Two years ago, Champlain College began seeking permits to build a dorm in downtown Burlington. The Development Review Board turned the college down. Champlain appealed and came to a compromise, but by that time, two different groups of neighbors had filed suit.
Now, the last of those legal disputes has been settled, clearing the way for the 104-unit project known as Eagles Landing to move forward. The dorm would house 290 students off St. Paul Street, supplanting the vacant Eagles Club and a parking lot.
David Provost, Champlain's senior vice president for finance and administration, and Mayor Miro Weinberger — who's been a strong supporter of the project — celebrated the news at a press conference on campus Thursday. "I think this is a really good thing for the city," said Weinberger, who noted that it will generate roughly $400,000 in property tax revenue and will fill a need for student housing.
Neighbors raised concerns early in the process about the size of the building, its design and the impact it would have on parking.
Weinberger, who thanked Provost for his persistence, acknowledged that he had been unhappy with the delays. But both he and Provost said the process — though tortuous — ultimately resulted in a better building design. Joining them at the podium was Ron Wanamaker, a member of the nonprofit Preservation Burlington and one of those who pushed for a design that blended in with the neighborhood.
Provost showed slides of the new and improved design — the presentation was titled Arrested Development. Among the changes: different window design and cornice details, and a reduced elevation on the Browns Court side.
The city, the college and Preservation Burlington have also agreed to cofund a study of how to revitalize neighborhoods previously dominated by students — another priority of the Weinberger administration. The city and Champlain are each pitching in $25,000; Preservation Burlington is supplying $5,000.
Champlain College hopes to break ground this fall, but it still needs to complete the state's environmental review (Act 250), and it needs to find a new builder because REM Development dropped out due to the multiple delays.
Weinberger wants local colleges to build an additional 1,500 student beds, both on campus and downtown, to cut down on the number of students living in neighborhoods or "student ghettos." The mayor said that Champlain's experience shows the need for more predictability in the city's zoning ordinance, and that his administration's efforts to switch to form-based code would likely accomplish that.
Asked if he would have pursued the project had he known how difficult it would be, Provost responded, "Sadly, yes."