Stop infringing on the Chamberlin neighborhood.
That was the main sentiment shared by South Burlington residents throughout months of meetings and discussion by the city airport rezoning task force, which has been considering a request to rezone 11 acres of airport-owned land from residential to aviation use.
The task force unanimously decided April 28 against the Burlington International Airport’s request, arguing that the neighborhood has already suffered enough from F-35 noise, the removal of hundreds of homes, the loss of critical affordable housing and the disintegration of its community.
“The city does not have the authority to regulate noise generated by aircraft operations. The city does have the authority to not allow BIA to expand airport uses beyond the limits established by the current zoning map,” task force consultant Brandy Saxton wrote on behalf of the members in a report that will be delivered to the planning commission for consideration.
The task force was formed in December last year after the Burlington International Airport submitted a request to the city to rezone 11 acres off Kirby Road Extension. The land, once dotted with houses that were demolished under a noise mitigation program in the early 2000s, now resembles a small undeveloped park where residents often walk their dogs, picnic and cross-country ski.
Acting aviation director Nic Longo offered a conceptual plan to use the land to “to promote business and support facilities for the airport,” adding that development of the land could help reduce noise in the area, a benefit to Chamberlin residents who bear the brunt of noise from the F-35 jets. Plus, more commercial buildings would’ve boosted South Burlington’s grand list, providing jobs and a bigger tax base.
The airport says it does not intend “to expand into any neighborhood.”
Its request, however, seems to have reopened old wounds in the neighborhood, sparking a group of feisty residents to advocate against the rezoning request.
Over 200 people signed a petition against the request, which the group created and took door to door around Chamberlin. One resident, Ashley Adams, who owns some apartments in the area and helped canvas, said she was surprised to discover how many residents had no idea about the rezoning request.
“I just see the injustice of this, and I don’t expect my tenants to get involved and go to meetings. They’re raising their families, they’re working hard, and I feel like someone needs to step up and do something about this important moral issue,” Adams told The Other Paper in March.
The task force’s final report also emphasizes Chamberlin as a holdout of crucial affordable housing in a steeply increasing market.
It represents “an original ‘missing middle’ neighborhood,” filled with modest single-family homes, apartments, condos and duplexes, according to the report.
“Given the severe housing crisis in the region, it is critical that the remaining housing and quality of life in the neighborhood be preserved. The character, convenience, choice and affordability available in the Chamberlin neighborhood is not something that can be readily replaced with housing elsewhere in the city,” Saxton wrote.
The city’s fraught relationship with how the airport is governed, under the management of Burlington despite sitting on South Burlington soil, has also been thrown into the spotlight over the last few months.
Two different amendments to a bulk Senate transportation bill related to the airport were introduced by South Burlington city councilor and Sen. Thomas Chittenden in April, both with potentially serious implications for how the airport functions in South Burlington, although only one has survived so far.
The dead amendment, introduced at the behest of Gov. Phil Scott, could have loosened local control of parking near the airport. While part of the impetus was to ease a development plan for local business, Beta Technologies, an unintended impact might have allowed the airport to build parking lots on the empty land at the heart of their rezoning request. City manager Jessie Baker and city councilor Meaghan Emery (who also served on the rezoning task force) both spoke in opposition of the amendment, which was cut in a House vote before the bill was sent back to the Senate.
The other amendment, still attached to the bill although stripped down from its original language, would form a working group to examine airport governance, with regionalization being one possible option to explore.
With the task force’s research and recommendation complete, the airport’s request will head to the South Burlington planning commission where members will take action or take no action.
If the planning commission were to disregard the task force’s recommendation and approve the airport’s request to rezone the land, their decision would then move up for city council consideration. Should the council deny the airport, it has the opportunity to submit another request.