Residents Raise Questions at Comprehensive Plan Public Hearing

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Wednesday December 23, 2015

December 15 marked the first of two public hearings city council will hold on the Comprehensive Plan, which serves as a guide for land use, grant funding, Public Service Board review, and Act 250 review. 30 residents packed City Hall to listen to the council work session and fellow community members’ comments on the plan. Nine residents offered thoughtful feedback in person and several others had provided written comments. What became clear rather quickly was that there is consensus among residents that a new study on east/west roads, and the Swift Street extension in particular, are warranted.

The planning commission has been working on the plan and engaging with the public on the process for months. The commission presented the city council with an overview of the Comprehensive Plan at a joint meeting November 12 and had previously held a public hearing for the entire 2016 Comprehensive Plan October 20, and provided changes to the education section October 27.

Resident E.J. Necrason kicked off the public comment portion of the evening with an insistence that new studies be done on east/west corridor roads, especially Swift Street. Necrason said that the study should include an environmental assessment that looks at wildlife inventory and a traffic study. He also requested access to an RFP (request for proposal), should one be drafted to conduct this study, to determine if it is detailed enough to look at all of the factors impacting roads, neighborhoods, and wildlife.

Abby Crocker made a number of suggestions; mainly structural in nature. Crocker suggested altering the section referring to Wheeler Nature Park “a designated natural area that requires voter approval for any other purpose,” to “a designated natural area that is intended to be conserved in perpetuity via a third party conservation easement.” Crocker also echoed her concerns regarding a lack of updated analysis on east/west roads and how these roads impact future development. Crocker noted that she had in hand the signatures of 96 residents who could not attend the meeting, indicating their support for further analysis.

Resident Donna Leban said that she supports a comprehensive study not just on traffic and east/west connections, but also on encroachment on wetland resources, and air quality issues like dust and ozone. “In light of the recent climate talks in Paris, how do we have to do our work differently to make this world livable?” Leban said. In regard to the Swift Street extension, Leban said, “You can either do a straight shot and go through wetlands or build an expensive bridge over them.”

Paul St. James, a resident of the Village at Dorset Park implored the council to think about the quality of life for residents. “This should be your number one concern,” St. James said, “If this road (Swift Street) is extended, it will significantly change the quality of life for residents . . . I don’t want it and you wouldn’t want it either.”

During the council work session, Chris Shaw organized the comments residents had made that night and asked fellow council members to evaluate where action was warranted in addition to bringing up any other concerns not mentioned. Shaw requested an addition that describes form-based codes more in depth and Meaghan Emery wanted more notes on air quality, while Tom Chittenden honed in on some wordsmithing on the vision and goals section pertaining to quality of life. Also, Nowak expressed her concerns about defining a family in the affordable housing section and questioned whether it was under the council’s purview to do so. A legal opinion will be obtained on the final item.

City Planner Cathyann LaRose staffed the evening and compiled notes on changes to bring back to the council for their consideration. By evening’s end, LaRose had a significant list which included incorporating a statement into the plan on form based code, its development and purpose as well as some wordsmithing to the vision and goals statement, keeping unique features of South Burlington, enhancing and maintaining the quality of life, accepting and implementing Jennifer Kochman’s comments from the Recreation and Leisure Arts Committee, air quality, and a plan to discuss Abby Crocker’s suggestions at the December 21 meeting.

After over four hours of hearing from residents and engaging in council discussion, it was agreed that this discussion would continue at the council’s December 21 meeting. A second public hearing date has not yet been determined.

SOURCE:  Corey Burdick, Correspondent