The Burlington City Council on Monday night approved a controversial zoning change that will allow Burton Snowboards to move forward with a conceptual plan to build out its Industrial Parkway facility with music venue Higher Ground as an anchor tenant.
A large council majority approved an amendment to the Enterprise-Light Manufacturing District, a South End area that previously limited performing arts centers to Pine Street and capped them at 5,000 square feet. Under certain conditions, the amendment will allow for such venues to be built up to 15,000 square feet on Industrial Parkway, where Burton owns 155,000 square feet of space between two buildings.
Councilor Joan Shannon, a Democrat whose South District contains the affected area, was the lone no in the 10-1 roll call vote. Councilor Chip Mason (D-Ward 5) recused himself.
Now that the amendment has passed, Burton can begin the process of relocating Higher Ground from South Burlington. It also intends to lease space to Talent Skatepark, which closed its indoor park in South Burlington last summer.
Additionally, Burton wants to create a food hall at the complex. Mad Taco co-owner Wes Hamilton said Monday that his restaurant is eager to open there, as is Misery Loves Co.
The vote came after impassioned testimony on both sides of the issue. Proponents said the project aligns with the South End’s vitality as an arts hub while opponents expressed worries over increased noise and traffic in what is largely a quiet residential area.
Justin Worthley, Burton’s senior vice president of human resources, said the company will fully participate in the permitting process, during which time such issueswill be addressed. He said Burton has envisioned this build-out for at least 12 years. The company has hosted dozens of public tours, Worthley said, and representatives have attended a handful of Neighborhood Planning Assembly meetings to explain the plans.
While Burton may have good intentions, neighbor Ben Traverse said, the company won't be able to build better city infrastructure around the facility. That is up to officials, who Traverse said should wait until the area is better equipped to handle the increased traffic before allowing the zoning change to go forward.
Some concerned citizens noted that there were more than 100 police calls to Higher Ground in a year’s time. Alan Newman, a part-owner of the music venue, clarified that only two of those calls resulted in arrests.
“It's only reasonable to determine that if this venue takes place in Burlington and it’s larger, the police will be called even more,” resident Gail Asbury said.
Others suggested the council delay the vote until the Champlain Parkway is built. A group of activists filed suit earlier this month requesting a federal court judge grant an injunction to delay the project even longer. But if built, the parkway would help divert traffic out of South End neighborhoods, city officials have said.
“Dropping the state’s largest rock venue in the middle of a residential neighborhood that has one residential street to transport patrons in and out?” South End resident John Creason said. “I just can’t believe that's actually on the table.”
Before voting no, Councilor Shannon offered two other options: Keep the 5,000 square foot cap but extend it to Industrial Parkway, or hold the project until it can be “re-envisioned” through a public process and while the Champlain Parkway is under construction.
“I hope you all commit to supporting the Champlain Parkway because this really does not work without that road going through,” she said.
Many others said approving the proposal ushers in more possibility for a burgeoning Queen City neighborhood. Kelly Devine, executive director of the Burlington Business Association, said the change allows for creative reuse of manufacturing buildings. One of the spaces now owned by Burton housed military contractor General Dynamics until 2014.
“This isn’t a Burton project. It’s about [the] use of all of those industrial spaces,” Devine said.
Brett Smith, who lives near the project area on Austin Drive, thinks the Burton project is aligned with other “vibrant and livable” South End improvements such as the new City Market, Onion River Co-op, which also required a special zoning change. He said the amenities could attract young professionals to the area and help keep them around.
“To me, it’s phenomenal that me and my family could walk to these venues soon,” Smith said.