Swift Street Extension is no more. The road cutting through the University of Vermont horticulture farm and skirting Veteran’s Memorial Park will be replaced by a bicycle and pedestrian path in a plan approved by South Burlington city councilors.
The other change to the city’s official map, downgrading a road connecting IDX Drive and Sebring Road to Overlook and Deerfield drives, was already incorporated into the city’s 2016 comprehensive plan but made official when councilors voted on the changes at a public hearing Oct. 4.
While some citizens argued against the planning commission’s proposal, saying the loss of those connectors would make driving east to west and back more difficult, others spoke up in favor of the changes as positive for the natural habitat and future planning.
Chair of the planning commission Jessica Louisos echoed comments she made at a September city council meeting, describing the commission’s proposal as “catch-up” to discussions that have been going on since comprehensive planning in 2016.
Planners have wanted to remove Swift Street Extension for many years, as it passes through a high priority habitat block and other natural resources, she said. “I think it also shows the commitment to the research and farming that’s going on there, to really follow up on that change.”
John Dinklage, of South Burlington, expressed concern for how the changes could harm road connectedness, worsening Swift Street traffic and the city’s already congested rush hour.
“If you live off Dorset Street and need to go to Hinesburg Road to pick up a kid for soccer carpooling or drop off for a sleepover, you must go all the way to Kennedy Drive or to Cheesefactory Road to make the trip. Having connector streets does not increase traffic. Instead, automobile miles driven are reduced,” Dinklage said.
Other residents and councilors countered that Kennedy Drive was built to hold more capacity and that it’s currently underused.
Dinklage added that as the city grows and utility needs change, a 20-foot recreation path might make changing utilities difficult.
“There are some loud voices in our community who just want to make driving difficult, so that people will not use automobiles,” he said.
While councilor Thomas Chittenden echoed Dinklage’s concerns about future utility needs, he was allayed when planning and zoning director Paul Conner explained that Champlain Water District holds a right of way from Hinesburg Road to Dorset Street.
On the other side of the debate, citizens lauded the changes as wins for preserving spaces like the horticulture farm and protecting wildlife in the area.
“Adding a commercial thruway through that area just is not appropriate. We also have the Wheeler Nature Park on the other side of the road, where people want to have quiet enjoyment,” Michael Mittag, a resident and member of the planning commission, said.
Veteran’s Memorial Park, he noted, is also nearby and acts as a recreation hub where kids are often running around.
“We’re not losing anything. We’re gaining pedestrian access, bike ped access from Hinesburg Road to Veterans Memorial Park area and Wheeler Nature Park,” Mittag said.
Alan Strong, of South Burlington, chimed in his support for the changes as well. Cutting through the horticulture farm with a roadway would “have some really detrimental effects on wildlife, as well as potentially drainage as it does go right over the headwaters of Bartlett Brook,” he said.
Same for the other road downgrade, he added. “Bisecting it puts a major stamp of fragmentation on that area.”
Mittag added that, although Kennedy Drive has expanded capacity and should take more cars, if folks are keen for more east-west connectors, there is an opportunity at the top of Old Cross Road, as the city owns a right of way through to Butler Farms.
After a brief discussion, councilors voted unanimously to adopt the changes.