Planning Commission Hears Initial Zoning Change Request for UVM Land

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Thursday July 26, 2018

Last year, the University of Vermont (UVM) issued a Request for Proposal (RPF) to purchase two contiguous parcels of land in South Burlington for purposes of development. The RFP was awarded to developer Frank von Turkovich in December, and the purchase and sale agreement is contingent upon successfully getting the City of South Burlington to change the zoning of one of the parcels from Institutional-Agricultural to a district that allows for residential. This puts the ball in the South Burlington Planning Commission’s court. The planning commission is the principal reviewer, under state law, for zoning requests. Mr. von Turkovich came before the commission on June 26 and July 10 to introduce the proposal and request time to make a detailed presentation in the coming months after speaking with city committees.

UVM’s Land and RFP Process

In June 2017, UVM issued an RFP for the sale of approximately 44 acres of land intended for development. This includes two sections of land known as The Martin Tract and the Edlund South Tract.

The Martin Tract, located on the west side of Spear Street and the north side of Swift Street, has 10.04 acres of undeveloped land. The Martin Tract is currently zoned as Residential 1 (R1-PRD). If developed as a planned unit development (PUD), a maximum density of four residential units per acre is allowed. Multi-family dwellings are allowed as part of a PUD and may have up to four units per building.

The Edlund South Tract, which sits on the west side of Spear Street and south of the I-189 overpasses, is the larger of the two parcels. Edlund consists of 33.99 acres of undeveloped forest land. The Edlund Tract is currently zoned as Agricultural-Institutional, so it can be developed for institutional purposes, such as student housing, general offices, research facilities or laboratories, and more. This is the portion of land that will need to be rezoned by the city as residential for a successful Purchase and Sale agreement to play out for von Turkovich.

In making its selection, UVM stated that the buyer must demonstrate a history of working with the state and municipalities to achieve regulatory approvals such as zoning revisions and a demonstrated history of stewardship and community interest.

The agreement is with Spear & Swift Associates, a limited liability company established by Frank von Turkovich. The company also completed the purchase of a 23-acre parcel at 150 Swift St., which adjoins the Edlund South tract to the west, and will be transferred to the university.

The plan is to have a more comprehensive discussion with South Burlington regarding the future of all three parcels. Therefore, over 60 acres would then lay the groundwork for community housing in response to an initiative laid out in the Building Homes Together campaign.

“This overall proposal can provide opportunities for housing, shared use paths, conservation of natural resources as well as educational opportunities related to these natural resources for both University students and the public, with an emphasis on South Burlington residents,” outlined Associate Planner Lani Ravin, UVM Campus Planning Services, in a letter to the South Burlington Planning and Zoning department.

The Public Process

Although the commission has not heard the request in detail, the public process is now set in motion.

“What we’re asking the planning commission is to allow us to have a deeper engagement with staff,” von Turkovich said. “We’d also like to have a more complete discussion with the city’s committees.”

The Affordable Housing Committee, Natural Resources Committee, and Bike and Pedestrian Committee were some of the committees mentioned. Staff will put together a full list of committees that will be relevant for the topic.

While there are a diverse range of conversations to be had, members of the conservation community, notably the South Burlington Land Trust (SBLT), have been vocal since the beginning.

“The South Burlington Land Trust strongly believes that the development of these parcels represents a significant departure from the South Burlington Comprehensive Plan and would set a dangerous precedent for how the city makes zoning regulations,” the SBLT outlines in an official position paper. “The proposed development will result in environmental damage/destruction to a number of significant natural resources including water quality, wildlife habitat, and loss of some of the ancillary benefits associated with forest conservation.”

“Additionally, the proposed development will negatively impact the city’s infrastructure by demanding city services to address the additional traffic, repair and rework intersections and roadways, increase wastewater capacity, etc.”

Affordable housing poses another perspective, which has groups like the Affordable Housing Committee tuned-in.

“When we talk about affordable housing, especially by private sector, and what we’re hoping to accomplish with Inclusionary Zoning, is to hit that middle-range of employees,” explained John Simson, chair of the South Burlington Affordable Housing Committee. “We’re working really hard to find ways to put families back in houses in this community, and we’re going to be very interested to hear how this project develops … It could be a real plus to the city.”

When asked how an affordability component would play out, von Turkovich responded: “The university expects a meaningful affordability component. This housing is open to everyone in the community. We’re not sure if it’s going to be all for-sale housing or have some rental housing built in, but we will in good faith work with the City of South Burlington on affordability. We don’t think we can go forward without it.”

Commissioners agreed to meet with von Turkovich after he meets with city committees. Upon receiving new information, the commission will need to assess the request in the wider context of the area and see if it aligns with the Comprehensive Plan. If the planning commission decides to add the request to its work plan, members will also need to review it in the context of a current project underway in revamping the city’s Master Plan/Planned Unit Development standards.

Should the commission propose an amendment, one or more public hearings would be warned. Proposed changes would then go to the city council and hold one or more public hearings of its own.

Commissioner Monica Ostby suggested the commission assess other UVM lands within the city while von Turkovich meets with committees.

“We could do that work while this parallel path is happening so that when we reconvene, we’ll be more knowledgeable about what else there is to understand and fully leverage.”

Mr. von Turkovich hopes to meet with the commission in late summer or early fall.

 

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent