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Neighbors Weigh In on Campus' Future

Local Matters


Published January 25, 2006 at 2:03 p.m.

BURLINGTON -- The University of Vermont is the state's flagship institution of higher learning, and one of its biggest economic engines; the campus on the hill dominates the state's largest city. Consequently, Vermonters don't have to work or attend classes there to feel as if they have a stake in how the school grows and changes.

So when UVM began revising its Master Plan a year ago, plenty of people took notice. Hundreds of students, staff and neighbors have attended community meetings and added input to the project.

Their comments have been incorporated into a lengthy and far-reaching draft plan, released last August and available on the university's website. It covers everything from what parcels of land UVM would like to purchase, to how the school should site future wind turbines, to which walkways will have granite rather than pre-cast concrete curbstones.

Campus planners have hosted a series of public meetings to present the draft to stakeholders; the last one took place in UVM's Waterman Manor on January 19. The 7 p.m. session drew about 30 people, most of them nearby residents. It might have attracted more had it not been competing with a reception and screening of a town-gown documentary, showing at UVM's Visitors Welcome Center.

Thomas Gustafson, vice president for Student and Campus Life, opened the community forum. "We want your thoughts about whether we're on the right track or the wrong track," he said.

Before soliciting feedback, Campus Planning Services Director Linda Seavey and landscape architect David Raphael delivered an hour-long overview of the plan, and addressed what it will and won't do. It covers landscape, housing and transportation needs, for example, and it will show where future buildings might be built. But it's not a financial plan. And it doesn't design buildings, or define all of the campus' building needs.

In other words, the Master Plan describes where UVM wants to go, but doesn't delve into the specifics of how it might get there.

After the overview, participants formed smaller groups clustered around tables covered with campus maps. At one table, UVM adjunct professor Jerrold Manock said he'd like to get rid of the food vendors whose trucks line University Place each day. The draft plan calls for the city to transfer ownership of the street to UVM, which will transform it into a landscaped pedestrian walkway.

Manock disparaged the trucks as "roach coaches."

Raphael, circulating between tables, listened to the prof vent, then added that he's heard from many who support the vendors. Planners are working on a compromise to relocate the trucks, possibly to a corridor near the Chittenden and Buckham dorms that they're calling the "Green Mountain Walkway."

Other participants discussed the importance of providing more bike racks, and the possibility of adding a roundabout. At several tables, Burlington residents discussed changes UVM has in store for its Main Street corridor. The school plans to line the street with trees as part of its mission to make the campus an arboretum. And UVM wants to build a land bridge to help students cross the busy thoroughfare.

When the planners reconvened the large group, they addressed some concerns. Rob Rohr, who works in the school's IT department, noted that the draft plan eliminates parking around performance spaces that typically draw a lot of locals. "Right now they're underserved," he said.

Seavey and Raphael admitted that, as part of its commitment to being a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly campus, UVM basically plans to do away with as much parking as possible. The planners removed all the parking lots from the draft, and have replaced only those they deem essential.

That worries Burlington City Councilor Sharon Bushor, who lives on East Avenue. "Those cars are not going to go away," she said as she left the meeting. "They're going to be tucked in somewhere."

The pedestrian-friendly approach appeals to Local Motion Executive Director Chapin Spencer, who also attended the forum. The alternative-transportation activist wants to see more UVM profs and their students walking and biking to campus. But Spencer criticized the draft plan's lack of benchmarks to measure progress. He'd like the school to set specific goals for increases in public transit use.

"A plan is really great and important, but unless you measure it, how do we know we're following the plan?" he asked rhetorically after the meeting. "Unless we get benchmarks, it's not much to go by."

There won't be any more public meetings, but anyone can still comment on the draft plan via the Master Plan page on UVM's website. But hurry -- officials hope to complete the final draft in May, and want it approved by the Board of Trustees by November.