Development Review Board members

From left, Development Review Board members Jennifer Smith, vice-chair Matt Cota, and chair Bill Miller, and development review planner Marla Keene. 

Though changes have been made to the Dorset Meadows planned unit development project proposal in the Southeast Quadrant since its introduction to the Development Review Board this summer, the concerns of several residents alarmed by the project and the overall rate of development in the city are unwavering.

Dorset Meadows, which would be situated south of Nowland Farm Drive with Dorset Street to the east in the Southeast Quadrant, was reviewed at the sketch level earlier this year at the July 17 and Aug. 7 DRB meetings. The project – located in the Neighborhood-Residential, Village-Residential, and the Natural Resource Protection District subdistricts – has drawn sharp criticism regarding the pace of development as well as impacts to wildlife, the environment, traffic, safety, and character of the region.

The project team for Dorset Meadows Associates, LCC returned to the board on Dec. 18 with revisions to the plan at the preliminary plat level, as well as an introductory master plan, the latter of which is a required step in the planned unit development or subdivision review process for developments of more than 10 dwelling units in the Southeast Quadrant.

The original plan called for the subdivision of two existing parcels for a total of 71.9 acres to accommodate a 164-unit planned unit development with a mix of single-family homes, townhomes, duplexes, and an existing single-family home.

The project has since been trimmed down to 151 dwelling units to include 95 single family homes, 20 dwelling units in two-family homes, 35 dwelling units in multi-family homes, and one existing home. The application also outlines conserving 15.80 acres on-site and approximately 56 acres off-site through the purchase of 67.4 Transfer Development Rights.

The Transfer Development Rights Program is a mechanism that allows a developer to purchase the development rights of another parcel and transfer it to a parcel that is planned for denser development, leaving the former parcel in perpetuity. These are also referred to as “sending” and “receiving” districts; the TDR Program is currently only used in the Southeast Quadrant and is intended to further the goals of the Southeast Quadrant’s existence: encourage open space preservation, scenic views and natural resource protection, wildlife habitat preservation, continued agriculture, and well-planned residential use.

The base density in the Southeast Quadrant is 1.2 units per acre. The total allowable density in the Neighborhood Residential zone is four units per acre and up to eight units per acre on developable land in the Village Residential sub-district.

The possibility of extending the program to other areas of the city has been discussed by the planning commission, the seven-member group of South Burlington citizens that is charged with overseeing revisions to the Land Development Regulations, updating the Comprehensive Plan, and undertaking planning studies.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Michael Buscher, landscape architect at T.J. Boyle Associates walked the board through additional elements, such as changes made to the distribution of green spaces, inclusion of recreation paths, passive and more active recreation elements, and landscaping. The board and project team went through staff notes for both the master plan and preliminary plat regarding high-level as well as granular points.

Ultimately, the preliminary plat and master plan will be continued for a number of reasons, one of which is that a boundary line adjustment was made, which will require a revised plan for accuracy measures. More specifically, a request was made for the boundary line between the SEQ- Neighborhood Residential district and the SEQ- Natural Resource Protection district to be relocated 50-feet to the west of the project, which is allowed under the Land Development Regulations Section 15.03C. To help replace the lands removed from the SEQ-NRP, the applicant proposes to include conserved lands adjacent to the Natural Resource Protection District within the SEQ- Neighborhood Residential District.

The applicant has a laundry list of items to attend to for a continued session, including discussion of the traffic analysis; the project proposes access on the northern part of the property on Nowland Farm Road and access on the east from Dorset Street.

Legal Matters and Public Discussion

Since two meetings at the sketch, some residents have enlisted Daniel Seff, a South Burlington resident and attorney, to represent them to appeal the project. Seff represents a total of 15 residents.

At the start of the meeting, Seff, in a written statement, requested that the DRB continue the meeting based on the findings he shared at the Nov. 20 DRB hearing appealing the decisions of the administrative officer that the master plan application (#MP-18-01) and preliminary plat application (#SD-18-29) for the project were complete as submitted on Sept. 26.

The arguments made at that time pressed that the sketch plan was still open and the DRB needed to approve sketch. Furthermore, Seff questioned the authority of who signed off on the sketch plan at a time when the former zoning administrative officer, Ray Belair, retired and the city transitioned to its new zoning administrator, Dalila Hall. Staff refuted those points by stating that sketch plan is a meeting, not a hearing, which does not require closing, and that staff who gave the sketch results a green light followed department protocol. Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner was also appointed by the city council to act as the administrative officer per the minutes of Aug. 7.

Despite Seff’s request to continue, the board decided to proceed with the preliminary plat and master plan applications. However, DRB member Frank Kochman directed the project team to a handout prepared with Seff’s assistance by those appealing known collectively as “Save Open Spaces South Burlington,” or “SOS South Burlington.”

The handout explains how the project is in violation of the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulations. Kochman pointed to a blown up graphic showing a large portion of the proposed project. The graphic shows that the project sits in a Riparian Connectivity area, which is a primary conservation area that is “off limits to development,” as stated in the Comprehensive Plan.

“I’m letting you know you have a serious issue,” he said. “Talk to your lawyer, in addition to whoever else you talk to, and come back with how this fairly dramatic overlay does not effectively violate the relevant section of the Land Development Regulations, which is 15.18(A)(10).”

“They’re supposed to protect this area, not destroy it,” Seff later stated. “Look at that portion of 9.06(B)(3): ‘Existing natural resources shall be protected through the development plan,’ – not ‘should’ not ‘may.’ ‘Shall.’”

Ray Gonda, a South Burlington resident of 35 years, spoke as an outdoorsman and a trapper in opposition to the project.

“When you become a trapper, if you’re going to be successful, you have to learn the habits, the signs, the food sources, where they live, how they travel, in order to target that animal to trap it,” he explained.

Gonda proceeded to talk about how he photographed a mink at the brook crossing on Nowland Farm Road.

“I come here not as a credentialed expert but as a practical expert… I know how animals use that corridor,” he said.

“It’s not identified as a wildlife corridor, but in reality, it is because we blocked off the other wildlife corridors and built over their homes,” said Rosanne Greco, a resident of Four Sisters Road. “Remember climate change. Remember the balance of nature. As we destroy their homes, we destroy them. We had a big influx of rabbits this year because their predators are gone… We are all connected. Please keep that in mind.”

Tracy Perrapato, also of Four Sisters Road, spoke of the dangers of pesticides and how the contribution of these homes are “going to add significantly to the pollution of the creek and of the lake.”

She described an observation of the methods used to study traffic in the proposed project area.

“They didn’t have a strip (counting cars),” she said. “The guy was sitting in his truck pushing a button on a summer morning when school wasn’t in session, didn’t take into effect the increase in homes that are being built here on Spear at South Village or the increased homes being built at Cider Mill that are all going to funnel into Dorset and Spear.”

Art Shields, a Dorset Street resident who lives across from where the proposed entrance to the development would be, questioned the lot sizes and dimensions as well as the landscaping budget. Given his proximity to the proposed project, the topic of front yard setbacks was a concern.

“We went to where it was a 400-foot setback from Dorset Street, and how we’re talking about what might be 15 feet from Dorset Street. Right now, there are no multi-family units between Old Cross Road and Swift Street, so this is definitely a change in the character of the neighborhood.”

Wilking, who recused himself from the board but participated as a member of the public, provided a viewpoint with both sides of the table in mind.

“This is a dramatic shift,” he said. “I understand the planning commission called my neighborhood Village Residential, but it isn’t. This is a vast change in the style and substance of the neighborhood. I think that’s fine, it is what it is, but have a little understanding of buffering and of scale.”

Sarah Dopp, a resident and president of the South Burlington Land Trust was flustered to hear of the boundary line shift in relation to the Natural Resource Protection District.

“I don’t think you just move lines around arbitrarily. I think you have bodies that consider those kinds of changes,” she said.

Marla Keene, the city’s development review planner, cited a passage from the Land Development Regulations that supports the decision that the board may, at its discretion, approve a request to relocate a boundary line of a zoning district up to 50-foot in either direction for planned unit or subdivision applications involving land in two or more zoning districts.

“The applicant has looked at this and said, ‘well, our interpretation is that it makes sense to put it at the top of the slope break.’ Staff has discussed this with them and said, ‘well, if you’re going to do that, that needs to be compensated for elsewhere,’” Keene said.

Wilking, later in his statement, said he was not convinced that the compensated green space was enough.

“The change of the 50-foot line, we have done that but it took like three nights of discussion in order to add units,” he said. “Fifty feet on those lots is a big deal, and what they’re getting for it is not. Very little green spaces and backyards. That’s just not acceptable. It wouldn’t have been acceptable on the O’Brien Farm when we did it, and it shouldn’t be acceptable here.”

The applicant also heard from David Crawford, chair of the Natural Resources Committee, which will share its viewpoints with the applicant and the board. In a written statement from the committee, its members, “expressed concern and frustration for the fact that, unlike other city committees, the NRC was not invited to provide perspective on the possible impact of development in an area that possesses a great amount of natural resources.” The applicant and board have additional written statements from various committees and individuals since the last sketch plan.

“Right now I will vote against it almost on the grounds set forth in Seff’s memo,” Kochman said as the final word to the project team. “I’m hoping to hear a contrary argument on the points that he raises.”

The meeting has been continued for Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019 at 7 p.m.

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