Sunday, September 18, 2016

Press Release: Coalition for a Livable City Denounces Cambrian Rise Zoning Change

Press Release: Coalition for a Livable City Urges Planning Commission to Reject Zoning Change for Cambrian Rise Development

From: Coalition for a Livable City
To: Burlington City Council; Mayor Miro Weinberger; Seven Days; Vt. Digger; Burlington Free Press
Subject: Re-zoning of Cambrian Rise (aka former Burlington College campus)

Burlington’s Planning Commission met on September 13th and deferred action on rezoning the Cambrian Rise development from Medium Density-Waterfront to Neighborhood Activity Center-Cambrian Rise (NAC-CR). What was expected to be an easy approval of the zoning change proposed by Planning and Zoning was de-railed by Commissioner Harris Roen. With only four commissioners present--a bare quorum-- Roen’s vote was essential for passage. When he spoke against the project, its developer, Eric Farrell, asked the Commission to delay action lest its disapproval go on the record and be transmitted to the City Council.
            The project components, on 33 acres of the former Burlington College property, arose through discussions among the developer, the City’s Parks & Recreation, Vermont Land Trust, Champlain Housing Trust, and Cathedral Square. Broadly, the agreement has the City and the VLT buying 12 acres for use as recreational space and a catchment for surface water runoff from the housing and permits 770 residential units,  160 of which will be divided into senior and affordable residences under Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) rules.
            The public, represented by Save Open Space-Burlington and now the Coalition for a Livable City, was kept entirely out of these negotiations, merely presented with their results at bogus “public forums”. While not opposed to development along North Avenue, SOS-B strongly objected to this “package”, demanding much more open space and wildlife habitat on the western section which, for 100 years, was a vernacular public park exempt from all property taxes. The “park” portion, largely unbuildable due to slope and waterfront setback rules, is isolated between an abandoned train tunnel and Lakeview Cemetery. As such, it will become the recreation space for Cambrian Rise’s 2,000 residents and, by purchase agreement, the “sponge” for surface water runoff from  CR’s streets, roofs, and parking lots. If that deal weren’t bad enough, P&Z now proposes to rezone the plot as a Neighborhood Activity Center (NAC-CR) allowing offices and retail activity that further impacts traffic on North Ave. and to increase the permissible height of buildings. Other NAC’s have a 35-ft. height limit. Here buildings could rise to 80-ft. or more given features specific to the location. First, the existing Orphanage building establishes a 65-ft height for new construction on the same plot. Second, present ordinances allow height on slopes to be calculated at the midpoint of a building’s plot. With 65-ft established on the upper side, P&Z proposes to simplify this calculation by adding an additional story of permissible height wherever slopes exist, here and city-wide.
            CLC strongly objects to this proposed amendment to the Comprehensive Development Ordinance (CDO)). Given the 10-ft. bonus a developer earns for complying with IZ, 65-ft is really 75-ft and an 80-ft. limit is really 90-ft. Add to that the slope bonus and from the west, buildings could rise 100-ft. from the ground. This is wildly out of character for medium density-waterfront, an area more generally zoned at 35-ft. 
            What we have at Cambrian Rise is a duplicitous maneuver by P&Z to add height and density to all new projects without acknowledging this to the public. Density or floor area ratio (FAR) is based not on the 21 acres to be built on but on the 33 acres of the entire, pre-park parcel. Second, this “park” will be a project-specific amenity on the City’s dime for maintenance, saving the developer from having to provide recreational space, gardens, and storm water mitigation within his development. Third, since nearly all of Burlington is on sloped land, P&Z’s proposed amendment to the CDO would add a full story to nearly all projects in the city.

            The public deserves transparency and appropriateness in zoning, respecting the broad array of values which make a city livable: height and architectural preservation respecting nearby structures, open space within projects, and environmental protections.  Thus we urge the Planning Commission to reject NAC-CR as presently drafted.     

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