Visioning the Underwood Property

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Wednesday November 27, 2013

The Underwood property, bordering Spear Street and Nowland Farm Road near Overlook Park, was officially acquired by the city in February of 2013.  The 60 acre parcel of land which is identified on the city’s official map as a future park was purchased with funds from the city’s open Space Fund. This purchase represents the city’s largest acquisiton of property earmarked for public use since the Wheeler Nature Park was obtained in the early 1990s. The future use of the property was explored during the November18 City Council meeting.

During the summer of 2013, a portion of the land was approved for the use of growing corn by local resident and farmer John Belter, at no cost. Belter’s request to utilize the land for the same purpose in 2014 elicited discussion about the ongoing prospects for the property. After reviewing feedback from the Natural Resources and Recreation and Leisure Arts Committees, the Council decided to deny Mr. Belter’s request. Among the chief concerns were detrimental effects to the soil through pesticide use, and maintaining the ability for members of the community to traverse the entire property unencumbered. This decision will allow the city and residents time to envision what uses the land could encompass in the future.  

Ideas on process have already begun percolating among members of city committees. The Recreation and Leisure Arts Committee presented thoughts on next steps they have been considering in conjunction with the Natural Resources Committee. The committees would like to taking public input into account as they craft a vision for the property; therefore, at least two open meetings would be held; one for an initial idea-generating session and the next for a preliminary proposal presentation. The process would conclude with a finalized proposal to the City Council which would include cost estimates for development of a detailed site plan and any required improvements. 

Planning Commission member Sophie Quest explained that having such a property to study is very beneficial to topic related UVM  coursework.  There are several classes offered at UVM in the areas of natural resources, permaculture, and landscape design that send groups of students onto local properties to  analyze and make recommendations. There is no cost to the city associated with these studies, the students are overseen by their professor, and when they are finished, there is no obligation by the city to implement their plans. In fact, the city has already taken advantage of this mutually beneficial relationship with both Red Rocks and Wheeler Parks. 

Councilor Rosanne Greco was impressed with the committees’ enthusiasm and initiative and thought utilizing the partnership with UVM was a great avenue to explore. Pat Nowak, who was chairing the meeting in the absence of Pam Mackenzie, said she would prefer the staff review committee to look over their plans to determine next steps. Nowak plans to ask the committee to attend  the December 16 Council meeting to present a recommendation. 

In a letter to the Council, Chair of the Recreation and Leisure Arts Committee, Glenn Sproul wrote, “However the first step is made, I believe the first responsibility of the group leading the process should be to insure that all voices and ideas are listened to thoughtfully and respectfully.”  

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent