An event facility, as depicted in this artist’s rendering is planned for Phase III of the Ubderwood Property Master Plan.

Underwood Plan Offers Agriculture, Recreation, Preservation and Events

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Thursday March 29, 2018

In 2013, the City of South Burlington purchased the 60-acre Underwood property parcel at the corner of Spear Street and Nowland Farm Road with the intention of creating a place for people to relax, recreate, and treasure Mother Nature’s work in the heart of one of the most populous cities in Chittenden County. At the March 19, 2018 city council meeting, those plans were brought to fruition in a three phase plan.

Underwood’s History

The impetus of the purchase harkens to the city being approached by a realtor who explained that the property owner visualized the land as a park and wanted to engage the city’s interest. South Burlington seized the opportunity and purchased the parcel in February 2013.

The city put a down payment of $1 million toward the Marie Underwood Revocable Trust from the Open Space Fund followed by three annual payments of $220,000. The Open Space Fund collects $0.01 cent on the tax rate annually, totaling about $280,000 a year to pay for maintenance and acquisition of open space or park lands.

After the purchase of the property, the five-member Underwood Task Force was formed in February 2014. The task force consisted of representatives from the Recreation and Parks Committee, Bike/Pedestrian Committee, Natural Resources Committee, and the former Sustainable Agriculture Subcommittee.

In November 2014, the city contracted with the SE Group to form the framework. The consultant met with the task force five times, conducted two site visits, two public meetings and workshops, and provided an online comment form. The framework was presented in March 2015. Three themes for future use emerged from the visioning process: agriculture, natural resources, and recreation; the public expressed interest in a hybrid of all uses.

“The vision framework didn’t have enough money to go for the full master plan but was able to set the vision and get people out using that park, and they have been using it since 2015,” explained Drew Pollak-Bruce, associate planner at the SE Group.

In January 2017, the city contracted with SE Group again to undergo the master planning process. SE Group teamed with Wiemann Lamphere Architects to help with the building design in the master plan.

The process has included stakeholder meetings, committee meetings (Recreation and Parks, Bike/Pedestrian, Natural Resources, Common Roots, Energy Committee), an on-site event in August featuring a hot air balloon as a special attraction, an online survey conducted in the fall, a public workshop on March 3, a draft plan web comment form, and finally the presentation to city council.

“I was really encouraged that it wasn’t the same 20 people every time we had a meeting,” Pollak-Bruce told council. “We got a lot of new people out for that public meeting in August with the hot air balloon, so we did get a lot of varied input throughout the process which makes me excited as a planner.”

Design Elements

The project consists of a few core elements: Agriculture, natural resources, recreation and an event facility. Pollak-Bruce explained the highlighted features of each one.

For agriculture, the plan proposes community agriculture (tilled fields/orchards/alternative ag like berry bushes and a vineyard), raised beds/accessible gardens, community gardens (traditional plots), wildflowers/natural garden/cutting garden, as well as community garden support facilities like tool storage and hose bibs.

To align with the character of the area, the project explores passive recreation. This includes a variety of walking paths, such as accessible gravel paths, mowed paths, dirt trails, boardwalks, brook crossings, and a paved bike path. Future plans also show picnic tables, a shade structure, and seating to soak in the views, such as a patio/deck outside an event building.

There is room for active recreation, though not as structured as lined soccer fields. Instead, the park will boast an open field for more informal activities or function as an event space. The park could also be a place where children can play on a natural playground or let their imaginations wander in a treehouse. A pump track for all ages was proposed for cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing and the like.

Additionally, Underwood would be home to a central event facility to support events like children’s camps, classes, concerts, year-round farmers markets, weddings, or family reunions. An outdoor terrace, patio or deck as well as an event lawn would complement the space. Events held at this facility would be subject to the noise ordinance to respect nearby residents.

Tapping into natural resources, plans for Underwood include habitat protection, allowing forest succession in designated areas (e.g. riparian buffer), removing invasive plant species, defining meadow areas, stormwater improvements, and potential stormwater storage for garden irrigation.

To support these elements, the property use would create the need for support facilities, such as on-street parking, a parking lot, an access road/drop off, restrooms, trailhead marking and trail signage, a park entrance sign, bike racks, interpretive signs, public art, low-level lighting, drinking fountains, and trash receptacles.

Site Plan Concept

The site plan concept depicts on-street parking with bump outs and a sidewalk along Nowland Farm Drive. The entrance onto the property from Nowland Farm Drive is lined with stone walls and a park sign. Further into the property, there is gravel parking with overflow parking on the lawn; rain gardens, an area with shade provided by a pergola, picnic tables and chairs; and accessible raised garden beds.

The road continues and leads to a looped drop-off area with ADA parking for events. The event barn, situated at the end of the loop, includes shade trees on one side, a stone wall, and patio with a lawn and garden space on the other. Behind the event barn is the event lawn surrounded by wildflower gardens.

Community gardens and a proposed stormwater detention pond (separate project) are shown closest to Spear Street, and a garden/farm shed with tool storage and public restrooms is situated nearby. The proposed pump track and natural play ground with a lawn and picnic area are proposed on the northern end of the parcel along Nowland Farm Road. The conserved forest habitat exists to the east with an existing trail network; a tree house will be built in this space. A paved multi-use path connection bisects the property north to south with a potential connection to the South Pointe neighborhood. A road network throughout the parcel brings connectivity to all the park’s features.

Phasing and Costs

The plan is broken down into three phases:

Phase I

The first phase focuses on access and passive recreation opportunities. The estimated site cost for this phase is between $720,000 - $880,000. The event facility is not in this phase and therefore has no associated costs.

Phase I would include the following features:

• Invasive species removal (ongoing)
• Habitat protection (ongoing)
• Street bump outs, striping for parking, sidewalk and crosswalks
• Parking lot with entrance drive
• Rough grade area around building site and establish lawn area (informal rec, outdoor events, etc.)
• Walking path system and boardwalks (no new paths in woods included)
• Multi-use path preliminary park entrance sign, secondary park entrance sign and trail signs
• Benches
• Any associated stormwater treatment that is necessary
• Tree buffer between park and two homes
• An allée of trees in lawn along entrance drive
• Hedge to screen parking from entrance drive

Phase II

The focus of this phase is on gardening, active recreation, and viewing opportunities. The estimated site cost is between $936,000-$1,144,000. The estimated building cost runs from $85,000-$104,000.

Phase II would include the following features:

• Pump track, play area and small lawn area (and path connections)
• Community garden area, adjacent path, berry hedge, and fence
• Farm/garden shed with public bathrooms
• Water supply for gardens/ag
• View area with a pergola, picnic tables and chairs, raised garden beds, stonedust paving, and stone wall (and path connecting it to parking)
• Any associated stormwater treatment that is necessary

Phase III

The focus of this phase is on the event facility and project completion. The estimated site cost is between $813,000-$994,000. The estimated building cost runs from $870,000-$1,027,000.

• Event barn building
• Complete entrance drive, drop-off loop, and ADA parking
• Bosque or cluster of trees in lawn
• Remaining stone walls (near buildings and at entrance)
• Patio/terrace
• Event lawns and remaining landscaping
• Remaining paths near building (running perpendicular to entrance)
• Site lighting
• Any associated stormwater treatment that is necessary
• Tree house

A timeline has not yet been specified but the city says the Recreation and Parks Committee will establish a timeline for each phase based on costs and funding needs and the recommendation would then be presented to city council for approval.

“It might be, in my mind, eight years from now if we want to revisit the half a cent from the open space fund to pay for things like this,” suggested Councilor Tom Chittenden.

“I think we need to have several planning meetings to prioritize. We have a lot of asks and we need to figure it out,” Councilor Meaghan Emery added.

Community interest persists, and in a couple of instances, it has resulted in donations, Recreation Department Director of Projects Maggie Leugers said.

“There’s a family interested in putting in the bike path for the park and then another person is interested in putting in all the benches. That can be worked through the foundation and not a cost to the city.”

Holly Baker, interim director of the Recreation and Parks Department, attested that the city has had “several naturalists that were volunteering their time to do some birding walks and doing some identification walks. So we have a resource list, and we’ll continue to build that, continue to get people on the land, and appreciate the asset that it is.”

The Underwood property, characterized at the meeting as a local “gem,” is one that can be treasured by the community now and for years to come.


SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent