Is it time for Burlington to grow up? The skyline downtown could be about to change.
Two 14-story residential towers that would be the tallest buildings in Burlington are being proposed as part of the $200 million makeover of the Burlington Town Center mall. That was the news at a meeting about its proposed redevelopment Tuesday, although it was buried in the fine print of a handout at the session, which drew about 100 people.
City zoning would have to change for the towers to go up. Burlington is a low-rise city. Current height limits allow buildings of up to 105 feet, which usually translates to 10 or 11 stories tops, said David White, the city director of planning and zoning, during a break at the presentation.
The 14-story buildings would be built on the Cherry Street side of the project that could refashion the heart of Burlington's downtown. The mall renovation would create new street entrances for retailers on Bank and Cherry streets and a redesigned Church Street entrance to better blend in with surrounding historic buildings. The mall's interior would accommodate both large retailers and small boutiques.
The project calls for 320,000 square feet of new office space, several rooftop parks, a two-level underground parking garage with about 450 spaces and new pass-throughs for pedestrians on St. Paul and Pine streets.
Sherida Paulsen, architect
The plans also call for about 300,000 square feet of new residential space. That would translate to around 300 units, give or take, with 20 percent reserved as affordable housing in conformance with city ordinances.
Sherida Paulsen, the New York-based architect for the project, which has not yet entered the permitting phase, was one of many speakers who said that if there is anywhere Burlington should build higher, it's on the mall property. People at the meeting were taking in the idea of a new height limit.
Charles Simpson, treasurer of the group Save Open Space Burlington, didn't immediately agree with the argument that building higher downtown would prevent sprawl in the city's limited green spaces. He wants to see renderings that would show how the proposed buildings would affect Burlington's skyline, and how big of a shadow they would cast on the street.
Burlington City Councilor Max Tracy, a Progressive representing Ward 2, has a number of questions about increasing the city height limit, but sees some advantages. "I think if we are going to go up, this is the place to do it." He'd like to see the architects go for a noteworthy design, especially if they puncture the existing skyline. "I think that there is a real opportunity to do something that's iconic, that's architecturally stunning," he said.
The tallest building in Burlington is the 11-story, 124-foot Decker Towers on St. Paul Street, according to Emporis Standards, an international real estate data service. The 1971 Decker Towers apartments is also the tallest building in Vermont. Other buildings over 100 feet in Burlington include the 10-story Cathedral Square senior housing tower and the eight-story Westlake Residences.