Burlington residents worried about proposed development

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(Host) Most of the area along Lake Champlain, north of downtown Burlington, was farmland into the early 1900s.

Now, on one of the last remaining farmsteads, there’s a proposal for 250-units for senior housing.

As VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, residents on Appletree Point fear their neighborhood could be overwhelmed.

(Sneyd) Chuck Seleen and his wife are so unhappy about the development that they invited some neighborhood kids to build a model of it. They wanted to demonstrate to city officials how the Commons at Appletree Point would dwarf their house.

(Seleen) "As best as we could, we took their scale drawings and we tried to put it to scale to the size of Lego blocks. It’s very close."

(Sneyd) The toy blocks tell the story. Seleen’s house is only a few building blocks high. In fact, you could put Seleen’s house and a dozen more inside the toy buildings that could be his new neighbors.

The blocks are representative but the debate is very real.

Primarily, the debate is over four large buildings where seniors would have specialized care available as they age.

The project’s developer is Bill Niquette, best known as one of the architects of downtown Winooski’s redevelopment.

He says there’s a huge demand for senior housing and his proposal preserves open space.

(Niquette) "Our feeling was that we could consume a reasonably small percentage of the property, far less than what would have been required to develop in the pattern of landscape that exists out there today, and accomplish a public benefit in terms of providing these housing services that are needed.”

(Sneyd) Burlington allows developers to build more units if they’re planning senior housing.

But neighbors say the scale of Niquette’s project is out of character for their residential area . They’ve organized seven adjoining neighborhoods to oppose the proposal. They’re circulating a petition throughout the city.

Some of them have met with Mayor Bob Kiss. But he says they should let the city’s planning and review boards do their job.

(Kiss) "I really encourage people to use the process. Time and again, I think the process before the Design Review Board and the Planning Commission has worked well to actually shape the final results of proposals that are made for the city of Burlington.”

(Sneyd) A couple of city boards have already considered the proposal. They’ve suggested scaling some of it back and Niquette says he’s likely to follow some of that advice.

Still, neighbors say they’re under siege. Bob Schwartz says the tens of thousands of square feet of senior housing would overpower the former summer cottage that he lives in.

(Schwartz) "In the right place, there would be nothing wrong with it. In a waterfront, low-density, residential neighborhood, it just doesn’t relate to its environment.”

(Sneyd) That’s an argument residents have been making for weeks. They plan to continue making it when Burlington’s Development Review Board is scheduled to consider the Appletree Point proposal again on April eighth.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.


PHOTO: Chuck Seleen stands in front of a former farmhouse that is part of a proposed development project.

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