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South Burlington City Council addresses a high profile zoning issue at latest meeting

BETA Technologies' ALIA electric aircraft
Brian Jenkins
BETA Technologies
BETA Technologies' ALIA electric aircraft

At its latest meeting, the South Burlington, Vermont City Council discussed a major regional issue being reviewed by the city’s Development Review Board.

BETA Technologies is developing electric-powered aircraft. It is based at the Burlington International Airport and operates a testing facility in Plattsburgh, New York. The company is working on a building a new 285,000-square foot building to manufacture the planes on 40 acres at the edge of the Burlington International Airport. But it recently encountered an obstacle. The South Burlington Development Review Board may require special construction permits for new parking lots because the plan calls for them to be in front of the building rather than as required in back. But that would place them in the airport’s secure area and too close to the flight line.

That could threaten the project and the company’s future in the state.

During his March 29th weekly briefing Republican Governor Phil Scott weighed in on the situation.

“This is too important to Vermont," Scott said. "If either the DRB can’t fix it or the city of South Burlington, the council, can’t fix it I’ll seek a legislative fix.”

During last week’s meeting of the South Burlington City Council, Councilor Matt Cota offered an amendment intended to give the Development Review Board more latitude over parking regulations.

“We understand why we want parking in the back," Cota said. "We don’t want to see the pavement. We don’t want to see the cars. We want to see buildings. It looks better. Makes a lot of sense, except for sometimes when it doesn’t. I know when I was on the Development Review Board I was looking for more latitude, more ability to be creative when it’s possible, when it’s in the interest of the community, of the applicant, of the neighbors, everyone. Providing flexibility for our Development Review Board when they apply the parking standards I think is important and that’s why I came up with this amendment.”

The amendment pertains to airport properties that have city zoning jurisdiction. Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Connor clarified that the new standard is not retroactive.

“No current application in front of the city would just automatically be moved over to it," said Connor.

Connor noted that the BETA facility is one of the businesses that has open access to the public from the front but not at the rear. Councilor Tom Chittenden clarified with Connor that the rear of the building is located in a secure airport area.

“So in general the airport except for the Guard is surrounded by a so-called fence, right?” asked Chittenden.

“Sometimes it’s a fence and sometimes it’s a building," answered Connor.

“Right," responded Chittenden. "But it’s a containment of which there are permeations that are based upon authorization. If some structure is part of that delineation and it needs a secure access then that counts as being qualified under this new regulation?”

“Correct," Connor replied. "The building or a portion thereof is contained within.”

A public hearing on the proposed amendment was set for May 2nd at 7:30.

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