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Couple Plans to Build a House on Burlington's Steep Depot Street


Property on Depot Street - SASHA GOLDSTEIN
  • Sasha Goldstein
  • Property on Depot Street

One of Burlington's quirkiest undeveloped pieces of land is officially off the market.

Joel and Wendy Hakken of Ann Arbor, Mich., paid $103,000 for the steep, wooded 0.1-acre plot that was for sale along Depot Street. The transaction went through July 2.

The couple plans to build their dream retirement home overlooking Lake Champlain, and they've hired Smith Buckley Architects to design the place with plenty of west-facing windows. It'll likely be four stories tall — including a garage and basement — spread out over 1,400 to 1,800 square feet.

"We gave them seven pages of what we want," said Joel Hakken. "We'll see what they come up with."

Depot Street plunges from North Avenue down to the Burlington waterfront, steep enough that it's been used as a downhill ski run for events. Hakken's lot sits on the road's eastern side, a severe slope that is almost entirely undeveloped.

"I'm the son of an architect," Hakken said, explaining he's seen plenty of hillside dwellings. "I wasn't worried we could build a house, but I am worried about what it's gonna cost and what the city is going to tax us!"

The parcel fronts Depot Street, but its official address is 31 North Avenue. It's next to the Burlington Police Department parking lot.

"We were standing in the lot looking at the land, and some officers came out and said, 'What the hell are you doing?'" Hakken said with a laugh. "They thought we were messing with their cars."

He had never been to Burlington, but his wife grew up in Massachusetts and used to ski at Bolton Valley. She's worked at the Ford Motor Company for 25 years, he said, and when the couple began to think about retiring, they decided to head for the East Coast.

The Queen City made an instant impression. Hakken said it reminded him of what Ann Arbor — a small city that's home to the University of Michigan — was like 25 or 30 years ago. The couple hopes to get the home built in the next year and retire and move to Vermont full time within the next three years, he said.

"You guys have one of the most unique cities," he said. "It has everything I think that somebody would be looking for — unless you're a Republican."

The original print version of this article was headlined "Slippery Slope?"