Community – it’s what Burton Snowboards hopes to create with a mixed-use hub at its warehouse facility in Burlington’s South End Arts District. Concert venue Higher Ground could be part of that equation.
But neighbors in abutting areas like Queen City Park, which accounts for 80 households, and Red Rocks Park insist that the scale of the project could hurt the existing community.
Concerns around safety, noise, traffic, emergency vehicle access and police presence have been raised repeatedly since talk of the Higher Ground move surfaced earlier this year. Those concerns were amplified at a Burton-hosted Sept. 30 public meeting at Queen City Brewery.
On June 17, the Burlington City Council approved a new zoning law that uplifts a 5,000 square foot development in the South End, which would allow Higher Ground to make the move from Williston Road in South Burlington.
The vote was made while a South Burlington City Council meeting was in session. All five councilors later signed and submitted a letter to Burlington.
South Burlington City Council Chair Riehle confirmed that she has since met with Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger.
“I don’t think South Burlington will have much direct conversation until an actual proposal is submitted to the Burlington (Development Review Board),” she stated. “Then we can share our city concerns officially and hopefully influence possible changes during the conditional use process.”
Burton plans to submit a conditional use application to the Burlington Development Review Board later this fall.
Additional components of the process include a traffic study, noise study, architectural design, upgrading a stormwater collection system, replacing the fire alarm control panel and other infrastructure work.
In July, residents formed the Citizens for Responsible Zoning in response to the proposal. There are approximately 30 members.
“We have a steering committee to represent all the many neighborhoods surrounding Burton 360 degrees,” member Wendy Bratt said. “They are like an amphitheater we learned this summer when they had an outdoor public gathering with music.”
On Sept. 30, Burton shared project details and introduced interested hub partners, including Talent Skatepark, the Chill Foundation, Mad Taco, Misery Loves Company and Higher Ground.
Sheets of paper occupied a wall with conditional use criteria, questions and concerns as well as mitigation measures that have been made. Attendees were asked to jot their comments on sticky notes and add them to the sheets.
Burton occupies 80 percent of its 150,000 square foot business split between two buildings. Since its continued growth is planned for international markets in the coming years, the company explored other uses to occupy the remaining 30,000-square-feet at its 266 Queen City Park Road facility.
The hub would “create something new and vibrant for the community” and help the business sustain its manufacturing and research and development functions by providing room, meals and property tax increases to Burlington’s tax base, explained Justin Worthley, Burton’s senior vice president of human resources.
Higher Ground plans between 100-120 events a year, confirmed co-owner and founder Alex Crothers and his business partner, Alan Newman. Burton’s facility would accommodate over 400 parking spaces. Added traffic will be mediated by the Champlain Parkway project.
“One of the reasons for trying to find a new home for this venue is that there are just some things that we just can’t do at our current place,” Newman said, such as expanding seating – especially for older patrons.
“The fire department will eventually set a capacity for us; we anticipate the capacity to be around 1,200 people.” he added. A moveable stage would help transform the space for smaller events.
Residents didn’t hold back when the floor opened for public comment.
“How can you not pay attention to the people who have worked so damn hard to afford, pay for and stay here while you build a hub?” asked Lynn Vera, a Queen City Park resident. “It’s the outdoor noise. It’s the lights. It’s the cars coming in and out. It’s the people [saying], ‘Let’s go take a leak in Red Rocks because the lines for the restroom are too long. It’s:‘Let’s go smoke a joint before we go to the concert.’”
Burlington resident Kyle Creason commented on how the presentation was framed.
“My main concern is that the presentation is making an argument that you want us to absorb up to 600 cars, pouring up and down our neighborhood streets at midnight to save you from a bad real estate deal.”
Meg Tipper, also of Burlington, offered a different perspective.
“Let’s get positive about this. Let’s figure out how to make this work,” she said. “Yes, we want to bring young people into Burlington, but we also want to keep the people who are here happy ... make some of your events friendly and accessible and open to this audience so we like coming to your venue.”
Councilors Riehle, Meaghan Emery, and Thomas Chittenden showed up for the event.
“The public is making reasonable arguments explaining why this Higher Ground project/zoning change is ill-conceived given the location, and as their representatives, we are prepared to bring their case to the [Development Review Board] forcefully,” Emery told The Other Paper.
“I would hope that, as a region, we could work to bring more highly skilled, better paid tech jobs here and zone for mixed use to include affordable workforce housing in these enterprise-light manufacturing areas. That would draw more young people to settle in our state,” she said.
Chittenden’s takeaway was that Burton appeared receptive to feedback.
“It seemed to me they truly have an open mind on this topic, and I’m optimistic that they might consider downsizing the performance venue to less than 500 seats with stricter/earlier permitted hours of operation,” he said.
Riehle said she is looking forward to a resolution that works for all involved.
“It appeared that Burton and Higher Ground are well aware of the issues. I hope they can resolve them to the greater community’s satisfaction.”
The public is encouraged to attend the Oct. 17 Burlington Ward 5 Neighborhood Planning Assembly (NPA) meeting. Citizens for Responsible Zoning is accessible at email@example.com and Worthley is available at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-651-0499.