Planning for our future prosperity

I have always sought to base my decisions on evidence with the best interests of our residents and our community at heart. When the Planning Commission approached the Council last summer with proposed amendments to our parking regulations, they explained that they had based their recommendation on a study of the parking lots in our city.

I have been able to locate a presentation that refers to data from this study, and the data is stunning. We have thousands of unneeded parking spots in our City Center. All of this square footage of pavement could be replaced with residential and commercial development and it directly contributes to the stormwater pollution in our lake.

For those who believe we need more affordable housing, including myself, this will be of interest. For those who are eager to see more economic development in our city, including myself, please take a look so that we can consider how to repurpose our public spaces and redevelop in order to achieve these goals in the best manner possible.

I believe that expanding our development and parking lots out to the natural areas, including the remaining wildlife corridors and forest blocks, is not in our best interest.

Presentation of the results of a parking study (September 2019): 2019-09-10_S Burlington Planning Commission


South Burlington Parking Map

Candidate Q & A: The School bond vote

Dear Neighbors,

Over the past two months, residents have been sharing their concerns with me and asking for my thoughts on the school bond issue. The question is now directly coming up on candidate Q & A’s, and so you all deserve to know my response.

Education is a top priority for me, as a professor at UVM, and a mother of three children and resident of South Burlington, where my husband and I chose to settle precisely because of the reputation of the schools. I continue to believe that the quality public education provided by our School District is central to South Burlington’s appeal to incoming residents and families. This is why I have worked very hard as a City Councilor to preserve our existing affordable housing stock and promote the development of affordable housing — for everyone, including new families who seek to settle here, as we did eighteen years ago, and give their children the best education possible.

Every year I have supported the budget and will again this year. It will among other things support the hire of new teachers for growing student populations at Orchard and Rick Marcotte Elementary schools.

Regarding the question on the bond vote specifically, candidates for public office owe the public what they deserve and should expect of their elected officials: an honest and direct answer to the question. So I am sharing mine. Please know that I have also shared my concerns with the School Board Directors.

I cannot support the $209M bond for a new high school and middle school. I have attended five information sessions/public hearings, asked questions, spoken with residents, and studied all of the materials posted on-line. This is the hardest decision I will have to make at this year’s Town Meeting Day (and perhaps the most important decision that I have ever made regarding the city’s future). It is simply too expensive for the majority of our residents and will make South Burlington out-of-reach to incoming families over more than a generation.

Back in 2002 when we moved here and in 2017/2018, when our family circumstances changed as our first child started college, we would have been one of those families. I understand the acute space needs at the high school, and want the community to coalesce around a solution put forward by the School Board, but I do not see this bond as the best way forward for our city.

No matter the results of the vote, I will continue to work collaboratively with the School Board and the public to ensure that the needs of the middle school/high school campus and of all five schools are met. It is clear that as a community, we all deeply value our schools and, fortunately, we recognize that they require our attention and investment.

Meaghan

Why I support a market-based approach to parking standards

Dear Neighbors,

In my bid for reelection I have gained an opponent due to the position I took on parking regulations for new commercial development. This gives me the opportunity to inform the public on the reasons why this policy change is in our interest and specifically how it meets the goals in our city’s Comprehensive Plan.

Last fall, I joined colleagues on the Council to approve amendments to our Land Development Regulations, unanimously recommended to us by the Planning Commission, that will allow for market-based parking standards for new commercial development. Since the 1980s we have been relying on arbitrary national standards that have needlessly increased our impervious surfaces and, therefore, stormwater runoff and pollution in our waterways and lake. The market has proven to be a more effective regulator and has the additional advantages of reducing development costs (both soft and hard, i.e., in the planning phases and at the time of construction), which makes it easier to meet our affordable housing and economic development goals. It has been shown throughout the country that this market-based approach gives more flexibility to businesses and lowers the economic bar and facilitates the entry of smaller or local businesses and creation of housing. It introduces a flexibility and adaptability to our planning rules that additionally allows businesses to grow. This is in our interest here as we work toward continued prosperity through economic and environmental sustainability.

In preparation for the public discussion and Council vote, I consulted a number of articles, available on-line, and which I make available to you. I also reached out to town planners in a number of cities, all of whom confirmed my findings that this market-based approach has been successful.

Minimum Parking Requirements
Saint Paul Parking exemptions

Announcement: I will be running for another 2-year term

Dear Neighbors,

I feel a deep attachment to the city I have called home since 2002. South Burlington is where I have raised my three children, where I have spent some of my happiest moments, where I have engaged in deeply transformative events, and where I feel most connected to community. I hope that you will be with me as I go for another term. Much of what I hoped to help advance as an elected official has been realized: City Center is off the ground and plans for more walkable and bikable neighborhoods within a connected system are moving ahead with the Penny for Paths initiative. The protection of the city’s open spaces is in progress, as well as my ongoing goals of maintaining the quality of life, affordability, and financial stability — all of these are reasons for me to run, and there’s still much to do.

I love who we are, admire what we do as individuals and collectively, and care deeply about our future. I hope to have another chance and the honor to continue to work for you.

Sincerely yours,
Meaghan

Veterans Day, November 11, 2019

In honor of my grandfather, I said the following words at our local Veterans Day Memorial Service. May his example inspire veterans to speak out and inspire all of us. I know he inspired me.

Veterans Day, November 11, 2019
Saturday, November 9, 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I happened to be in Paris on November 9, 1989, a twenty-year-old American exchange student, studying at the Sorbonne, walking along the same boulevards where German soldiers had marched after curfew, their boots pounding on the cobblestones and the sound of those boots reaching the ears of everyday people closed up in their apartments behind shuttered windows. I walked down the same boulevard American and French tanks drove down on August 25, 1944, to the sound of cheering crowds. And on November 9, 1989, as I sat watching the news in one of those Parisian apartments, I watched with wonder as the last remaining remnant of that war, the Berlin wall, came tumbling down. People used whatever they had at their disposal, hammers and even their hands, to tear it down. Its destruction was the realization of the efforts of countless people, from politicians to everyday people, but it began with the Allied soldiers who fought and died to liberate Europe from the grip of Adolf Hitler’s murderous regime. It was thanks to those soldiers, many of whom now lie at the American Cemetery in Caen, Normandy, and also thanks to the Germans who continued the fight to regain their lost freedom that I gained an appreciation for history on that day just over thirty years ago. It’s probably why I am now a French professor who specializes in the Second World War and its aftermath.

Last week I read with interest in The Other Paper the stories of the local veterans from that war, still serving here. I noted their service to the US Navy, which brought to mind my grandfather who enrolled at the Great Lakes Naval Station to serve in the US war effort and was buried in 2009 at 92 years of age. If you will indulge me, I would like to remember him in my remarks today, as we honor the lives of all veterans.

My grandfather took great pride in this country, which he bequeathed to his children and grandchildren. A lifelong patriot and Lincoln Republican, he always placed service to others before self. He understood what I’ve come to understand, which is: service to others allows us to become the best of ourselves. My grandfather always honored the president as our president, whether or not he agreed with the policy. He was a gentle man, always believed in the power of goodness and love, and he was an upright and active citizen in service to many. After the war, though a trained architect, he became a professor of applied mathematics at Northwestern University and gave through his service, whether to the Glenbrook, IL School Board or as a food preparer and server in the Good News Community (Food) Kitchen in Chicago — the big city, where he’d been born the son of German immigrants but was forbade from learning German, because it was the language of the “enemy.” He had been born in 1917, when our country was involved in another European war, against the Germans. Later, my grandfather would tutor new Americans, who had fled conflict and probable death abroad and were learning English in their new hometown of Chicago. My grandfather also helped senior citizens prepare and file their state and federal income taxes (even when he was himself a senior citizen), and volunteered at the nursing home where my grandmother worked. He played the piano wonderfully and often played piano and organ at their church. Most importantly, he raised five daughters and took great pleasure in his grandchildren and in traveling the world, always glad to come home — not only to the home he had designed and built for his family when he was a young man but also to his country which he loved so dearly and understood so well. He believed in the American system, based on freedom and equal opportunity and hard work and service.

Now, unlike many of you, my grandfather never served overseas. When he enlisted, at the age of 25, the cause of a mysterious childhood illness became known. The family had always believed that he had survived the Spanish flu when he was a young toddler — in 1918, when he was one year old, there had been a terrible flu pandemic that killed twenty million worldwide (about the same number as the victims of World War II and Nazism combined). When he went in for his military physical, his chest X-rays showed the telltale signs of tuberculosis, and indeed that is what made him sick at the end of his life. We never knew it growing up, because he was just as disciplined in self-care as he was in everything else he did. Although he did not serve overseas, he remained enlisted and loyal to the Navy. Every Thanksgiving as I recall growing up, he and my grandmother hosted young naval cadets from the Great Lakes Station in their home. They hoped that, though far from home, these young men could enjoy the traditional Thanksgiving meal with a family, the American family — and my grandmother was an amazing cook to boot! He received a military burial when he died in 2009 at the age of 92, after a full and amazing life, and although those young naval cadets were not sending a decorated war hero or officer to his final resting place, they were sending a loyal soldier who took great pride in his country and who was dedicated to service.

Today, we are divided here at home, extremely divided here in our American home. We are desperately in need of role models of high moral character, like my grandfather, whether simple everyday soldiers, citizens who take on their civic duty with purpose, or highly decorated officers and political leaders in service to the state.

So I ask you: do not remain silent. What you see concerns you. This is the country you fought for, the country with whom you shared your children and spouses, and we still need you. We need you to speak up and remind us of why you were so willing to give of yourselves — remind us of what you hold most sacred — and why you were so willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for it.

In honor of my grandfather, in honor of you, and of all American patriots, I would like to read the end of Abraham Lincoln’s most famous speech, The Gettysburg Address, which my grandfather undoubtedly knew by heart. President Lincoln had pronounced it on the blood-soaked civil war battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on November 19, 1863, 156 years ago. Importantly, it reminds us of what is left for all of us to do.

“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

This is what President Lincoln said then, and it still holds true today.

My Statement on Resolution to join Burlington and Winooski to formally request that the USAF replace the F-35A with a safe and quiet aircraft (April 16, 2018)

In 2010 (I was on the Council at the time), the first public meeting to discuss the proposed basing of the F-35 at BIA was held in Winooski. Later, when the draft EIS was issued in 2012, I read with consternation the data indicating a 50% increase in the number of homes that would fall in a zone around the airport deemed incompatible with residential use (rising from 1900 to 2900 homes, or over 6600 people). Over the six years since, I have only become more convinced that the F-35 is incompatible with a densely populated, residential area. This remains the case, in spite of the federal judge’s finding last year. As history as shown us — with the suffrage and civil rights movements, for instance — because something is legal does not necessarily mean that it is right.

South Burlington residents are deeply patriotic. Many have served with valor in the military or provided direct support as family members, friends, business owners, and taxpayers. As a community, we are civic-minded and actively invested in the democratic process. Our democracy is enshrined in our city charter and in the Vermont and US constitutions, which our military members solemnly swear to uphold. At the same time, South Burlington residents object to, if not the noise, then the impacts of the noise and the noise compatibility programs, which have been decimating our affordable housing stock, putting the future of one of our three elementary schools in jeopardy, and overall disrupting the peace of mind and quality of life of many who reside here. We have the policies of two federal agencies at work here in South Burlington. Mayor Weinberger of Burlington has stated and restated his desire to stop the buyout program and pursue other mitigation programs. The Regional Director of the FAA, however, has stated that, other than home acquisition, no noise mitigation exists to lessen the impact of these high-powered jets. It is a Hobson’s choice from the perspective of us living here in South Burlington. There is no win-win with the F-35, which forces me to consider my responsibility to protect the rights, the economic assets, and the future wellbeing and prosperity of South Burlington residents, which is also prescribed by our Comprehensive Plan.

In spite of the wishes of the Burlington Mayor, we here in South Burlington have to consider the likelihood that the F-35 will trigger the same mechanism that brought us the home acquisition program to begin with. Our residents will rightfully demand federal relocation assistance — thus leading to the demolition of hundreds more houses on top of the two hundred that have or will soon become unavailable to our workers. The lack of affordable workforce housing has reached the crisis point in our region and state. People, and particularly people who are responsible for ensuring the wellbeing of our community, have to look at the big picture. There are few alternatives for our workers to relocate in South Burlington. For this reason, many go to communities north, east, or south of us, further away from public transportation and job centers. The drift outward increases the number of cars on our roads, and our schools lose families with children — incurring further costs. Additionally, since Chittenden County is the center of economic activity in the state, we need housing not only for the people who work here but also for those workers whom our businesses wish to recruit. Studies show that the lack of available affordable housing in South Burlington and elsewhere is the number one factor that is hampering our economy due to slowed growth in our workforce. The lack of available affordable housing causes our grown children to move elsewhere and prospective recruits to decline job offers. The workforce shortage is real and measurable; and it is a big problem.

Today is not yesterday. We have to look at the facts now and use our best judgment based on those. Well beyond “who was here first?”, the question we need to ask is, “What should the region’s priorities be in order for our economic future to be bright?” Chittenden County is the economic engine of the state. Today, given all we know, the F35s are not compatible with our economic priorities. A federal policy decision that leads to another federal-level decision to fund the demolition of homes that serve our workforce and are in short supply is shortsighted and, therefore, unwise.

Fortunately, this seeming predicament does not leave us with another win-lose situation. The Air Force has stated on a number of occasions that there are other options. Other flying and even combat missions are available — with no loss of federal dollars and emergency responders at the airport, no loss of personnel (maybe even an increase), and certainly no loss of the base. Any suggestion that the base will go away is patently false. An excerpt from the Air Force’s brief submitted in federal court last year (a lawsuit to which Winooski was a full party and South Burlington joined as amicus curiae) states the following: “There could have been any number of reasonable alternatives available to the Air Force on how to configure Burlington” (Federal court records, Case No 5:14-cv-132, Defendants Memo in Opposition to Plaintiffs Motion, March 7, 2016, pp. 59-60). Furthermore, one of the options, the C-130 — from its noise and safety profile to the jobs it brings — provides the win-win that our state, our nation, the local and state economy, and the residents of this city and region need.

Some people may wonder why politicians disagree on the conclusion to be derived from all of these factors. Or maybe not. Politicians often disagree. That is in the nature of representative democracy. We are of diverse viewpoints and opinions, just as the public is, and that is as it should be. The goal, ultimately to the benefit of the public, is a full airing of views in order to strike a balance between valid priorities and concerns. Pat Nowak provided that on this Council, and we grieve her loss. I keep her in mind, and not least of all in honor of her contributions to this six-years’ long discussion and debate that we have taken up again tonight. We had our honest, if passionate, differences. I do respect Pat and her position.

On the other hand, there is the question of vested interests (securing votes from constituencies, corporate donations, or some other political gain or promise of advancement). I will not take the time to highlight all the facts uncovered through the fine investigative journalism performed by many news outlets (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, Boston Globe), including the reporting by Jasper Craven at the VT Digger. Suffice it to say, I am happy that Burlington voters have shown more sense than has our Congressional delegation. It is also fortunate that I am free to say so. I am not bound by promises, am beholden to no one and nothing other than my own conscience, and am accountable only to the residents of South Burlington. Every day, we start anew in order to uphold the democratic principles on which this country was founded. It takes a lot of work, and there is much work to be done. The fact that petitioners had to go to the Burlington voters in order for them to have a say (instruct the local governing body that oversees the operations at the Airport) speaks to the failure of the democratic process in this basing decision. We shall see if their efforts, and the Burlington City Council’s 9-3 decision to heed the will of the voters, lead to a needed correction.

Furthermore, taxation or any form of hardship without representation goes against our basic American democratic principles. We fought a war over it. The fact that South Burlington, the community that has sacrificed and will continue to sacrifice the most and that stands to benefit the most from the economic benefits an airport provides, has no say over this basing decision or Airport Improvement Plans that directly impact our city, is, to put it simply, un-American. Some have argued to me that it is unconstitutional. Again, there is much work to be done.

We have learned about the F-35’s problems over the past six years. This decision is not just about the residents living around the airport whom the basing decision has already impacted. It is about the regional and state economy, and ultimately about our democracy. Thank you, Burlington, for listening to the people and for giving me the opportunity to stand in solidarity with you.

Press Release: Campaign announcement

Meaghan Emery announces her candidacy for a fifth term on City Council. She has long been an advocate for common sense policy that promotes fiscal responsibility and protects residents’ quality of life. This requires a balance between a number of competing priorities. In Council deliberations, she seeks to do the following:

– Focus development in our city’s core and preserve areas rich in wildlife and agricultural-grade soils.
– Enforce local oversight of our public assets and enter into agreements for shared regional services that do not compromise the city’s interests or squander public resources.
– Enhance the visibility of our existing commercial districts and ensure that the door remains open to new local businesses.
– Develop our bike path network and promote public transportation while maintaining our roadways and highway services.
– Support valuable public and cultural services that develop a sense of community for the benefit of all residents.

This year will see the completion of City Center projects, including a park, with accessible walking paths, play structures, and restored ecosystems, as well as the construction of Allard Square, a senior residence, on Market Street. The new culvert on Market Street has brought needed stormwater mitigation to the City Center district, and Councilor Emery has been a strong advocate for this responsible planning — with no increase in property taxes — through TIF (Tax Increment Financing). TIF, for a limited time, allows 80% of property taxes collected from new development to be invested into public infrastructure, including parks, roads, and public facilities.

Emery is committed to advancing the proposal to construct a new public library. Expected to occur next fall, the bond vote will be covered by TIF, City Center reserves, and private fundraising. Allard Square (developed by the nonprofit, Cathedral Square) benefitted from the City’s Affordable Housing Fund, which the Council unanimously supported in order to encourage such development. Emery would also like to see this fund used for housing that could accommodate families with school-age children, either on Market Street (as Champlain Housing Trust is currently proposing) or elsewhere.

Emery believes concentrated development that meets the needs of families, workers, retirees, and businesses benefits our community long-term. She similarly supports the preservation of open land for agriculture, wildlife or recreation, which will ensure sustainability. Also of benefit are investments in shared services, such as regional dispatch for police and fire/EMS, which will be put before voters in March, and in renewable energy. The Landfill Solar Array, opened last year, promises to generate $45,000 to $65,000 of net metering credit value annually to offset the city’s electrical costs.

Emery wishes to continue her work to realize the end goals of these initiatives.