UVM’s Vision for South Campus

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Friday June 03, 2011

As South Burlington pursues smart growth with the ever-progressing Comprehensive Plan, one long-time landholder looms big on the city’s western horizon: the University of Vermont. At the city’s invitation, a trio of UVM planners and agricultural experts addressed the Planning Commission on Tuesday, May 24, to provide a behind-the-scenes look at UVM’s vision for South Campus.

UVM’s eleven plots of land along Spear Street piqued the interest of the Planning Commission as board members and city staff hashed out this year’s update to the Comprehensive Plan, or “the city’s guide to the future.” In addition to guidance on how to best manage the southwest and northwest quadrants, the plan premiered a chapter on stewarding the city’s agricultural resources. UVM has located many of its agricultural teaching facilities in South Burlington.

Lani Ravin, an associate planner for UVM as well as a South Burlington resident, provided a big-picture perspective on the process by which the University updates the Campus Master Plan, which guides university growth.

“This plan was a collaborative effort,” she said, noting that the 365-page document, which covers the school’s entire campus, reflects input from over 40 public meetings and 200 internal meetings. It’s reworked every five years: minor revisions will occur in 2011, and a major revision in 2016.

There won’t be much development in the near future, explained Ravin. “In terms of enrollment, there’s not a lot of growth at this point,” she said. “We’re pretty much where we want to be.”

Zeroing in on UVM’s largely-agricultural plots in South Burlington, Tom Vogelmann, dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, said they’ve taken a broad look at the way the University will use its farm holdings. “The college has been going through quite an extensive visioning process,” he said.

Recent changes included “farm reorganization,” a downsizing of the Miller Farm milking herd three years ago. “Quite frankly,” said Vogelmann, “it was a herd that wasn’t meeting the needs and purpose for what it was really set up to be in the 1960s.”

When the herd amassed $900,000 in debt, the college slashed the program—but retained a smaller herd. “There’s one thing that you guys can really help us with, and that’s to dispel the myth that there are no cows out on Spear Street,” said Vogelmann to the board. They now count 37 milking cows, with a total of 100 cows on the site. “One advantage of doing that is that we freed up funds,” he said. “I can plow those funds directly into research to help the dairy industry.”
In the near future, he continued, residents “can expect to see lots of forage crops on UVM land.”  Josie Davis, associate dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and overseer of day-to-day farm operations, said on-farm resources now sustain the herd. “Right now we can grow all the corn we need.”

Short-term goals include extensive planning for the Horticultural Research Center over the summer, more solar panels on site, and possibly some sheep. Students are involved in brainstorming, said Davis.

The board asked about plans for a cluster of UVM plots around the intersection of Spear and Swift Street, currently zoned by the university for residential use. Ravin said UVM has no plans currently to develop them, but cautioned: “I can’t tell you there’s never going to be plans.”

After some roundly supported encouragement for the university to bring back the old dairy bar—”the only place to get coffee ice cream,” recollected Sue Alenick—the Planning Commission thanked the representatives for their input.

Vogelmann, in turn, appreciated the opportunity to set the facts straight. “I never cease to be amazed about some of the rumors I hear about things that we’re supposedly doing. They’re quite creative.”

SOURCE: Eric Blokland, Correspondent