Members of the city’s Natural Resources Committee kicked off the new year by meeting with the project team for Dorset Meadows, a 151-dwelling planned unit development proposed in the Southeast Quadrant south of Nowland Farm Drive and west of Dorset Street. The committee collected answers in order to devise a position statement to share with the Development Review Board before the continued preliminary plat and Master Plan hearings scheduled for Jan. 29.

At the last hearing on Dec. 18, staff recommended that the board continue the hearing to allow the development team to meet with the Natural Resources Committee, which until now had not had the chance to share its concerns and questions.

In a memo to the DRB, the committee noted five priority areas in its work plan that encompass various aspects of the community’s natural resources: tree stewardship, management of non-native invasive species, habitat connectivity, conservation of aquatic sources, and conservation of agricultural resources.

“While development is inevitable, the loss of our natural communities and open spaces are also a loss of our past identity as a farming community,” Betty Milizia, a veteran member of the committee, wrote in the memo. “The NRC has the ability to be the conscience reminding us all of these things.”

At the Jan. 2 NRC meeting, Brian Currier, project engineer at O’Leary Burke Associates, oriented the committee with the Dorset Meadows project and identified relevant wetlands, wetland buffers, river corridor, the Natural Resource Protection District, and the 500-year flood plain associated with the area.

In its memo to the DRB, the committee highlighted concerns related to the aforementioned priority areas, including wetland buffers and classifications, wildlife connectivity, tree removal/replacement, general landscaping, and alignment with the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

Currier, accompanied by landscape architect Mike Buscher with TJ  Boyle Associates, and Peter Kahn and Curt Montgomery of Dorset Meadows Associates, LLC, were available for comment throughout the process.

Per the committee’s wetland classification inquiry, Currier confirmed that the wetland was delineated by Gilman & Briggs Environmental in the fall of 2017. The delineation was then confirmed by the State Wetlands Program on June 20, 2018.The state classified all of the wetlands on the property as Class II, with the exception of a man-made farm pond that was built upland, and this was classified as a non-jurisdictional Class III wetland with no associated Class III buffer.

The committee also had concerns that the overlay map did not appear to match a map in the Comprehensive Plan showing primary conservation areas on a citywide scale. This map was traced back to the 2014 Open Space Report. The report identified most of the primary and secondary conservation areas using called Biofinder, an online mapping tool from the State of Vermont.

Currier explained that on the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources website, at the local level, it states, “BioFinder cannot replace site visits or site-specific data and analyses and should only be used to gain a general understanding of components likely at play.”

“The wetland buffer was field-verified by a wetland specialist and determined by the state and the Army Corps (of Engineers) that that’s where it is,” Currier said. “This map is to basically let you know that you need to look further into what’s there. It’s on a city wide scale. It can’t be used for parcel by parcel info to create a conservation boundary based on a city line map like this.”

In response to a question asking if structures were adequately located from the wetland buffer, the applicant will be applying for a wetland impact permit from the State of Vermont and the Army Corps of Engineers to construct the 18-foot-wide Trillium Street wetland crossing. Trillium Street is the proposed entrance into the property off of Dorset Street. There would also be a 10-foot recreation path against the curb.

Furthermore, after meeting with a representative of the state River Corridor and Floodplain Protection Program in July in assessing a perennial stream, it was determined that a 50-foot riparian buffer would be included within the wetland buffer for the project. A riparian buffer is a strip of vegetation along a stream or river that is left undisturbed. It protects the stream or riverbank from erosion due to adjacent land use. The riparian buffer would therefore allow connectivity for wildlife, and a proposed 6 foot culvert for the Trillium Street crossing was deemed appropriate for the Army Corps of Engineers and the state in regards to aquatic wildlife.

The committee also asked about forested land to the south and west of the proposed development, how many trees will be lost, and what would be preserved.

Currier said that approximately 1.4 acres of combined forested land and hedge row will be removed along the northwestern boundary of the proposed development site, and approximately 0.23 acres of forested land will be removed along the southern property boundary, for a total of about 1.63 acres of forested land and yard trees planned for removal.

In terms of trees, Buscher added that the project proposes to remove approximately 340 trees with a diameter of six inches or greater. The applicant will then replace those lost trees with about 760 street trees, not including the $150,000 of planting proposed around the duplex and multi-family buildings, or the various trees being planted within the open spaces throughout the development.

Committee member Duncan Murdoch encouraged using native species, which Buscher said that was “almost impossible.”

“There are about six or seven really native trees… half of those aren’t suitable for streetscape plantings,” he said.

Murdoch said that the new street trees will provide a diverse, site-specific tree selection that has been approved by the city arborist.

NRC Chair David Crawford said he would like to see developers contribute funding for tree replacement.

“I would hope in the future that the city has tree replacement funds that are funded partially by developers who plant these trees and make a contribution to it,” Crawford said. “Right now, that is not required. Would you be interested in volunteering to consider how that might work? It’s above and beyond what the regulations call for.”

“My personal feeling is that there’s also a whole lot of tax money coming out of these houses,” Kahn replied. “I know it’s a hot button issue. I’d really have to think on that.”

Within a large 70-acre space located on the western end of the project site, over 18 acres will be left open.

Crawford also asked if the developers would consider including an open space covenant on that acreage if the city was agreeable to it, and the idea is being considered.

Milizia introduced a new element near the end of the meeting.

“Two words: dog park,” said Milizia, who is a member of the city’s Dog Park Committee. “One out of three homes has a dog. There are over 6,000 dogs estimated in South Burlington now.”

“It would be great to have some trees in a dog park,” added committee member Linda Chiasson. She said it would break away from the standard open stretches of land found at many other dog parks.

“I imagine that would impact wildlife, too,” Murdoch added.

As a result of the discussion, the development team has committed to working on a conveyance for open space, working with the NRC in the future – particularly with regard to a management plan for the wildlife corridor, considering a funding mechanism for replacing street trees even after the maintenance enters city ownership, and assessing the feasibility for a dog park.

The committee decided to form a subcommittee consisting of three members who will solidify a position to share with the DRB. The findings from this subcommittee meeting will be shared at a special meeting of the NRC on Jan. 24  to cast an official vote. The time and location has not yet been publicly announced. The position will then be fielded to the DRB prior to the Jan. 29 hearing.

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