After breaking ground on a new residential community project over a year ago for Hillside at O’Brien Farm, the second phase of the approved master plan project is now in motion.
O’Brien Brothers is a family-owned, South Burlington real estate development and management company founded by Daniel J. and Leo O’Brien Jr. Under the current president and CEO, Evan Langfeldt, O’Brien Brothers submitted a master plan to develop nearly 40 acres with a maximum of 458 housing units, 45,000 square feet of office space, a park, and other pedestrian amenities between Kennedy Drive, Kimball Avenue and Old Farm Road – all land many O’Brien family members grew up on decades prior. The master plan – which assessed wetland impacts, pedestrian access to abutting properties, street layout, pedestrian circulation and open space – was approved by the board early in 2017.
The first phase of this master plan accounted for 118 units made up of single-family and two-family homes. To date, 17 units have been built. The plan is to build the proposed units in the second phase concurrently with the remaining approved units from the initial phase.
“We’re ahead of our projected velocity in terms of sales,” Langfeldt said. “I think the reception from the buying public has been very positive. I think the neighbors have also received it well. They’ve seen what we’ve been putting up.”
On the contrary, mass removal of trees for the project has sparked conversation among some residents who have been alarmed by the rate of development in the city. Hillside at O’Brien Farm has been referenced by residents during other development review board public hearings regarding density, such as the proposed Dorset Meadows development in the Southeast Quadrant.
The current sketch plan application before the board for the second phase of construction on the Hillside project includes six multi-family residential units with 322 units for a total of 440 units between the two phases –18 units fewer than what is listed in the master plan. This application also includes 15,000 square feet of office space.
The planned unit development is in the Residential 12, Commercial 1 District with limited retail, and Residential 1-PRD zoning districts. The second phase of the property crosses all three zoning districts, but the majority is in the Residential 12 district.
“It’s a current site plan that’s somewhat limited by the site conditions,” Langfeldt explained to the board. “It’s built into a hillside, so there’s only so much parking you can realize. We’re still in a sketch plan application and will continue to refine our plans going forward. So, I’d like the opportunity, if we can, to realize some more [units] going forward.”
“It’s almost identical to what you see young people wanting today,” board member John Wilking said later in the evening after reviewing architectural renderings. “It’s a great opportunity, I think, and I just want to make sure you get the density you need to make it a success.”
Langfeldt and Andrew Gill, director of development at O’Brien Brothers, walked the board through requested height waivers, open spaces, landscaping, and architectural renderings. A traffic study was briefly mentioned; a traffic study was conducted for the full buildout of the master plan when the application was reviewed.
There will be three distinct building types with floor plans ranging from about 500-1,200 square feet. Though not discussed at the Feb. 5 meeting, the board and O’Brien Brothers team have woven an affordability aspect into the overall master plan when initial discussions took place in 2016.
According to a memo to the board from Gill, “The Project will be creating approximately 120-130 dwelling units in the City that are ‘affordable’ to people earning between approximately 80 percent and 100 percent of AMI (Area Median Income). This is more than one third of the units proposed by the Project which are targeted toward the lower half of the affordability spectrum that is specifically identified in the Comprehensive Plan.”
The project is also proposing to construct 67 smaller, efficient one-bedroom units priced below 90 percent of AMI.
Additionally, in this second phase, two non-residential structures are proposed. The larger of the two buildings is intended to be located at the top of the hill and include a plethora of amenities for nearby residences, including a pool, outdoor lounge, and other amenities. The second building serves as a placeholder for a small office building on the corner of Kennedy and Two Brothers Drive to be used for accessory tenant amenities and services as well as office space.
The board did not have many pressing issues with the sketch, but board member Frank Kochman had a few critiques, including one around open space.
“I remember being impressed by the quantity of recreation and green space you had here, but here’s the question: I’m an eight-year-old kid on the top floor of your most remote multi-family project. How far do I have to go to find a place to play ball?” he asked.
Langfeldt pointed to a football-shaped, landscaped public park in the middle of the project. O’Brien Park, a park with both open space and playground equipment, is about a third of a mile from the farthest multi-family units. Kochman requested they consider including small play areas closer to the multi-family buildings.
Shifting to the big picture vision of Hillside at O’Brien Farm, the project is intended to be a neighborhood attractive to a diversity of demographics.
“The plan is that you have these different styles of housing and different amenities, and different commercial spaces that are supporting the different styles of architecture and living styles,” Langfeldt explained. “Ideally, over time, you get a much more organic feel to the neighborhood as opposed to just saying ‘it’s 55 and older,’ or ‘it’s just a young professional neighborhood.’ You get everyone interacting in the community.”
The next phases of the application are preliminary and final plat, which will be warned as public hearings at a date to-be-determined. The development review board meets every first and third Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. at City Hall.