SEABA Position Statement regarding PlanBTV South End

The South End Arts and Business Association (SEABA) was founded 29 years ago as the Greater Pine Street Business Association to give South End businesses a voice when the Southern Connector first became a hot topic. Since that time, we have seen the South End grow organically and creatively, with SEABA leading the way to cultivate a creative district with programs such as the South End Art Hop, art openings, curation, promotion, social painting events, helping to lease out vacant spaces and warehouses, and the South End Holiday sHOP. SEABA has worked tirelessly marketing creative business, providing a voice and education, and serving as an information center for the South End Arts District.

Recently, the City of Burlington completed an inclusive and engaging public planning process leading to the City Council adopting the planBTV Downtown and Waterfront Masterplan. As you may have heard, the City began a similar planning process called the planBTV South End. The area studied makes up just under ¼ of the entire South End, and is known as the ‘Enterprise Zone’ as it is specifically zoned for light manufacturing and other creative uses. This plan will have significant implications for the future of the South End. We know the South End well, and to that effect, SEABA is assisting the planBTV South End consultants, and city officials in implementing a complete and transparent process. This process will engage our business and arts communities, advocate for their interests, and propose ideas/concepts/alternatives that will only strengthen and enhance the South End of Burlington.

According to the planBTV South End website: “The South End is rapidly growing and changing as we have seen in the last few years, and many more opportunities for development and re-development still exist. It is time to engage in a planning process, complete with significant public engagement, to define a comprehensive vision for this area that allows the community to proactively prepare for the expected continued growth.”

“planBTV South End will place an emphasis on a community conversation to find ways to promote and improve economic development, quality urban design, affordable and workforce housing, active transportation and parking management, as well as the quality and capacity of our public infrastructure.”

The above statements have raised some concerns among South End residents and creative businesses. Therefore, SEABA feels that it is important, for its constituents, as well as the public at large, to assist the City in the selection of the lens through which the planning process views the past, established, current, and future activities of the South End. In order to assist our members with understanding the information being presented, both directly and indirectly from the City of Burlington (Burlington’s Department of Community & Economic Development (CEDO), Burlington City Arts (BCA), and the consultants directly involved in this process (Goody Clancy and Civic Moxie)), while acknowledging the potential for the politicization of this information, SEABA wants to take this opportunity early in the process to share our understanding of the planning process with you, and has prepared some initial guiding principles to help with the proposed Plan’s interpretation . We hope these guidelines help you to contextually frame the planning process among the origins of the South End, the pre-established South End Arts District, and the collective energy and efforts leading to the recent growth and identity associated with our community, so as to reinforce your participation and contributions to this creative opportunity.

Here are the guiding principles as we see them:

1. Any new commercial development or reconstruction within the South End, specifically the Enterprise Zone, must support and enhance the creative economy and “feel” of the South End, and to provide opportunities for creative businesses to expand and thrive like Select Design, Skida, Burton, VCAM, Davis Studio and Dealer.com. Commercial development in the Enterprise zone must consider the relationship between building facades and the public realm, not the form & mass of buildings in relation to one another.

2. Any development of open or existing green space should foster the continuation of the current ecosystem that is the South End. Specifically, an effective stormwater and infrastructure plan as well as expanding on ‘community minded’ development such as parks, trails, art parks, maker spaces that promote interaction within our creative community. Designated brownfield sites should also be thoroughly studied and planned prior to any development so as to consider the safety of current residents, and future employees. Special attention must be paid to the effects of development on water quality, including phosphorus, stormwater runoff, and urban pollutants). With any development that takes place in the study area, brownfields and the superfund site must be handled with the utmost care. The most stringent standards for disposal, remediation and removal/disruption of soils must be implemented.

3. Transportation strategies employed must address and significantly improve pedestrian walkability, crossings and cycling routes, while drastically cutting the existing automotive congestion, without simply ‘kicking the can down the road’ a few blocks. We recommend a very clear and complete multi-modal plan fully in-step with the imminence of the Champlain Parkway project. In addition, making Pine Street a ‘dead end’ street on the southern tip is a concern for residents and businesses who rely on this route for groceries, banking, and other essential services found on Shelburne Road. Traffic diverted into neighborhoods in order to access Shelburne Road establishments just compounds the issue.

4. Housing: Residential development in the South End (Not including the Enterprise Zone study area) must take into consideration the overall impact on future development and expansion of business and creative commercial space. The City must also realize that mixed use (residential and commercial) opportunities do not work well depending upon the use and location of the commercial aspect. SEABA recommends housing in the South End in the following designated locations: Behind Champlain Elementary School, Flynn Ave. tank farm, pocket on St. Paul Street, section c-1 of the Champlain parkway, and near the Pine/Flynn corner which has already been re-zoned to allow for residential use. We view the ‘housing crisis’ as more of an ‘affordability crisis’, and efforts should be made to make any residential units affordable to the median class.

5. Housing: Residential development in the Enterprise Zone (only 27% of the South End) is not fully recommended at this time. The mayor is correct in refocusing this effort, as there are many issues to resolve in the South End prior to its consideration. We are following the Railyard Enterprise Project as well as the Form Based Code discussions closely, and feel the project could reveal a viable solution for the affordable housing crisis.

The planBTV South End Draft Plan was released on June 20, 2015. Aside from the online web tool to receive comments on the draft plan, SEABA has held the only community engagement during the summer months to focus and dig deeper on particular topics such as Stormwater, Economic Development, Housing, Arts & Affordability, and Mobility. To date, this has been the only effort to continue the conversation between PlanBTV South End consultants, city officials, and the South End community.

We welcome your input and perspectives relative to the improvement of the above principles and the approach to this planning process in general. Please contact us at your convenience to discuss your observations and perspectives. Let us know when you have an idea(s) that you feel will further the discussion and would provide a deeper/better/more meaningful/new/important-in-some-other-way contribution to our position statement or the process at large. We want the work that we are doing at SEABA to be reflective of our constituents and something in which you can take great pride, and at the same time be something that you feel ultimately shapes and improves the physical outcome of PlanBTV South End. SEABA best fulfills its mission when it is acting on your behalf. In this case that means: a) being a clearing house for information; b) Distilling the sometimes complex planning statements into components more understandable for those of our members who have less time to commit to this process; c) Gathering your input so that we do truly reflect the goals and desires of our membership, and d) Acting as a unified voice for the South End.

We will continue to monitor the development of PlanBTV South End; work with the City, its various relevant departments and the consultants that have been retained to construct the research and reports that will guide this process; listen to and incorporate your inputs; and provide ongoing communications to you, our members as this process unfolds. No one knows the South End better than those of us who live in, work in and love the South End.

Public comments will be open until an October 1, 2015 date. At this point, a revised plan will be released in November, 2015 followed by a round of community engagement which SEABA anticipates playing a key role in, and then the process will move to the City of Burlington’s Planning Commission for presentation to the City Council for approval. There will be opportunities throughout this process to engage the community and affect the outcome for the betterment of the South End as a whole.

Thank you for contributing to one of the greatest places on the face of the earth to live and work. SEABA is committed to improving the South End Arts District and supporting everyone in our community.

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