Burlington City Councilors this week considered whether a question about the future of City Hall Park should be put on the Town Meeting Day ballot. The debate led to two hours of public comment and over an hour of council discussion.
For years the city of Burlington has considered concept plans to redesign City Hall Park. According to the Public Works Department, public engagement began between 2010 and 2013 when the city received an NEA grant for initial concept plans. Between 2016 and 2018 there were over 25 public meetings reviewing potential plans. A final design was approved last summer.
The area on the west side of city hall currently has some green space, walkways and trees. The proposed $4 million plan would enhance landscaping and accessibility, mitigate erosion, preserve some trees and plant others.
The group Keep The Park Green says the project would pave one-third of the park and result in the loss of 41 percent of the trees. They petitioned for a ballot question be put before voters on Town Meeting Day in March to cancel the current plan and instead have the city keep existing trees and repair and maintain the park.
During more than two hours of comment Monday night the public was split as to whether voters should weigh in. Travis Fryer felt citizens should have a say. “Regardless of what anyone thinks about the new plan I think everyone should be for putting the question on the ballot because it’s just better democratic process to get everyone’s opinion. So I’m here to ask that City Council put the question on the ballot.”
“My name is Vinson Pierce. I’m a resident of Ward 2 and a current member of the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Commission. I’m not here to speak on behalf of my colleagues. I encourage you to move ahead with this project. We’ve delayed and delayed and delayed. I don’t think anyone can argue that the park doesn’t need updates and I look forward to moving forward with this project as planned.”
City councilors were also split on placing the question before voters. East District Democratic Councilor Richard Deane: "The strong sentiment of my constituents, and I will vote in agreement with them, is that this revitalization of City Hall Park should move forward. It’s long overdue and we need to get it started as soon as we can. And it’s for that reason that I will not support the referendum language being included on the March ballot.”
But Ward 3 Progressive Brian Pine said thousands of city residents have asked to weigh in on Town Meeting Day. “I don’t actually think it has anything to do with whether you like the plan or the process. That is irrelevant. The point is we have constituents who’ve asked us to be representative of them in a direct way. And I think that’s what we need to do. I think we need to forget about the process, put all that aside, and allow this process to be truly open and democratic. That’s all people are asking and I think we really owe them that.”
The resolution to place the question on the March ballot failed on a 6 to 6 vote.
Audio from the Burlington City Council meeting is courtesy of Channel 17 Town Meeting Television.