The state's largest music venue is one step closer to moving to Burlington.
The city's Development Review Board unanimously voted Tuesday evening to approve Burton Snowboards' application to bring Higher Ground to an unused warehouse on its Queen City Park Road campus. Board member Geoff Hand recused himself from deliberations.
The project has been a source of debate for months. Burton and Higher Ground executives say the venue will be compatible with the South End arts scene, but many neighbors have argued it will bring noise and traffic to the residential area. They organized the opposition group Citizens for Responsible Zoning and have hired lawyers and sound experts to fight the project.
The DRB approved the permit with neighbors' concerns in mind, tacking on nearly 20 conditions that Burton must meet to be in compliance. One requires Burton to hire traffic control personnel to redirect post-concert crowds from the nearby Queen City Park neighborhood. The company had agreed to hire flaggers if traffic volumes proved unmanageable after the first 10 events.
Traffic control will focus on the venue's two entry points: Home Avenue at Pine Street and the one-lane bridge on Queen City Park Road. Neighbors have said that Burton's "operational management plan," which outlines procedures to prevent traffic and tailgating after concerts, was insufficient.
DRB members seemed to agree.
"If you're having a 1,500-person event and you've got three people per car, that's 500 cars," A.J. LaRosa said, estimating that half of those vehicles would queue on Home Avenue in the middle of the night.
"I think that has a real and substantial impact on those neighbors that I'm concerned about," he added. "I've been to that intersection thousands of times every hour, and those [head]lights can shine right in people's houses. There's going to be honking."
The permit also requires that the parking lot be emptied half an hour after an event ends. Burton must return to the DRB with traffic and noise studies six months after Higher Ground opens. The public will be allowed to weigh in.
If the noise levels turn out higher than expected, "they're gonna have to do something about it," board chair Brad Rabinowitz said.
Other conditions came directly from Burton's own proposal: keeping doors closed during events, prohibiting tailgating before and after concerts, and banning any music or amplified sound on the outdoor patio. If the venue wants to serve food, Burton must come back for another permit.
Project opponents Laura Waters and Laurie Smith, who watched the board's deliberation Tuesday on Zoom, were disappointed but not surprised by the DRB's decision. They noted that board members seemed unconcerned about noise levels, saying that the city's own noise ordinance — which prohibits "plainly audible" music between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. — was only mentioned in passing.
Smith lamented that the board didn't address noise from vehicles coming and going, nor did it discuss concerns that the City of South Burlington won't be able to police noise violations at the venue, even though it's located mere yards away from the city line.
Neighbors had proposed curbing Higher Ground's hours of operation and capacity, but the DRB didn't bite. As approved, the venue can be open until 2 a.m. and can host up to 1,500 people.
"They just were doing everything they could to tie themselves into knots to approve it," Waters said. The group will decide whether to appeal the permit to the Vermont Environmental Court.
"We're just trying to figure out what we're gonna do next, but we are not going to let it go," she said.
Burton and Higher Ground officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.