Aim for the Heights of Your Vision: Meaghan Emery for City Council (Vote March 1)

In its best sense, politics allows us to lift up people’s dreams and help them realize their aspirations — this potential is intrinsic to the democratic promise and is at the very basis of our ideals as a nation, including our small but growing Vermont community. This ideal continues to be at the heart of my work on the City Council.

When I was first elected in 2008, I saw the hope and indeed the plea in the eyes of the men and women of our police force when they came before the Council to ask for better working conditions. And so, I set to work on educating the public on Bobby Miller’s offer of refurbishing an empty office building on Gregory Drive, and the bond vote passed with a wide margin! 19 Gregory Dr. is now home to the SBPD, the Community Justice Center, and soon our regional dispatch center which will provide faster response times to serve you better when you need their help most.

When a family approached the City back in 2009, eager to conserve into perpetuity their family farm — a piece of our city’s history and now a mainstay in the region, owned and operated by Bread and Butter — I recognized the value and acted to preserve this land, whose rolling green hills nourish our spirit and our bodies with the food they continue to provide us. Common Roots, an offshoot of SLIMY at Orchard Elementary School and part of the Farm to Table movement, is another such partnership that I supported, and it now donates 1/3 of its food production to our South Burlington Food Shelf. Just look at what is possible when people with a shared set of values and an idea get to work to make it happen! What a wonderful way to sustain our agricultural roots by teaching our children the value of farming and honoring the legacy of our founding families, all while ensuring that there’s food on everyone’s table.

If you drive down Airport Parkway, you’ll see our solar array, a 1.5 megawatt (AC) solar array, which since 2017 has been generating renewable, carbon-free energy for northwestern Vermont and net metering credits to the City of South Burlington. From this site alone, the city receives $65,000 annual accumulation of net metering credit value to offset our electrical costs (the schools benefit from additional savings). That will add up in all to $5 million over 25 years, the life or our solar array just north of the airport, and the City is using this offset to invest in more clean technology. Joining two other sites in South Burlington, the solar array at Veterans Memorial Park and the Solar Farm at South Village, it represents the best of what public-private partnerships can accomplish in this city and elsewhere.

These are just a few of the dreams that the Council has been able to help realize.

And we haven’t stopped dreaming! When you go down Hinesburg Rd. or Dorset Street toward one of our two shopping districts you see the culmination of years of work that began with the vision of our residents starting in 1985. Our City Center is the stunning culmination of the dreams of generations of South Burlington residents. It’s part of our lasting legacy to future generations. It says, along with everything else, who we are. And if you read the front page story in this week’s Other Paper, “What the TIF?,” you will be reminded that all of this was made possible thanks to the hard work of our phenomenal staff but most importantly thanks to you, the voters, who overwhelmingly added your voices to those of the Council and called for the establishment of a TIF District back in 2016. Our new Public Library and City Hall, City Center Park, all the new residences within proximity to stores, restaurants, services, and a growing commercial hub — all of this was made possible thanks to your vision, which came into focus through our community gatherings and forums, and could be realized because of the trust that you place in us as your elected leaders to take your dreams, lift them high, and make them come to life.

This is what I wish to continue to do for you and for all of us, to make us the best we can be — because it is your dreams that enshrine our parks and rolling green hills, our municipal services, and the place we call home with love and pride: South Burlington.

Vote March 1

South Burlington is moving in the direction that the residents of this community laid out before us: a balance between (1) affordability, (2) walkability, (3) environmental sustainability to make us green and clean, and (4) economic development because we are opportunity-oriented. These are the four goals of our City’s Comprehensive Plan, envisioned by our residents and approved by our Planning Commission and City Council in 2016. One of these goals should not be sacrificed for another. We need to meet all four.

  1. Affordable and Community Strong: In a very expensive County, we continue to be the most affordable. So far outpacing our neighboring communities in the construction of affordable housing, we need to continue to invest in our housing infrastructure and neighborhoods to provide entry-level owner-occupied housing and homes for all of our residents at every stage of life. By building more apartments and owner-occupied condos in areas close to our universities, services, and businesses, we will lighten the pressure on our housing stock that serves the “missing middle.” Because the newly approved land-use regulations provide for a development potential of at least 1200 new homes in our southeastern quadrant, we will further relieve that pressure, without encroaching on our wetlands or forests.
  2. Walkable: Over the past five years we have seen the beginning of more that is to come. Our new City Center is walkable and bikable, with more improvements in the works for Williston and Hinesburg Roads, connecting adjacent neighborhoods to services, businesses, and amenities like our new City Center Park. The Penny for Paths initiative, passed by voters in 2018, has so far leveraged $1.125 million in state and federal funding to expand our bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, including bike lanes, sidewalks, crosswalks, and shared-use paths.
  3. Green and Clean: In 2018, the Council approved a three-party transaction to preserve Auclair Farm as a working landscape, to be used as farmland into perpetuity. The new land-use regulations are also a big step forward in realizing regional sustainability. They will protect our wetlands and impaired streams and conserve our wildlife habitats, which are critical to our food protection and drinking water supply.
  4. Opportunity-Oriented: Since 2014, South Burlington’s planning of public spaces has been recognized by industry leaders as examples in the state. In 2014, we won two Vermont Public Spaces Awards, “designed to ‘recognize special public spaces, the corridors that connect them, or networks of public spaces which have been defined or enriched by planning or design, as well as regulations that promote positive, public uses and benefits.” One was for the South Burlington Open Space Report and the other for City Center-Market Street Design. The Vermont Recreation and Parks Award recognized the Market Street’s Stormwater Park with a Facility of Merit Award in 2018, and in 2021 our City Center Park won a merit award from the Vermont Public Places Awards Program. Our City Center, combined with our airport, technology and business parks, and core to the “opportunity zone” adjacent to the interstate, makes us not only one of the largest employment centers with new and growing businesses but also a prime location for new start-ups and economic development.

We are a community that has thrived in our search for balance, sound management, excellence in service, and new opportunities to learn and do better. We are a municipal partner and leader in the region. We are forward-looking, looking to benefit future generations of residents with responsible planning that grows our economy while enhancing our quality of life and promoting sustainability. These are values that are and have always been core to my service. Thank you for your confidence in me thus far. I have worked hard to earn it and so I do ask for your vote on March 1 to be able to continue to work toward all our goals as one of your City Councilors.

Lessons from the Campaign Trail

Meaghan Emery

Going door-to-door and meeting with residents is one of the best things an elected official can do: it’s the best way to hear directly from the people we wish to serve.

I’m gratified to hear that the Penny for Paths initiative is so popular and that people are making use of our walking and biking trails, including in the winter thanks to our top-notch snow removal crew.

I’m concerned that my neighbors in Chamberlin neighborhood continue to suffer from military jet noise, which has a direct affect on their quality of life if not on their home values. The Airport’s current request to rezone 11 acres of land where homes once stood must be met and addressed from the point of view of these residents. Their quality of life must come first.

I’m also gratified to hear people’s support for the Housing Trust Fund, which the Council wishes to grow by $1 million thanks to ARPA (American Recovery Plan) funds.

Residents are also supportive of the new Land Development Regulations, unanimously passed by the Planning Commission last December and approved by the Council last week, because they will support our housing, energy, and climate action priorities: small lots with energy efficient homes that are densely built so that our natural infrastructure — our wetlands and forests — can protect us against the worst impacts of climate change to come.

This past week I wrote a commentary for VT Digger, and I encourage you to read it if you are still trying to understand these new regulations and what they are specifically designed to accomplish. We need to provide homes in our community for people of all income levels, and the average price of a home in South Burlington ($450,000) is not accessible to all income levels. Fortunately, the federal and state governments have recognized the housing crisis and are providing needed support so that all people who work here can live here and we can bring more workers in.

This will not respond to everyone’s needs, however. Increased availability of what is called the “missing middle” in our available housing stock is still a nut we have to crack. Our middle-class residents with families seeking to move from a town house into a single family home or duplex are outbid in our hot housing market. Importantly, these residents wish to build equity in their homes, but these plans have long been frustrated by lack of houses in their price range.

So I come back to my conversations with many of the people I’ve met on the campaign trail: middle-class families seeking to upsize, and older couples seeking to downsize. And I think about what housing experts sensitive to the climate crisis have been saying for some time and what we here in South Burlington are trying to do: limit the development of suburban single family homes where our wetlands lie and redevelop our city core. Through our new regulations, as I describe above, we will see clustered development (minimum of 4 units per acre and required diversity of housing types and styles: duplexes, multiplexes, cottages) and the redevelopment of our core. By building condos, town houses, and apartments on empty parking lots and lots where empty storefronts once stood, we can take an important step forward in solving this piece of the housing puzzle.

Redevelopment is just as important if not more important than the dense new neighborhoods our regulations will now require throughout the city, with affordability requirements to boot. Older folks and younger folks, retirees, students, and people entering our labor market, stand to benefit from increased housing opportunities along our main thoroughfares, close to their places of work, schools, public transit, grocery stores, services, and other amenities. Redevelopment of our core, which we are designing to be walkable/bikable and green — with community gardens and parks — will lessen the pressure on our existing housing stock and new housing to come that will directly serve this missing middle. Again, home ownership must be a priority throughout, including in our core.

I and my colleagues on the Council have discussed these ideas before, and so testing them out as I walk from home to home speaking with residents has only fortified in my mind that new policy with these ideas at their basis is exactly what is needed.

I look forward to talking with residents about this more as I continue going door to door, and, if elected, I pledge to work hard with you as our partners to solve the dual crises that are the greatest challenge of our lifetimes: both our housing and our climate crises.