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Burlington City Council assesses proposed zoning ordinance change for UVM

Burlington City Hall
Burlington City Hall (file)

The Burlington, Vermont City Council met on Tuesday this week. Key items of discussion included a proposed ordinance change and the potential impact of a Town Meeting Day ballot question.

In 2003 the University of Vermont obtained the former Trinity College campus. The college is now seeking a change in the city’s ordinances that would allow it to develop mixed and collegiate use of the property. City Planning Director Meagan Tuttle explained the proposed changes.

“This portion of UVM’s campus is included in our future land use plan as an area that’s intended to help facilitate institutional development and growth in the future," Tuttle said. "The most important goal that is shared and that has been part of the discussion through this process is to help facilitate the greatest number of beds that this campus can responsibly accommodate.”

The plan was panned during public comments with most speakers calling on councilors to table the measure. UVM Union of Students member Aspen Overy urged councilors to listen to students.

“Students strongly disagree with UVM administration and their policy of infinite growth. UVM has made the choice to warehouse us and pack us in like sardines," Overy said. "And if we rezone Trinity, UVM will not stop with their rampant desire for growth having the ideology of a cancer cell. This can have drastic impacts on the city of Burlington as a whole, skyrocketing rent prices. Students do not want Trinity to be rezoned without an enrollment cap.”

UVM Vice President for Finance and Administration Richard Cate says he has a clear directive from the college administration.

“We’ve got a clear directive from our board that we are not to enter into a formal agreement that caps or limits enrollment," Cate said. "We’re doing what we’ve done all the way along which is to build more housing as we need it and we want a basically net neutral impact on the community and the hope would be that would actually help in the long run.”

The public concerns were echoed by city councilors.

Ward 2 Progressive Gene Bergman told the UVM administrators attending the meeting that there has been a problem with UVM housing its students since he attended the college in the 1970’s.

“Getting numbers from UVM, numbers about enrollment and other vital things, has been like pulling teeth. It has not been a good and easy and transparent process," Bergman said. "And your impact on the housing crisis has got to be lessened.”

A move to table the measure indefinitely passed 9 to 1 with one councilor absent.

Assistant City Attorney Kyle Clauss answered questions from the City Council regarding his memo reviewing any potential legal issues with Town Meeting Day’s Proposition Zero charter change. It would give city voters greater powers to petition and initiate ballot questions and ordinances. Clauss wrote that aspects of the citizen-led question “remain unclear as to their interplay with and effect upon the routine business of the City Council and Mayor ... in particular, the mayoral veto.”

“That was an overarching issue that we flagged with the charter change language," Clauss said. "With the veto there’s a bit of a gray area with whether or not the question would be submitted to the voters upon the initial veto. Because even if the council did adopt the ordinance, but the mayor never-the-less vetoes it, would that trigger the requirement to submit it to the voters? Or would it be the subsequent failure to get a two-thirds override vote, would that trigger submission to the voters? And I think that is a gray area that, would this pass, would need to be ironed out in the Legislature in their review of it.”

Town Meeting Day is March 7th.

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