My thoughts on South Burlington’s priorities regarding regionalized governance of BIA

“Consistency with local land-use plans”: the FAA asked BIA to answer in their official application whether or not the Airport’s plans are reasonably consistent with South Burlington’s land-use plans. The Airport answered yes. The City of South Burlington says no.

After the January 23, 2017 passage of a Council Resolution and appeal to the FAA following the announcement of its new home acquisition program, I wish to share a few thoughts on the recent conversation regarding the regionalization of Burlington International Airport as it pertains to South Burlington now and in the future. My concern is that this proposal must fully take into account the value of Chamberlin neighborhood and similar middle-class neighborhoods in Winooski and in Williston. If VTANG’s base were to grow, and more than the now nearly 1,000 single-family homes that the FAA recommends for acquisition and demolition lost, the immediate consequence would be pressure on building out the remaining open space in South Burlington. Keep in mind: the FAA will continue to recommend the home acquisition program unless and until the Airport definitively says no.

As your City Councilor, I adopt a view seeking a compromise, and here are my reasons why: 1) there’s no joint-use (civilian/military) airport in any major metropolitan area (e.g., the Chicago Loop or on Manhattan Island), and with good reason 2) Chittenden County is, similar to Chicago and Manhattan, the State’s economic engine, and 3) according to the 2012 ECOS report (prepared under the direction of the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission), the top priority for ensuring future growth in the County is the retention and construction of affordable housing for our needed workforce in order for this growth to occur. People recruited by companies in our region often turn down work offers because they cannot find a home they can afford; or they have to live outside of Chittenden County, often in Addison or Franklin Counties or in New York state. In fact, the Environmental Impact Statement produced by the US Air Force cites a negative economic impact on the region with the F-35 basing. Local and state officials cannot turn a blind eye to this.

South Burlingtonians, and particularly those residing in the SEQ and those who cherish our open spaces in the SEQ, should be skeptical of any regionalization proposal. Any pressure on Chamberlin neighborhood will have a direct impact on the open spaces remaining in the SEQ; and development in the SEQ, far from city services, puts a strain on our resources. For families and retirees living in Chamberlin, the loss of their single-family homes on quartre-acre lots amounts to a quality-of-life issue. There are no replacement homes of equal value.

Should the towns of Colchester, Essex/Essex Jct., and Shelburne be brought in on a regional airport study initiative, the issues unique to South Burlington (and potentially also to Burlington, Winooski, and Williston once the F-35s arrive) must not be lost in the mix of these other towns’/cities’ priorities regarding Airport development. Airport regionalization is a KEY question to pursue but one must consider it carefully.