A number of residents are vehemently against Dorset Meadows, a 164-unit planned unit development proposed in the city’s Southeast Quadrant (SEQ) south of Nowland Farm Drive on Dorset Street. The proposal has come before the Development Review Board (DRB) twice this summer, and each time it has drawn residents troubled by an extensive list of issues including—but not limited to—density, wildlife, safety, traffic, and character of the neighborhood.
The plan proposes to subdivide two existing parcels for a total of 71.9 acres with a mix of single-family homes, townhomes, duplexes, and an existing single-family home. The area 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 have been some changes made to the plan since the first meeting on July 17, such as increasing the drive lane width on the central avenue to 10-feet from eight feet, adding pedestrian bump-outs along the main-south road at the central avenue and at the northern intersection for traffic calming, and working with the state and federal wetland programs about permitting a connection to Dorset Street. The board requested stronger accessibility of open space in the center of the project.
Residents are calling on the board to put the brakes on this project, and some have asked to cease development as a whole in South Burlington. From personal anecdotes from residents directly affected to those who travel to the area for passive recreation, community members have spoken out, which has prompted the board to repeatedly share the city process.
“This application is in sketch, so it is non-binding,” explained DRB Chair Bill Miller at a continued sketch plan hearing on Aug. 7. He proceeded to clarify the DRB’s role as a quasi-judicial board, which is charged with reviewing applications in the context of the Land Development Regulations (LDRs). At the legislative level, the bodies that have the authority to change the LDRs are the planning commission and city council, he said.
Even so, residents have asked the board to use discretion where possible.
“I don’t envy the position you’re in,” said Elizabeth Cheng-Tolmie of Old Schoolhouse Road. “…I can’t just stay silent, which is my nature. I really appeal to some sensibility. Where can you just reign it in before it’s gone? It’s going. We know this.”
Andrew and Alyson Chalnick are new homeowners in South Burlington and shared their reaction with the board.
“We just moved from New Jersey. Every little piece that could be developed was developed and is not really a great place to live,” explained Mr. Chalnick. Upon learning that Transfer Development Right (TDR) bylaws are discretionary, he made an “emotional plea,” to “exercise that discretion in a way that preserves the character of this neighborhood…so that South Burlington doesn’t become New Jersey.”
“I’m living under boxes, and I literally can’t believe I packed up my family after 20 years to move to this beautiful state to now have to face this right next to my house,” Mrs. Chalnick added. “It’s very disheartening for me as a mother, and I’m concerned for the safety of my children.”
In order to reach 164 units, the developer will need to purchase Transfer Development Rights (TDRs) for 78 units over the base density, resulting in protecting 65 acres in another part of the SEQ. TDRs are a mechanism in which certain areas of the SEQ intended to be open in perpetuity have transfer development rights to “send” to other districts within the SEQ that are planned for denser development (“receiving districts”). 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.
When asked what criteria go into the board’s discretion of use of TDRs, the city’s Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner provided this explanation: “The ‘may’ [language in the LDRs] is an output of all of the standards that determine the appropriateness for housing or other type of development on a particular site,” he said. “It’s not a discretionary decision of its own; it’s an output of all the other standards that come through.”
Criteria for instance could include the presence of wetlands, the maximum height of buildings, the types of buildings, among other factors.
Several residents are now being represented by attorney Daniel Seff, who is also a resident. Seff submitted a letter to the board first asking that the application be put on hold until an environmental court decision in the Snyder Group case is made, as it could moot this pending application; the board decided to proceed with sketch. Seff also states that the overall residential density cannot include the acreage from the open space held in perpetuity if TDRs are granted (the board and staff agreed), that the board should use discretion with TDRs, appealed to a request for a reduction in side setback regulations for smaller housing types, urged for wildlife protection, and other documented concerns.
Two board members recused themselves due to conflicts of interest: Brian Sullivan and John Wilking; the latter is an abutter in the area and provided a comment as a neighbor.
“When this project was brought forward initially to planning and zoning, it was actually quite a bit smaller, and I think it was planning and zoning that encouraged it to enlarge,” Wilking said. “I only point out that it can be smaller, the developers actually brought something smaller, and I’d appreciate it being smaller.”
Paul O’Leary of O’Leary-Burke Associates confirmed that they initially had plans between 100-130 units with larger single-family lots. The city encouraged more development with a mix of housing types and sizes.
“We’re still over 100 units below the maximum density that we’re allowed on this parcel,” he said. The maximum density for the project is 267 units.
There is no date set yet for the next hearing, which will be preliminary plat, where more details will be vetted, and a traffic study will be conducted. All DRB meetings can be viewed on CCTV.org, and comments are welcomed in any form.
“We read every single letter that comes to us, honestly,” Matt Cota, board member, encouraged. “Please feel free to submit comments in writing.”
The DRB meets every first and third Tuesday of every month at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall unless otherwise noted. The planning commission, the board that revises the LDRs and city’s Comprehensive Plan, meets every second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall.
SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent