Burlington Council Approves Change to Allow Housing in South End District | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


Burlington Council Approves Change to Allow Housing in South End District


Published July 24, 2023 at 11:34 p.m.

Some of the proposed zoning district in November 2021 - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Some of the proposed zoning district in November 2021
A zoning change approved unanimously by Burlington city councilors on Monday paves the way for hundreds of new homes to be built where they were previously prohibited.

The “South End Innovation District” was once zoned for light manufacturing and industrial use. It comprises 14 mostly vacant pieces of land on the west side of Pine Street, including the Hula campus on Lakeside Avenue, a nearby six-acre parking lot owned by Hula developer Russ Scully and a city-owned parcel on Sears Lane.

Mayor Miro Weinberger, who proposed the zoning change more than 18 months ago, said the new rules will spark housing development in a city that doesn't have enough of it.

"We are in this crisis, in many ways, because we have made housing way too hard to build in this city, in this state and in many parts of this country," the mayor said. "We have the opportunity to implement one of the more dramatic fixes that we will ever have the chance to do together."

The new zoning aims to create a walkable neighborhood in the city’s desirable South End. Buildings must be close to the streets, and the lots they sit on must leave room for green space. Surface parking lots are discouraged.
The version approved on Monday night is slightly different than the one originally reviewed by councilors. Previously, a 12-acre swath of land north of Lakeside Avenue would have allowed buildings up to eight stories tall. Now, eight-story buildings are limited to a three-acre section there after some residents complained about blocked views from Calahan Park. Buildings on the remaining nine acres will be capped at six stories.

At a press conference earlier on Monday, Weinberger said he doesn’t think that lowering the height limit in that one area detracts from the overall goal of increasing the city’s housing stock.
The original height map (left), and the one approved by councilors - CITY OF BURLINGTON
  • City of Burlington
  • The original height map (left), and the one approved by councilors
Councilors made other changes to the ordinance on Monday, including one that requires developers to build affordable units in future housing projects. The city's inclusionary zoning ordinance, which applies to the new district, allows developers to bypass the requirement by paying a fee into the city's Housing Trust Fund.

Councilor Zoraya Hightower (P-Ward 1), who introduced the amendment, said that loophole should be closed. Her colleagues agreed, voting unanimously to preclude developers from using the so-called "payment-in-lieu" option.

There was less consensus on whether to allow dormitories and hotels in the new district.

Councilor Joan Shannon (D-South District) took the lead on dorms, moving to strike them from the list of permitted uses. She argued that allowing dorms would encourage colleges and universities to increase enrollment while not committing to housing students for all four years — a concern that was also raised in a debate to rezone the University of Vermont's Trinity Campus for more student housing.
Nic Anderson, senior director of planning and operations at Champlain College, which owns property in the new district, said hundreds of juniors and seniors are on the college's waiting list for housing. Councilor Ben Traverse (D-Ward 5) said the city has wanted colleges to take more responsibility for housing students and allowing dorms there would help them do so.

Shannon's motion failed on a 6-6 tie vote, meaning dorms are allowed in the new district.

Traverse was also in favor of allowing hotels in the district but only south of Lakeside Avenue and only one per lot. Hotels were part of the original proposal but were nixed during council subcommittee discussions.

Councilors were similarly mixed on the question, with proponents — including Mayor Weinberger — arguing that hotels could complement future housing in the district, while opponents said housing should be the priority. The motion failed on a 7-5 vote, meaning hotels are not allowed in the new district.
A climate rally on Monday - COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • A climate rally on Monday
Also on Monday, councilors passed a resolution asking the Vermont Air National Guard to be more cognizant of its role in the climate crisis.

The resolution — sponsored by three Progressive councilors and Democrat Hannah King (Ward 8) — urges the Guard to keep track of its carbon emissions, to use more flight simulations in lieu of flying F-35 fighter jets, and to "take any other such measures as needed" to reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

The measure passed unanimously but is nonbinding, meaning the Guard can abide by it or ignore it.

In 2019, Burlington pledged to be net-zero by 2030, but that goal notably didn't include emissions from the Patrick Leahy Burlington International Airport or the Guard base next door. The resolution includes a “conservative estimate” that F-35 training missions emit more than 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year.

The resolution draws on the U.S. Air Force's own acknowledgement of the problem. The military branch's 2022 climate action plan calls climate change an “existential threat” to U.S. security and suggests increasing “the use of simulation and augmented reality systems” to cut down on fuel use.

Climate activists held a rally outside Burlington City Hall before Monday’s meeting to urge councilors to pass the resolution. They pointed to recent catastrophic flooding as evidence that climate change can’t be ignored. Many spoke during the meeting's two-hour public forum.
The council also heard an update about a sewer main break in the Winooski River, near its confluence with Lake Champlain.

The city discovered the break on July 12, two days after a massive flooding event caused the Winooski to rise and swell. Since then, the city has been using pumper trucks to haul wastewater to the North Plant to be treated, a move that officials estimate will cost about $210,000. Residents in a large portion of the New North End have been asked to dial back their water use until the pipe is repaired.

Public Works Director Chapin Spencer said a temporary bypass pipe could be finished by Tuesday. That work will cost about $550,000. Divers will be brought in to assess the condition of the broken pipe but are waiting for river conditions to improve, Spencer said.
Also on Monday, City Council President Karen Paul (D-Ward 6) acknowledged the recent death of Katie Hartnett, the daughter of former Burlington city councilor Dave Hartnett and Burlington Electric employee Lisa Hartnett. Katie drowned in the Huntington River on July 14.

Paul called Katie's loss "immeasurable."

"A family is mourning and grieving the loss of their loved, and truly beloved, child," Paul said. "In a small community such as ours, one life impacts so many other lives."

A funeral mass for Katie is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Wednesday at St. Mark Catholic Church on North Avenue in Burlington. A reception at the Elks Club on North Avenue will follow interment at Resurrection Park cemetery in South Burlington.

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