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Back to the Future for the Waterfront's Biggest Building

Local Matters


Published October 18, 2005 at 11:59 p.m.

BURLINGTON -- If you think it's cumbersome to design via committee, try incorporating the entire city into the process. When Burlington officials proposed leasing the old Moran Generating Plant to the YMCA, they thought they were responding to a public mandate to provide a public, indoor recreation center on the waterfront. But residents last March had other ideas; 60 percent voted against it.

So the city went back to square one. In June, the Community and Economic Development Office solicited ideas for what to do with the 44,142-square-foot facility. They received more than 600, from turning it into a Circus Smirkus Academy or Sydney-style opera house to leaving it exactly as it is. CEDO staff then distilled those suggestions into 38 general approaches and analyzed each in terms of costs, impacts and benefits.

A farmers' market would be relatively inexpensive to construct, for example, but it would only benefit the public for part of the year, and may not meet the Public Trust Definition the law requires for the site. A library branch would clearly satisfy the Public Trust requirement, but it would come with a hefty price tag and replicate an existing facility. There definitely isn't another casino in the area, but putting one on the waterfront would have an enormous environmental impact and would violate current zoning and other rules.

Now the public is being invited to weigh in once again, at public forums and through a survey being mailed to every Burlington household. The first forum took place Tuesday night, and two more are scheduled -- Wednesday, October 19, at Champlain School at 7 p.m., and the following noon at City Hall. Residents are being asked to evaluate the 38 approaches, and to prioritize the evaluation criteria. Do they care more about benefiting many people, for example, or limiting noise? Is containing city costs more or less important than expanding parking?

This round of input should help narrow down the list of possible uses, according to CEDO Director Michael Monte. "Some of the 38 ideas may look like they have no support, and others like they have a lot of support," he says. "It will cut out some of the clutter."

CEDO hopes that the City Council will discuss these results on November 21, and put another proposal on the March ballot. But even with all this public input, there's no guarantee the next idea -- whatever it is -- will fly. "It isn't like we didn't do it before," says Monte, noting that voters rejected the Y proposal for a wide variety of reasons. Ultimately, he suggests, "The implementation will create either support or lack of support."