits to BIA (to demolish 54 homes) was made without having all the facts. To support his stance, Maille has pointed to the city’s Land Development Regulations which mention how to determine if a project requires site plan review. The answer lies in whether or not there will be a change in use of the property. Maille argues that demolition of a private residence automatically changes the use of the land on which it sits. This permit appeal may affect when and how the vacant homes can be demolished.

At the press conference Mayor Weinberger said, “after just completing a robust debate on the F35s, it’s time to make progress on the issues facing this neighborhood.” He realized, throughout the course of public meetings, that there was a lot of uncertainty around what was going to happen with the vacant homes and it was creating “more concern than should happen.” 

According to the city, the emphasis in all phases of the planning effort will be community and public outreach, listening, communication, and collaboration.
The first step of developing an outline and schedule for planning process implementation will be scheduled in early 2014.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent