- File: James Buck
- Trinity Campus
That’s the recommendation of the Burlington Planning Commission, which endorsed a set of zoning changes for the campus on Tuesday night.
The commission voted 4-1 to forward the proposal to the Burlington City Council but will include a memo urging councilors to first negotiate an agreement with UVM to rein in the number of students who live off campus.
Planning Commission chair Andy Montroll said he hopes the memo will give the council leverage to negotiate with UVM, whose students crowd the city’s rental market.
“I doubt they're going to move forward with this resolution until they've dealt with the student body issue,” Montroll said of the council. “I would be surprised if they approve this without a separate agreement.”
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The plans require a zoning change. Under the current rules, structures must be at least 115 feet from the Colchester Avenue property line; the new zoning would shrink that distance to 65 feet, though UVM had originally requested permission to build just 25 feet from the property line.
The proposal would also allow UVM to build higher — up to 45 feet at the lot's front and 80 feet in the back, compared to the existing 55-foot limit — and cover 60 percent of the lot with buildings, instead of 40 percent.
Mayor Miro Weinberger supports the zoning change, which is part of a 10-point housing plan he released last year to address the city’s housing crisis. Weinberger’s plan also calls for changing zoning to allow residential development in parts of the South End where it’s currently prohibited. On Tuesday, commissioners took public testimony on that proposal but deferred a vote until early next year.
There's cause for their concern. UVM hasn’t built any new student housing since 2017 even as its enrollment has increased. And while the university once pledged to build one new housing unit per new undergrad enrolled, that agreement with the city lapsed in 2019, and UVM has refused to negotiate a new one. Meantime, the university enrolled one of its largest first-year classes ever this fall.
UVM officials have dismissed speculation that the Trinity plan would help grow enrollment. At the same time, they haven’t been particularly forthcoming about future plans for growth.
Recognizing this, a contingent of city councilors formally asked the commission in May for help making “UVM tangibly commit to a maximum number of off-campus students.” Montroll, the commission chair, said Tuesday that such language can’t be written into zoning but that the commission’s accompanying memo shows support for the councilors’ request.
Rezoning Trinity “shouldn’t be done in isolation,” Montroll said.
Otherwise, “we're enabling the university to increase enrollment without being accountable,” Schlossberg said.
Commissioner Alexander Friend suggested not approving the zoning change until and unless UVM negotiates with the city, but he didn’t find support among his colleagues. Friend cast the only “no” vote on the proposal.
“It’s like there's a flood in town and we’re lining the banks of the tributary with concrete,” he said.