Visioning Week Workshop Considers Possibilities for Kmart Plaza

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Thursday August 29, 2013

If you are a Kmart shopper or simply traverse Shelburne Road with any frequency on bike or by car, you are familiar with the plaza that has been a fixture in South Burlington for years. But what if the vast open parking lot and its surroundings could become something else? What would it look like? These are just a couple of the questions that were considered as 30 people gathered in the parking lot for the city’s visioning week workshop, Monday, August 26.

South Burlington’s visioning week kickoff occurred August 22 at City Hall with a recap of the work accomplished during the February community visioning workshops, and  updates to the ‘place map’.  Monday’s workshop was the first of several on-site, interactive group meetings. The objectives of the place mapping and connectivity exercises that entail the bulk of these workshops are to have participants assess their neighborhoods collectively in a way that rarely, if ever, is done as a group. At the neighborhood scale level, participants have an opportunity to identify the assets that contribute to the sense of place and barriers that inhibit it. Facilitators from the Project for Public Spaces helped participants organize their thoughts to present their own ideas for growth and change to the City of South Burlington and its consultants. 

According to Paul Conner, Director of Planning and Zoning, “The desired outcome of this stage is a diagnosis of values, activities and reaction to physical form (e.g. the expansive parking lots along Route 7 make it uncomfortable to walk to shopping and dining) rather than actual solutions, although solutions can be discussed as starter ideas to help visualize the issues.”

On Monday, residents, realtors, property owners and City staff were divided into groups after gathering in the Kmart parking lot and asked to walk around the site and consider the possibilities at the intersection as well as on the property itself. Gary Toth, of the Project for Public Spaces encouraged individuals to think about what they would like to see there. Commercial redevelopment? Nothing? Toth said since the site will eventually be redeveloped, this was the chance to give advice to South Burlington that could help create what it becomes in the future. Some participants suggested the lot be used for affordable housing since the location is close to a grocery store and public transit. The creation of traffic calming devices and making the commercial retail space fit a pedestrian scale was also mentioned. As the mosquitoes and rain began to envelop the area, groups made their way back to City Hall. Each group gathered at a table with an aerial map of the area to sketch out their ideas for presentation. 

Ernie Pomerleau noted that the area could become the Market Street of that end of town or a second downtown and noted that envisioning development in concert with landowners, hotels, and offices is crucial. Paul Dreher added, “A great place is one you go to without a reason, but once you’re there you find a million reasons to stay.” 

Most groups echoed similar sentiments. Some said they would like to see the area become more pedestrian and bike friendly (bike overpasses) and the concept of a “neighborhood street bike boulevard” was mentioned, which could be situated as a pathway between Kmart and Hannaford Plaza. Currently, safety is an issue. Areas for improvement also included suggestions for increasing the sociability of the site by having a convention center or ice skating pond created, or adding amenities such as flowers and benches, which would give people a reason to frequent the area aside from shopping. Most saw the capacity for commercial as well as residential growth in the form of both affordable and senior housing. 

The evening wrapped up with open conversation about the scope of many possibilities and true public engagement. If you’d like to have your voice heard, you have a chance to attend the Thursday, August 29 visioning meeting regarding Eastwoods/Farrell Street. People will meet at Cathedral Square at 6:30 p.m. or you can contact City officials with your feedback on the workshops.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent