Council Discusses MOU to Halt Home Demolition

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Thursday May 04, 2017

Since the City of Burlington, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and Burlington International Airport began executing the home buyout program, there has been much debate over the various facets of the program including its impact to South Burlington’s adjacent neighborhoods and its tax base.

Among the issues residents of the Chamberlin neighborhood and city officials alike have brought forth throughout the most recent home buyouts and subsequent demolition has been the destruction of much of South Burlington’s affordable housing stock. Since the beginning of the voluntary home buyout program, the City of Burlington has demolished more than 150 affordable residential homes.

At a mid April city council meeting, Chair Helen Riehle brought up an e-mail she had received from a couple living on Kirby Road seeking clarity around selling their home, one that was not included in the 39 selected for the most recent home buyout. This led to the larger issue of not having a written document that spells out the intent of all three parties in regard to the cessation of the home buyout program. Riehle suggested City Manager Kevin Dorn draft a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for city council review that would help serve as a written document between the airport, South Burlington, and Burlington.

The council reviewed and discussed the MOU at their May 1 meeting where Dorn provided an overview of its intent. Dorn explained that the document would be “a rank below a contract in terms of enforceability.” If all parties sign, it could show, in greater surety that the current program is slated to end and a new program launched that does not include the demolition of homes. While the document is mostly focused on the demolition component of the program, it doesn’t keep the airport from buying and re-selling homes, it just halts the demolition.

Both bodies have expressed their dissatisfaction with the program as a whole and have wanted to increase affordable housing. A desire to end future home buyouts and adopt a new noise compatibility plan that includes sound mitigation techniques in lieu of future home purchases and demolition is also noted in the document.

The MOU charges the City of Burlington with withholding from applying for or accepting any future grants for home demolition or removal in South Burlington. It notes South Burlington’s commitment to implement a plan for airport noise mitigation and agrees that “nothing in the MOU affects homeowners who have already been identified as eligible for home buyout through an open AIP (FAA Airport Improvement Program) grant for home acquisition.”

South Burlington and Burlington would agree that each has the right to terminate the MOU for “cause.” This means any substantial change to airport operations such that home acquisition and demolition is the only effective way to mitigate health risks associated with that change. The term of the MOU is slated to be a period of ten years beginning June 1, 2017.

After minor edits were made to language, counselors were in agreement that this was a solid step forward in terms of their relationship with Burlington and the airport. Because this item was not warned for action, it will return at the council’s May 15 meeting, where, if approved will be taken to Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger by Kevin Dorn for his review, and hopefully signature.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent