The Underwood Park Master Plan has been selected as one of nine Vermont projects to receive a 2018/2019 Public Places Award.

Plans for the 60-acre parcel have been six years in the making since it was purchased by the city in 2013. The Underwood Park Master Plan earned a Merit Award – one of two levels of awards – for demonstrating an excellence in planning, design or regulations that promote positive, public uses and benefits. SE Group, Wiemann Lamphere Architects, and City of South Burlington are the recipients of the award, which will be formally presented on Wednesday, March 13, at the Vermont State House in Montpelier.

In order to be considered for the accolade, projects must be located in the state and available to the public, and they may be in any stage of planning, from mature projects in place to those more conceptual in nature. These studies, plans, or regulations must encourage public space, networks of public spaces and connective corridors and strive to either create, preserve or enhance interior or exterior public space or link open spaces in Vermont. Green infrastructure planning, wildlife management, historic preservation, community planning, recreation planning and design are just a handful of components admissible in submissions.

The program is co-sponsored by the Vermont Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Vermont Planners Association and the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program, a partnership of University of Vermont Extension and the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.

All entries were assessed by five jurors, all of whom have experience with landscape architecture, community planning and research in the public, private, or academic settings.

The History of Underwood

It all began when a realtor approached the city with a proposal. The property owner envisioned the land, which sits on the corner of Spear Street and Nowland Farm Road, would serve well as a park with views of Lake Champlain. South Burlington seized the opportunity and purchased the parcel in February 2013.

The purchase resulted in a down payment of $1 million from the city’s Open Space Fund toward the Marie Underwood Revocable Trust, followed by three annual payments of $220,000. The Open Space Fund collects $0.01 cent on the tax rate annually, totaling about $280,000 a year to pay for maintenance and acquisition of open space or park lands.

Next, the five-person Underwood Task Force was formed in February 2014 and included members from the Recreation and Parks Committee, Bike/Pedestrian Committee, Natural Resources Committee, and the former Sustainable Agriculture Subcommittee.

The city contracted with the SE Group in November 2014 to form the framework. The consultant met with the task force five times, conducted two site visits, two public meetings and workshops, and provided an online comment form. The framework was presented in March 2015.

Three themes for future use emerged from the visioning process: agriculture, natural resources, and recreation, all of which the public expressed interested in.

In January 2017, the city contracted with SE Group again to complete the master planning process. SE Group teamed with Wiemann Lamphere Architects to help with the building design in the master plan.

The process has included stakeholder meetings, committee meetings (Recreation and Parks, Bike/Pedestrian, Natural Resources, Common Roots, Energy Committee), an on-site event with hot air balloons, an online survey conducted in the fall of 2017, a public workshop, a draft plan web comment form, and finally a presentation to city council in March 2018.

“We held a well-attended visioning session in City Hall,” recalled Jennifer Kochman, chair of the Recreation and Parks Committee. “Then we held a visioning walk-around session on the site. We have been recipients of very generous donations to see completion of certain features, and we encourage people to donate. This property, with its spectacular views and unique features offers opportunities not available in our other city parks.”

Design Solutions

The project consists of a few core elements: natural resource conservation, agriculture, recreation, and event and education space. These elements take into consideration Underwood Park’s relation to South Burlington’s Park and Recreation system, connectivity to other surrounding parks and recreation, as well as other recreational programming around education, agriculture, and conservation.

Natural resources conservation was identified as the element with the largest emphasis from the public and would encompass a significant portion of the project.

The Master Plan outlines two boardwalk crossings over the Munroe Brook wetland area, as well as an existing trail network in the conserved forest habitat to help minimize impacts on the sensitive ecosystem. The plan highlights removal of invasive plant species, defined meadow areas, stormwater management practices like rain gardens to help treat impervious areas, and a cistern at a proposed event barn structure to capture rainwater for irrigation and promote more sustainable agricultural operations.

Furthermore, the plan stresses a goal of net-zero energy via photovoltaic panels, a well-insulated building envelope, and other measures, in order to guide future development in the park. Interpretive signs and information throughout the property would highlight the park’s ecology, restoration efforts, and stormwater management identified in the plan.

From the agricultural perspective, the project aims to “pay homage to the land’s agricultural heritage,” by identifying educational opportunities for the community, adding amenities to support those opportunities, and evaluating prime soil conditions and shared resources – such as a water source and storage shed – within the site.

Community agriculture (tilled fields, orchards, etc.), raised beds/accessible gardens, community gardens, and community garden support facilities like storage and hose bibs are some of the noted components under this pillar of the project. Planned agriculture and garden areas incorporate existing agricultural uses; they are farmed by the non-profit, Common Roots. A proposed event barn would serve several host a variety of purposes like support camps and classes geared toward sustainable agriculture education. Conserved fields/wildflowers and meadows, stone walls, mowed lawn, and gravel paths all contribute to an agrarian character for the site.

Visitors would be able to enjoy both passive and active forms of recreation. For passive, use of the aforementioned trail network, gravel paths, mowed paths, dirt trails, boardwalks, and a paved multi-use path that bisects the property north to south (with a potential connection to the South Point neighborhood) are offered. For active recreation, the project shows a park with an open field for informal activities, a tucked away tree house, a natural play area with a lawn/picnic area, and a pump track for cross-country, skiing, and other forms of recreation, are included.

Finally, the plan establishes an event and education space, which supports a venue for private and public events, kids camps, and classes to promote education and awareness in the park. The previously-mentioned event barn would be the space utilized for a variety of purposes, coupled with outdoor spaces such as lawn areas and a stone terrace to serve as additional venues for events.

To accommodate visitors, there would be support facilities such as on-street parking with bump outs and a sidewalk along Nowland Farm Road, a drop-off area with ADA parking, and a compact gravel parking lot within park with overflow parking (lawn) to address parking needs.

Project updates

“Our first step in giving life to this plan is to complete assessments of the natural attributes of the landscape,” explained Director of Recreation and Parks Holly Rees. “We recently contracted to have a wetland delineation completed and are lucky to have two South Burlington Master Naturalists who have taken on the spring project of an ecological assessment of this parcel. By May, we anticipate having both reports back and will then be working within the Recreation and Parks Committee and Natural Resources Committee to review the results and discuss how these will shape the current plan; focusing initially on access and connectivity.”

Current updates, according to Rees, include:

Agriculture: Common Roots will be actively farming on their leased acreage on the Spear Street slope

Natural Resources: Ecological assessment in-progress with South Burlington Master Naturalists; wetland delineation is completed; Invasive management is being documented and will start contracted removal this spring.

Education: Seasonal walks for animal, plant and bird identification are being planned for the summer and fall months

Recreation: Rec Path mapping will be based on wetland delineation and ecological assessment results

Cost

The project team provided a cost estimate broken down into three phases, which was shared with city council a year ago. The first phase would focus more on access and passive recreation opportunities with an estimated site cost between $720,000 - $880,000. It should be noted that all the cost estimates associated with the project were made in 2017. The event facility would not be included in the first phase.

The second phase — including gardening, active recreation, and viewing opportunities — is estimated to be between $936,000 - $1,144,000. The estimated building costs (i.e. farm/garden shed with public restrooms), would run from $85,000 - $104,000.

The third and final phase focuses on the event facility and project completion with items such as the barn, event lawns and remaining landscaping, patio/terrace, among others. The estimated site cost is between $813,000 - $994,000, and the estimated building cost runs from $878,000 - $1,027,000.

“We will be looking more comprehensively at numbers in the coming months, once we know where those two reports stand,” Rees confirmed. “For now, I think the community is well-served knowing what we are currently working on and celebrating this success!”

Recreation and Parks Committee will establish a timeline for each phase based on costs and funding needs and the recommendation would then be presented to city council for approval.

Formal recognition

The project team for the Underwood Master Plan, and all recipients, will be recognized at a special ceremony and reception on March 13 from 4-6 p.m. in the Cedar Creek Room at the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier. The public is invited to attend.

“We’re thrilled to have the Underwood Master Plan receive a Vermont Public Places Merit Award,” said Paul Conner, South Burlington’s director of planning and zoning. “The development of this Master Plan, and the Underwood Vision before it, were the product of great and thoughtful community engagement. We thank everyone who participated in building this Plan. We’re also delighted with the work that SE Group did to encapsulate the community’s feedback and direction into a great roadmap for the future.”

Visit http://go.uvm.edu/vtucf-awards for more information regarding the Public Places Awards Program.

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