Why we need leadership to take us beyond the existential threat of climate change

Is our precious democracy effective at solving the greatest human crises? It took the United States 90 years to abolish slavery after the initial abolitionist movement began in Philadelphia in 1775. Material interests and greed prevented a young United States from facing up to the responsibility of living up to our founders’ words, according to which we aspired to build a new kind of society, one in which all people are born equal. And here we are in the face of our greatest existential threat after nuclear war: climate change. Industrialization and the fossil fuel industry have again led us down the path of material interests and greed to the point where we face the prospect of our own destruction. I do not believe, however, that this will mean a new civil war between those set on defending those interests and their supporters and others committed to preserving a planet capable of sustaining human life for generations to come. The level of rancor this is causing in South Burlington should not scare us. Debate is not to be feared. Debate is to be encouraged, the parameters of the debate to be set by accepted knowledge, and all who wish to participate allowed to do so.

At last night’s City Council meeting, I was heartened to hear seven residents speak up and ask our Council to do what the people have asked us to do: lead.

We five Councilors were elected to face these challenges and to act responsibly in the interests of our city, taking the utmost care to present factual and informed arguments and to represent the interests of future generations. In order to do so, we cannot act for the now. We will betray our mission if we choose to act on short-term returns. Let there be no mistake, we are acting for future generations of residents, for their quality of life and prosperity, which alone will ensure our city’s future. They will be facing much more dire living conditions if we do not proceed with this care and foresight, and so we must lead.

I reject the following fiction that some would have us believe: construction of market-rate homes will not bring about more affordable housing. Only the construction of homes funded by public monies and non-profits, combined with affordable housing covenants, will maintain affordability into perpetuity. Do not listen to these voices of material interests, some of them motivated by greed and others by misguided good intentions.

I reject the false notion that building homes and new neighborhoods far from public transit and places of employment is sustainable. We no longer have the luxury of living in the illusion of the 1950s. We know today that human society must alter its settlement and work patterns in order to sustain itself. This won’t be the first time we do so. We are up to the task. But we need leaders to point out which steps we must take, based on solid data.

Eighty percent of Vermonters surveyed in a Vermont Center for Research survey expressed the wish to telecommute. Not everyone can work remotely, but those who can should be allowed to do so. The remainder will most likely be our service sector employees, including our teachers, restaurant workers, grocery store workers, employees in our local services and stores. Now, experience tells us that most of these essential workers will not be able to afford a $350,000+ home (2021 figures). Rather than building into our sensitive natural areas, let us invest in the redevelopment and development of areas close to our transportation corridors and our employment centers, and provide these residents access to open green space, including personal garden plots and biking/walking paths in addition to our wonderful natural areas and parks. There is a lot we can do on Rte. 2, Rte. 7, Rte. 116 (Hinesburg Rd) from Kennedy Dr. to Meadowland Drive, and Kimball Ave in the way of infill and mixed-use development in order to provide needed affordable housing; and we have federal and state grants being offered in order to do so.

In a sustainable South Burlington, our ecosystems would remain intact, all the way from Shelburne Pond up through the Great Swamp — the spine of South Burlington — on up to Potash Brook, which runs down to Red Rocks Park and into the lake. Waterways, grasslands, forests, and scrub brush all bring us millions of dollars in benefits per year as the Earth Economics report commissioned by the Council indicates (and potentially well over $200 million over 20 years). Close to these sensitive areas, tracts of land could be set aside for farming. At a distance that is respectful of these critical natural resources, and conducive to walking and biking, new affordable housing of various types depending on the household would become available into perpetuity: apartments for students in our nearby colleges and universities, apartments and townhouses/duplexes for new recruits to our businesses in the service sector, apartments/townhouses/duplexes for new families getting a foothold in our city until they save enough to upsize or buy a home.

Let us act to honor the lives of our children and grandchildren. As an ancient proverb states, we are borrowing the land from them for our short time on this blessed earth. Let us have them lead us as we work toward new regulations and planning for their future.

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.


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,

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.

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.


* This Resolution constitutes the City Council’s comments on “DRAFT Noise Land Inventory and Re-Use Plan Update/ Burlington International Airport (BTV)/ FAA AIP NO. 3-09-0000-094-2012/ December 2016.”


WHEREAS, South Burlington is home to the Burlington International Airport (“Airport” or “BIA”), an important contributor to the local, regional, and statewide economy; and,

WHEREAS, the South Burlington City Council believes it is imperative that it act in response to the following circumstances:

* The City of South Burlington’s Comprehensive Plan identifies the development and preservation of affordable housing within proximity to schools, parks, services, and amenities and the enhancement of the quality of life of existing neighborhoods among the top four priorities under the Plan’s stated Vision & Goals.

* The City of South Burlington City Council has recognized the development and retention of affordable housing as a top municipal priority and has instituted an Affordable Housing Trust Fund and an Affordable Housing Committee in addition to existing land development regulations, such as those governing the Kirby Cottages at 10, 12, and 18 Lily Lane, and new rules proposed by the Affordable Housing Committee in order to preserve the City’s affordable housing stock.

* The December 2016 deployment of the Vermont Air National Guard to the Middle East, ongoing taxiway and apron repaving that will be intermittently halting regular operations over the next two years, and phased departure of all F16 jets ending in March 2019, have resulted in a significant decrease in Vermont Air National Guard operations at the Airport from now into the foreseen future until late 2019 when the first F-35s are scheduled to arrive.

* The BIA 14 CFR Part 150 Update 2015 and 2020 Noise Exposure Map does not take into account future F-35 operations that are scheduled to begin in October 2019.

* The decrease in military operations at the Airport indicates a high probability that the 39 parcels now deemed eligible for the Land Acquisition Program by the FAA and Airport no longer lie in the 73.3 DNL contour.

* In January 2017 the FAA Washington Bureau expressed its willingness to buy the homes (“Kirby Cottages”) on Lily Lane and sell them or transfer them to a third party, potentially the Champlain Housing Trust. A condition of this offer is that the price at which the FAA would sell enables the FAA to recoup its investment. This offer is untenable. Accepting this offer would require that contributors to Champlain Housing Trust and/or South Burlington taxpayers subsidize the unusually generous provisions of the FAA’s purchase of homes under the Part 150 Program. The FAA offer further specified that these homes could remain on site as long as they have an avigation/noise easement attached to them or that they could be moved off site within a negotiated period of time.


NOW THEREFORE, the City of South Burlington does hereby state the following:

  1. We request that the FAA withdraw its grant approval for the current NCP and Land Acquisition Program given that the acquisition of the 39 parcels is based on obsolete noise levels and will result in irreparable harm to the City through the loss of affordable housing, loss of property tax revenue, and loss of peace of mind for our residents; and,
  2. We request that the FAA withdraw its approval of the most recently approved NEM and NCP and Land Acquisition Program due to cited deficiencies in the draft 2016 Land and Re-Use Plan, such as (1) the decline in commercial air passengers that contradicts the Airport’s premise that additional land is required for future airport development, (2) the inconsistency between the 73.3 DNL contour governing the current Noise Land Acquisition Program and the 75 DNL contour cited in the draft Land and Re-Use Plan, and (3) the accelerated arrival of the F-35 from fall 2020 to October 2019; and,
  3. We request that the FAA withdraw its approval of the most recently approved NEM and NCP and Land Acquisition Program due to the extraordinary decrease of military operations at the Airport until late 2019, which constitutes a significant change in the noise conditions and makes it highly probable that noise contours in the 2015 NEM are no longer accurate; and,
  4. We request that by Tuesday, February 7, 2017, the FAA begin negotiations concerning these requests with South Burlington and other officials of the state and of any public agencies and planning agencies whose area, or any portion of whose area, of jurisdiction within the Ldn 65 dB noise contours is depicted on the NEM, and other Federal officials having local responsibility of land uses depicted on the map; and,
  5. We request that the FAA recognize the City of South Burlington’s determination that residential and school uses be allowed on all land in South Burlington located within the current NEM and the NEM the City has requested that incorporates F-35 operational data, whether purchased or not purchased through the Land Acquisition Program; and,
  6. The City of South Burlington is very concerned that the integrity and quality-of-life of the most impacted residential neighborhood, including Kirby Road to the north and Chamberlin Elementary School in its center, be preserved. If it is not possible to suspend the Noise Land Acquisition Program, we request that the FAA grant the City of South Burlington/Airport an exemption so that the housing stock remain on site for residential use; and
  7. With regard to said exemptions, we request that each deed be transferred at no cost or at a reduced cost to a third party, such as the Champlain Housing Trust, in order that the properties may be maintained as affordable housing for residential use; or to another third party for a mutually agreed upon use in line with the City’s planning goals for preserving and enhancing the character of this existing neighborhood; and,
  8. Because a particular term of the January 18, 2017, FAA offer regarding its resale of FAA-purchased homes to the City, an appropriate nonprofit, or a private individual would undermine the City’s efforts to increase the number of affordable homes in the Chamberlin neighborhood, we request an opportunity to negotiate the terms of the FAA’s offer so that this provision is removed and substituted in its place is a sales-price provision that advances the City’s goals relating to increasing its stock of affordable housing. (Note: we believe that the FAA does not understand the negative implications of this particular requirement of its offer.); and,
  9. We, therefore, propose that determination of how the City should act vis-à-vis the affordable housing covenants applicable to the three Kirby Cottages at 10, 12, and 18 Lily Lane, be addressed under a separate Council resolution since this situation relates to only three of the 39 properties included on the Noise Land Acquisitions Parcels list and their circumstances differ from those applicable to the other 36 properties on the list; and,
  10. We, therefore, request that the FAA not approve the Airport’s plan to acquire noise land for the purpose of constructing an “airport access roadway” where the homes on Kirby Rd. and Lily Lane now sit (3.1 Short-Term Plan); and,
  11. We request that the FAA consider using NCP funds to construct passive or constructed Noise Buffer, including berms or other landscape improvements, sound walls, including along the Airport’s southern concourse, and an engine run-up enclosure, in order to mitigate ground noise impacting residents within the 70 DNL and greater contour; and,
  12. We request the financial and other assistance of the FAA and Airport in contracting with a qualified consultant to run the approved FAA noise model substituting F-35 data for the F-16 data that was used for the current map in order to be able to plan for the arrival of the F-35s in late 2019; and,
  13. We request that the City of South Burlington and Airport enter into a legally binding agreement that states that the Noise Land Acquisition Program will no longer be considered as a mitigation program for BTV unless there are circumstances that warrant one following an environmental impact or sound review that shows the homes and parcels are definitively impacted. We pledge to incorporate measures to achieve outdoor to indoor Noise Level Reduction (NLR) of at least 25 dB and 30 dB into building codes and to consider these measures in individual approvals. (Note: we believe that the FAA’s requirement that the airport operator provide notice and the opportunity for a public hearing on the NCP program was not fulfilled.); and,
  14. We request that future consideration of noise mitigation programs include the participation of the City of South Burlington prior to the submittal of grant requests, applications for FAA approval, and notification to eligible residents/property owners; and,
  15. In the event that noise levels become deleterious to residents’ health and quality of life and negatively affect home values, we request that the FAA work with the City of South Burlington and the Airport in order to find a mutually agreeable solution for our residents and the City’s finances; and,
  16. Since our residents naturally look to the City of South Burlington for answers to their questions and concerns, we request that the implications of future noise mitigation programs on our residents and our city be carefully explained to the City of South Burlington prior to submittal of requests to the FAA for approval and Airport implementation of such programs, whether these implications include home acquisition, buyer/seller agreement terms, avigation easements, real estate disclosures, or some other possible form of encumbrance; and,
  17. We request, therefore, that a person designated by the South Burlington City Manager receive copies of all communications, including draft documents, related to the Airport’s NEMs, NCP, etc.; and Airport presentations to the South Burlington City Council, including sharing of draft documents relating to Airport NEMs and its NCP prepared for submission to the FAA.  These presentations would take place before these draft documents are conveyed to the City of Burlington’s Finance Board and City Council.


DATED this __23rd_ day of ___January__ 2017,





Helen Riehle, Chair



Meaghan Emery, Vice-Chair



Tim Barritt, Clerk



Thomas Chittenden



Pat Nowak




* In 1990, the Airport prepared its first Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) Part 150 Noise Study, and has periodically updated its component Noise Exposure Maps and Noise Compatibility Plans through present day.

* The City of South Burlington City Council issued a letter in February 2011 in response to the Airport’s 2012 Vision 2030 Master Plan and in it stated, “The Council seeks assurance from BIA that the boundaries of its NCP program will not expand.  This is necessary to protect the adjacent neighborhood from BIA purchase and removal of more housing units than are currently planned” and further, “the South Burlington City Council hereby states that it disapproves of the BIA Vision 2030 Master Plan Update as currently written due to its lack of a pledge to fund and build noise mitigation devices (such as blast deflectors, sound walls, and engine run-up enclosures) and/or put in place practices whose result is that the noise experienced by the adjacent South Burlington residential neighborhood is no greater than it is today and, concomitantly, the geographic area in the City of South Burlington covered by the NCP is not enlarged.”

* According to the 2012 ECOS Report, “Chittenden County Housing Needs Assessment,” page 24, one finds the following correlation between housing affordability and the County’s and, therefore, State’s economic vitality, according to area employers: “The cost of housing was rated a serious problem by most area employers surveyed during this study. Adverse effects include losing recruits for job openings and higher expenditures when non local candidates take positions here — for sign-on bonuses and reimbursement for relocation expenses.” Further, on page 56, “VHFA (Vermont Housing Finance Agency) collected surveys from 47 Chittenden County employers asking their opinions about housing availability, cost, and location — and about the impact of those factors on their businesses. The cost of housing was regarded as a serious problem by 74% of employers for rental housing and 62% of employers for owner housing. In fact, 83% of employers said that the cost and availability of housing was an obstacle to economic development.” In addition to this survey, the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation (GBIC) and a team of economic development consultants conducted a separate employer survey for their analysis work which produced similar results.

* The scarcity of affordable housing is the source of major hardship for the one in three South Burlington households, which spend more than thirty percent of household income on housing. Of these one in three households, thirty-six percent pay more than fifty percent of household income on housing. The housing affordability standard is paying thirty percent less of household income on housing (these data are from the 2013 South Burlington Affordable Housing Task Force Report). The loss of an additional 37 or 39 housing units in the most affordable neighborhood in the City will add to the number of households whose budgets are stressed by the scarcity of affordable housing in the City. This assertion is supported by the 2012 ECOS Report, which cites, on page 37, that low vacancy rates – along with rising fuel costs and a tightening of mortgage credit – are likely to contribute to increased homes sales prices (“The median price of homes used as primary residences has risen 70% in Chittenden County since 2000,” and “Despite the prevalence of large owner homes, large units that are rental and/or affordable can be challenging to find,” p. 38, 47).

* The FAA released updated Noise Exposure Maps in late 2015 reflective of the then current operations at the Airport and, using an updated model, identified 961 homes within the 65+ contours.

* The Airport’s consultants unveiled the new NEM on November 9, 2015 during a “Public Workshop,” followed by a public workshop at the Airport; however, according to our understanding of public hearings within our governance rules, these open public meetings do not meet the FAA requirement of a public hearing in impacted communities (and no known meetings were held in Colchester, Williston, or Winooski, although these communities are also impacted). Nor was opportunity to request a public hearing offered on the noise insulation program, a pre-requisite to the noise insulation grant request, nor one offered on the new round of home acquisitions, required by the FAA before the Airport can begin a noise insulation program. As a result, the ramifications of the noise insulation program were not clearly communicated to the communities in question nor did the impacted communities have an opportunity to respond to the Airport’s grant request for more FAA-funded home acquisitions.

* The Chamberlin Neighborhood Airport Planning Committee has identified Chamberlin Elementary School as integral to the Chamberlin Neighborhood’s identity and vitality.

* Enplanements in each of the years 2010 through 2015 have been declining to a figure of 594,034, the City of South Burlington is somewhat skeptical of projections of an increase to 670,947 in just 4 years and to 781,216 by 2030.

* Based on the 2015 Noise Exposure Map, the Airport has identified on its website 39 parcels in the City of South Burlington within a 73.3+ DNL contour that the FAA and the Airport have determined are eligible for the noise mitigation home buyout program through the FAA’s Noise Compatibility Program (“NCP”).

* The Airport and City of South Burlington signed a 10-year Tax Stabilization Agreement in July 2016, the terms of which determine that the purchase of the 39 parcels eligible for acquisition would represent a $66,253.54 annual loss in property tax, which represents a 73.5% loss of revenue for the City. The remaining $96,870 represents a loss to the State Education Fund. Overall, this would be an extraordinary loss for the City and would compound our tax revenue loss due to recent prior home acquisitions since 2006, which number more than double the amount of eligible parcels under the current Part 150 Program.

* In view of regional and state studies, there is a probability that these 37 or 39 housing units, which include both affordable and workforce housing, are highly sought after by families with school-age children. Of these units, owner-occupied homes currently figure among the existing housing stock in the County deemed most desirable to families according to the 2012 ECOS Report, “Chittenden County Housing Needs Assessment”: “On average, more ‘family’ households own their home than ‘non-family’ households” (16).  Should these housing units be purchased and demolished, families are likely to have to move out of South Burlington due to the scarcity of affordable housing in the City and new families unable to move in.  We further keep in mind that state aid for education is based on the number of children attending the City’s public schools.  Thus, the loss of these 37 or 39 housing units would potentially cause loss of revenue to the School District. Additionally, the Chamberlin neighborhood is home to Chamberlin Elementary School whose enrollment numbers have fallen ten percent, from 253 to 229, since 2010. The School’s Principal notes that the lack of affordable housing and the state of the current economy might also explain the increased number of Chamberlin students living in multiple-generation households. On page 24 the ECOS Report cites a study done by the Vermont Child Poverty Council, pertinent to this expressed concern: “A recent study of the Vermont Child Poverty Council examined a variety of data related to the greatest problems facing the state’s children. The Council noted that ‘without stable and safe housing, children may change schools frequently or may not be ready to learn in school.’ This means that children who lack affordable housing have a reduced likelihood of becoming successful adults.”

* The 73.3 DNL contour used as the threshold for determining the current properties eligible for home acquisition appears nowhere in the Airport’s draft 2016 Land and Re-Use Plan, which, under 3.1 Short-Term Plan, cites 75 DNL as the contour within which properties “should be reserved for future airport development.”

* The City of South Burlington was not notified of the current FAA Noise Land Acquisition Program grant request for acquiring 39 additional parcels until the FAA had already approved it and before the program was before the Airport’s municipal owner and government body for approval.

* Upon review of the 2016 Airport Land and Re-Use Plan, the South Burlington Planning Commission prepared a draft letter reiterating the Council’s position in 2011 that, “Land within the 75 dB DNL can also be suitable for Noise Buffer. The City of South Burlington requests that this option, for passive or constructed Noise Buffer, be added to this area. Constructed noise buffer may include berming or other landscape improvements to further reduce noise impacts of the Airport on the adjacent neighborhood.” The Planning Commission’s draft letter further stated, “the City of South Burlington does not support a limited access connector to I-89” and especially one that “could have a significant impact on Kirby Road being used as a cut-through for non-airport related traffic coming from or headed to Route 15 in Colchester.”