Sunday, August 7, 2016

For Those With Ears to Hear: Amey Radcliffe's Wise Letter to the City Council and Planning Commission

Dear City Councilors and Planning Commissioners,

When it comes to Mall redevelopment, the Sinex proposal, the predevelopment agreement, the zoning ordinance, and the height details of the overlay request, I’ve become increasingly concerned that there is a systemic problem of overlapping, conflating and confusing issues that should be handled as discrete items with adequate time and due diligence for each. Clear facts and differentiation between issues is desperately needed. A zoning change and its specific perimeters is a big deal with future implications and should not be confused with the details requested for a specific project. All zoning change details should rely on the principles of Plan BTV. The Planning Commission has said at numerous meetings that they have spent more time on much less significant zoning changes than they have on the proposed set. I contend that the speed of this process, and the details of the zoning changes are being driven by one project, thus raising concerns about spot zoning. City staff ,“partnering” with Sinex in a team to facilitate this effort, is having a very negative effect on democratic process. 

It’s become increasingly clear that while general concepts of increased density, infill and the zoning changes needed to facilitate them, are indeed supported in PlanBTV — the increased HEIGHT of buildings is NOT, nor is the specific height proposed.

PlanBTV focuses on “human scale,” lake and mountain views, a majority satisfaction with building heights AS THEY ARE, and the idea that “taller” is not necessarily the answer. To say Plan BTV supports 160 feet “by right” is completely untrue. The public is getting tired of hearing members of city staff, council or commission try to make a claim that 14-story towers are supported in Plan BTV. They simply are not.

160 feet, plus mechanicals, “by right” was driven by one project, and one developer. And the eager folks of P&Z have made it their baby. Where else could an increase of NINETY-FIVE FEET over current “by right” heights come from? This height did not come from public process and it is not supported by the majority of the public. As one participant of PlanBTV’s public process said to me, unsolicited, and I quote, the details of this zoning change “make plan BTVs workshops and charrettes seem completely BOGUS”. Was the charrette a charade?

The mall redevelopment as a general theme IS supported in PlanBTV, but that is where the connection ends. The Sinex project does not include moderately-priced housing, senior housing, public space, parking below ground, true street connectivity or livability in its
14-story three-towered mega-block. Very few of the guidelines set forth by PlanBTV for the mall redevelopment are actualized in the current proposal.

In scouring the web, the definition I find over and over for the human scale favored in PlanBTV is 6-8 stories or a 1 to 1 ratio with street width. That means a 60 foot building with a 60 foot street. These “mid-rise” buildings are: the most adaptable to changing economic times, the most cost effective to build, are more environmentally sound than their tower counterparts, and have proven to be the most livable, due to allowing greater connection between building dwellers and the street life below (think Paris). The benefits of mall redevelopment for our city’s economy, downtown vitality, and job growth, are all JUST AS POSSIBLE in a 6-8 story, human-scaled, package. Please! Stand up for what is right and is truly consistent with PlanBTV, and the public will stand behind you. The rhetoric coming from City Hall will have you thinking that all is lost in our city if these heights and this town center project do not happen. Not true. 

What we are dealing with at this moment in time is a flawed process, flawed zoning change details, and a flawed mall redevelopment proposal. The Sinex project (as it is currently proposed) is not too big to fail and letting it go will allow for proper focus on the bigger issues — preventing a real failure. There is a tremendous opportunity to do this right, and with full public support.

Amey Radcliffe,

Burlington property owner, Burlington business owner

1 comment:

  1. If allowed to go to construction, it will be too big, and like with the Stenger projects, regulators will have to look the other way, breached agreements will have to be ignored, developer will call the tune and city councilors will make lousy excuses for pushing the project.