South Burlington Councilors Want Airport Buyouts to Stop | Off Message

South Burlington Councilors Want Airport Buyouts to Stop


City Councilor Meaghan Emery on Lily Lane - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • City Councilor Meaghan Emery on Lily Lane
The South Burlington City Council is asking — yet again — for officials to halt the airport buyouts of 39 homes in the Chamberlin neighborhood. This time around, councilors want the feds to hear their pleas.

Earlier this month, the council solicited help from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to put pressure on the Federal Aviation Administration. They want the FAA to run and pay for a noise study this year to predict what the sound levels will be like upon the arrival of the F-35s in 2019.

The council has also crafted a resolution to be voted on Monday night that will be delivered to the FAA with a long list of requests. Councilors want buyouts halted immediately. They want advance warning of noise mitigation studies that will affect the city. And they want to allow a cluster of already bought-out homes on Lily Lane to be transferred to Champlain Housing Trust.

Council chair Helen Riehle predicted that there’s only “a slim chance” that the resolution would halt the buyouts entirely. Nevertheless, she added, it is vital for the city “to say on record that it’s our fundamental belief that there shouldn’t be any more buyouts.”

The city could suffer a $163,000 loss in tax revenue if the airport demolishes all of the 39 homes after the sales, according to a letter the council drafted and planned to send to the FAA.

Last Tuesday, the five-member council listened to citizen input on the buyout issue for hours. More than 40 residents attended and most of them, said Councilor Meaghan Emery, asked the council to allow the home buyouts already under contract to proceed.

On Monday evening, the council will hold a special meeting to revise its resolution and hopefully, Riehle said, pass it. It’s a nonbinding resolution, she added, with no real power. Still, she’s expecting an even larger turnout at the meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

At the center of the debate are seven cottages around Lily Lane. According to Lily Lane residents who spoke with Seven Days in November, all of the homeowners planned to sell to the airport.

Now, some of those sales have hit a hiccup. Three of those cottages are currently under affordability covenants with the city of South Burlington, meaning those houses must be sold at affordable market rates in perpetuity. The airport can’t buy those homes until that contract is dissolved, said Riehle.

That means, for the first time in the process, the city has some leverage. City officials want the Lily Lane homes, which were built in 2010, to be saved or moved to another location. “We request that each deed be transferred at no cost or at a reduced cost to a third party, such as the Champlain Housing Trust, in order that the properties may be maintained as affordable housing for residential use,” the resolution read.

They’re also asking that the airport run a preliminary noise study on the effect the F-35s will have on the neighborhood. It could cost between $25,000 and $75,000 — estimates vary — but the FAA has agreed to foot the bill in similar situations around the country, said South Burlington city manager Kevin Dorn.

On Thursday, Dorn and Riehle were part of a contingent that talked for two hours with the airport’s director of aviation, Gene Richards. It was “really productive,” Richards said, though he added, “I don’t know how helpful [the resolution] is.”

On January 10, members of the council and city officials sat down with three members of Leahy’s office, said Dorn. The senator’s staff “agreed to research the issue,” said Leahy spokesperson David Carle.

Riehle said she did hear through Richards that the FAA would consider the city’s petition.

“My hope is that we have a strong resolution that really articulates our concerns about the community and the school and those desires,” she said. “We’re going to go on record supporting this, knowing that it might not change anything.”

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