A proposed 164-unit planned unit development, Dorset Meadows, has residents alarmed by the rate of development in the city, sparking questions about how it will change the character of the Southeast Quadrant (SEQ), how it will impact wildlife, traffic and safety, and how residents can push for changes in city regulation at an earlier stage.
The sketch plan from Dorset Meadows Associates, LLC drew a packed audience at the July 17 Development Review Board meeting. The plan proposes to subdivide two existing parcels totaling 71.9 acres and developed with one single-family dwelling into approximately 126 lots for the purpose of a 164-unit residential planned unit development consisting of 113 single-family homes, 18 units in townhomes, 32 units in two-family dwellings, and one existing single-family home in the city’s SEQ south of Nowland Farm Drive on Dorset Street.
The project— presented by Paul O’Leary of O’Leary-Burke Associates, LLC and Michael Buscher, landscape architect at T.J. Boyle Associates— is in three different zoning sub-districts: Neighborhood-Residential, Village-Residential, and the Natural Resource Protection District—the latter of which is undevelopable; some of the property is located within the Dorset Park View Protection District.
There are significant wetlands to the east of the property, and the plan shows a single wetland crossing. The applicant has met with the Army Corps of Engineers and with the State who have indicated the need for only one crossing. The city desires a connection to Dorset Street where there is currently a driveway easement; options to the south are being explored.
Additionally, the plan shows a stream along the border between the Village Residential and Natural Resource districts, an open green with views of Camel’s Hump, and a natural wooded-area in the NRP District.
Along with greenspace and circulation, Buscher also walked through residential typologies and street typologies. A north to south recreation path connecting Nowland Farm Road to the southern property line is also included.
As outlined in the Land Development Regulations (LDRs), the purpose of the SEQ is to encourage open space preservation, scenic view and natural resource protection, wildlife habit preservation, continued agriculture, as well-planned residential use.
To enforce this, the SEQ is eligible for transfer of development rights (TDRs) by purchasing the development rights of another parcel and transferring it to a parcel that is planned for denser development, thus leaving the former parcel open in perpetuity. The base density in the SEQ is 1.2 units per acre. The total allowable density in the Neighborhood Residential is four units per acre and up to eight units per acre on developable land in the Village Residential sub-district.
“The max density for the project is 267. With the proposed 164 units, they need to purchase developable rights for 78 units over their base which results in the protection of 65 acres elsewhere,” explained Marla Keene, the city’s development review planner.
Several residents whose homes are in the surrounding project area spoke in opposition of the project.
“This just shows more irresponsible growth in South Burlington,” said Louise Hammond. She has lived on Shea Drive for 12 years. “There’s Cider Mill, South Village, O’Brien Farm - thousands of homes that are being built, and at five o’clock today, on Zillow, there were 440 homes for sale in Chittenden County, and 112 of those were in South Burlington.”
With respect to wildlife, she cited that she has counted 84 diverse types of birds and that continued development will change the character of the area. Fellow residents added deer, fox, bobcat, and a variety of other critters to the list.
“South Burlington doesn’t feel like South Burlington anymore,” she added.
Randall Kay of Old Cross Road also shared his concern for impacts to wildlife, stating that, “whatever you do, you need to come up with a plan so we don’t lose the higher-level species. We hope to continue to have more than just squirrels and chipmunks.”
Kay also inquired about building heights, stormwater runoff, and how use of pesticides will be prevented.
Dunia Partilo, a new resident of Shea Drive since September, explained that development has resulted in several animals encroaching on residents’ properties. “They come to our homes because you keep destroying their land. They go to our homes because that will be the only land that will be left.”
Safety, traffic, pollution and changing the character of the existing neighborhood were common themes from residents.
“I’m not against development. We need development in Vermont. We need people, we need homes,” said Noah Hyman of Dorset Street. “but this changes the fabric of South Burlington.”
“This—just like Cider Mill, just like South Village, and all other developments— is completely in accord with the plan that has been established at the municipal level in South Burlington,” explained the board’s chair, Bill Miller.
The plan he referenced is the city’s Comprehensive Plan—a document which maps South Burlington’s goals and objectives to evolve in the coming 20 years. The plan is updated every five years.
Board members also referenced the Land Development Regulations (LDRs), the city’s zoning and subdivision regulations. The South Burlington Planning Commission is charged with updating these regulations as they relate to the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The responsibility of enforcement is handed to the Development Review Board, which mandates the regulations while reviewing development applications.
Mark Behr, the board’s longest-sitting member, explained that plans for the SEQ have been discussed and planned as far back as 1992 when a Southeast Quadrant Study was created. To preserve more open space in the SEQ, an agreed-upon moratorium was made among the city, residents, and developers in deciding which open space to preserve and which spaces within the SEQ to reserve for higher density development, he explained. There are SEQ-specific guidelines outlined in the Land Development Regulations that the board follows.
“That’s the unfortunate reality—when we get neighbors who see the green space that has been enjoyed for years and decades, but [development] has always been planned. It’s our job as a board to review these projects under the regulations,” he said.
“Under whose purview is it to take a step back?” asked Marge Meyer of Old Cross Road. “This feels like it’s stepped over a boundary.”
“You are in the wrong forum. The correct forum is the planning commission. We have no power to change the regulation,” board member Frank Kochman explained. “We are powerless to do what is ‘right,’ whether we agree if it’s right or not. This could be cathartic for you to come here, even at-length, but it is futile because we don’t have jurisdiction to address the issues you’re raising.”
Although the DRB cannot change the regulations, members encouraged the public to attend planning commission meetings as a means of taking a proactive stance.
The proposed development will be required to seek Master Plan approval within six months of the final sketch plan hearing. The development will be subject to subdivision standards, site plan, standards, and the Southeast Quadrant standards, including design review.
The board moved to continue the next hearing to August 7. Board members Brian Sullivan and John Wilking recused themselves due to conflicts of interest.
SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent