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Burlington Council Pressures UVM to Discuss Growing Enrollment

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Published February 21, 2023 at 11:43 p.m.


Trinity Campus - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Trinity Campus
Burlington city councilors took a stand against University of Vermont officials on Tuesday by delaying discussion on a zoning proposal that would allow the university to build more student housing.

Councilors are concerned that the plan would allow UVM to grow its student enrollment, worsening the city's housing crunch instead of alleviating it.

Nine of the 10 councilors present at Tuesday's meeting voted to table the proposal indefinitely. Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7) voted "no," and Councilor Ben Traverse (D-Ward 5) was absent.



"I need to know how you're going to be a participant and a partner in improving the status quo, in providing more housing on campus for students," Councilor Joan Shannon (D-South District) told school officials. "We need reliable commitments from UVM."
The tabled proposal calls for developing UVM's 21-acre Trinity Campus with 400 undergraduate units and 120 graduate student apartments, plus a new dining hall. It requires new zoning to accommodate higher buildings, and to allow structures to be built closer to the road.

UVM only commits to housing first-year and sophomore students on campus, meaning juniors and seniors are free to roam. That Trinity wouldn't be reserved for these elder students has prompted concerns that UVM would accept more students who would eventually seek housing off campus, further pushing into city neighborhoods. UVM has enrolled an increasing number of undergrads the past few years.

On Tuesday night, UVM chief financial officer Richard Cate told councilors that the university doesn't want to grow enrollment further and that he has "a mandate" from UVM's board of trustees to build more housing.

But councilors zeroed in on UVM's refusal to renegotiate a housing agreement with the city that lapsed in 2019. Under that pact, signed in 2009, UVM committed to building one new housing unit for each additional undergraduate enrolled.

Asked why UVM hadn't come back to the bargaining table, Cate said the agreement also included a promise from the city to rezone Trinity Campus and that the city hasn't followed through.

"It was supposed to have happened as part of the package, and it didn't," Cate said.

Mayor Miro Weinberger jumped in to correct the record: The agreement actually says the city would make "good faith efforts to ... address impediments to developing new student housing" at Trinity and on the Redstone Campus.

The mayor said in his 11 years in office, UVM trustees had never mentioned that they were reluctant to negotiate a new agreement because they felt the city didn't live up to the first one. Cate attempted to backtrack, saying he was referring to "different administrations," but Weinberger wasn't buying it.
"Had I been aware of this concern previously, I would have been working to address it sooner," the mayor said. He suggested that the council would be amenable to the zoning change if UVM would renegotiate an agreement. Cate, however, said the trustees may not view the issue "as a trade-off."

Shannon said the exchange demonstrated that the parties need to talk.

"It has become even more clear at this moment ... that there really need to be discussions at the executive level between the city and UVM to resolve issues that cannot be resolved in an ordinance committee or by this council," she said.

Watch the full meeting below, courtesy of Town Meeting TV:

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