The South Burlington City Council is attempting to take a less emotional and more proactive role as it navigates Burlington’s new zoning laws and a possible concert venue move. 

Council Chair Helen Riehle admitted at a meeting July 1 that the council might have been late to the table in sharing concerns with Burlington officials over a zoning change that would enable Higher Ground to move from Williston Road to Burlington’s South End. Now, the council will write a declaration with South Burlington’s official concerns to Burlington’s city council, mayor and development review board (DRB).

On June 17, Burlington City Councilors approved a new zoning law that lifts a 5,000 square foot cap on development in the South End. Residents of South Burlington’s Queen City Park – located near Red Rocks Park – expressed concerns with traffic, nuisance, noise and safety issues posed by a possible Higher Ground move to the abutting South End – which is now possible under new zoning laws. The South Burlington City Council agreed there could be hazards with a club in that area of Burlington. It should be noted that while a potential Higher Ground move has been discussed, there has not yet been an official announcement that the venue will move to Burlington.

South Burlington city councilors were shocked by Burlington’s June 17 vote on new zoning laws. 

“I feel compelled to speak candidly with you to let you know how deeply disappointed I am that you could not hold off on voting on this zoning change until your next regular meeting in order to hear from South Burlington Councilors and city staff,” councilor Meaghan Emery wrote to the Burlington City Council.

But at the July 1 South Burlington city council meeting, Riehle said the South Burlington councilors and city officials had been late in joining the conversation around Burlington’s new zoning regulations vote. Notice was sent to South Burlington’s planning commission prior to Burlington’s vote, she said. 

“We just didn’t get into the conversation soon enough, and that was our responsibility and we didn’t, because the notice did go to the planning commission,” she said. “I don’t think all is lost, I think it’s an opportunity for the two communities to work together.” 

Councilors Emery and Thomas Chittenden were not present at the July 1 meeting but had drafted a letter for the council to review and possibly approve sending to Burlington officials. 

The letter detailed concerns such as concert goers leaving the venue and cliff jumping at Red Rocks Park and the challenge of getting emergency response vehicles to the South End, among other issues. 

Riehle suggested the letter could be strengthened by adding more technical concerns.

“If it’s coming from the city council, it probably ought to be more than some of the emotional, perhaps unsubstantiated assumptions,” she said. 

Riehle added that requesting to be a larger part of the conditional use discussion and calling on Burlington to conduct technical studies like traffic and sound impact – as residents had proposed during the discussion – could be a strong addition to the letter. 

According to City Manager Kevin Dorn, the next step in the process would be for Burton and Higher Ground to hash out details like rent, building outfitting requirements and changes to the parking lot. This discussion would result in an application they’d file with Burlington’s DRB. 

One resident asked Dorn if there would be an opportunity to comment during that time. Dorn replied he did not believe so given the nature of that conversation as a business discussion between landlord and tenant. 

“It becomes public in the permitting process,” he explained. “That’s where you can have maximum impact… It’s not allowed use, it’s conditional use and they’d have to meet certain obligations to the city of Burlington and to the abutters who get party status.”

Queen City Park resident Lori Hayes asked councilors where their letter would go and how it would help. Dorn replied that for “maximum effectiveness” the letter would be presented by South Burlington’s attorneys during the DRB review process for the project. Councilor David Kaufman added that residents should also send their concerns to Burlington officials.

“The only way this is going to work is if all these concerns are answered and answered responsibly,” Kaufman said. 

Despite all the hype, a Higher Ground to Burton Snowboards move is still speculative. The concert venue and Burton discussed a possible move to Burton’s plant in Burlington’s South End this January – but the move was partially contingent upon new zoning laws taking effect in the South End. The Other Paper reached out to Higher Ground co-owner Alex Crothers last week, but Crothers responded he would not comment on a potential move at this time. Burton Snowboards spokesperson Justin Worthley was traveling internationally for business and did not reply to the paper by press deadline. 

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