Plan BTV goes public with vision for Burlington’s waterfront and downtown

The cover of Plan BTV, Burlington’s draft land use and development plan for downtown and the waterfront, makes it look like a new local magazine with inviting teasers about the city’s creative economy, Green stormwater treatment, and how to create a “municipal advantage.”

It’s all part of making the proposed master plan more accessible, according to Department of Planning and Zoning staff member Sandrine Thibault. The idea is to provide a graphically-rich vision that “you can support even if you don’t like all the ideas,” she explained on Tuesday.

In the works since 2010, Plan BTV is the outcome of a community-wide process designed to define new goals for sustainable development and set the stage for concrete decisions. “Our intent is to identify, understand and address current barriers to the creation of new infill development,” explains a summary of the project. Once adopted, the plan will be the comprehensive document that promotes economic growth for the next decade or longer.

The just-completed discussion draft of Plan BTV, presented in the form of a PowerPoint summary, was reviewed by the Burlington Planning Commission this week, and is scheduled to go live online July 13. A series of at least 14 presentations also began this week with a CCTV taping and appearances before a neighborhood planning assembly and business groups.

Upcoming presentations, each stressing parts of the overall plan most relevant to various audiences, include the Burlington Business Association’s downtown action group at 9 a.m., July 17, at the Merchants Bank; Church Street Marketplace Commission, 8 a.m., July 18, location TBA; and Ward 4/7 NPA meeting, 6:45 p.m., July 25, Miller Center.

The City Council will take a look at the plan and hear public reactions on Aug. 13. The deadline for comments is Sept. 30.

Phase 1 was an analysis of existing local conditions conducted in 2011. The discussion draft is the culmination of Phase 2, essentially a master plan development process. The final phase will be the writing and approval of various zoning and regulatory changes that make future development easier, especially when a project fits in with the vision.

Mayor Miro Weinberger has predicted that the Plan BTV process could lead to “a meaningful consensus” about what Burlington’s downtown and waterfront should look like. “There are all sorts of developable parcels, either parking lots or under-utilized structures,” he told VTDigger in June.

According to the Planning and Zoning Office, Weinberger explained, “it comes out to about 40 percent of the downtown where you could have more development and it would be totally consistent with the character of Burlington that we know and love today.”

Big ideas run through the plan, David E. White, the city’s planning director, told the commission. After reviewing the key points and a series of colorful renderings that show potential projects like a large multi-purpose structure on the Main Street gateway into downtown, a waterfront pavilion, and a horseshoe-shaped hotel near the current site of the ferry dock, Planning Commission member Andy Montroll wondered aloud whether all of the ideas are realistic.

In response, Planning Commission Chair Yves Bradley said that this is one part of envisioning the city’s future. “Unless you show it you are stifling it,” he argued, calling the process to date “not a bad exercise.” While Bradley acknowledged that “a lot is wishful thinking and throwing stuff at the wall,” he believes that the plan’s release will spark a dialogue that produces “some good change.”

The PowerPoint version opens with a word cloud, generated through public input received thus far, that presents “vibrant” as the most popular concept, followed by accessible, diverse and dynamic. Themes running through the plan include housing choice, active and healthy living, environmental and cultural stewardship, and creativity and innovation. The overarching development strategy is to create new development spaces that attract jobs, reclaim under-utilized land, and build the city’s market share.

Plan BTV calls the waterfront “event central” and envisions mixed uses year-round, more marine services, and reconfiguration of various parcels. It emphatically stresses the need for more housing, along with increased diversity and reduced “barriers to development.” Related to housing and commercial projects, the plan also offers various strategies for managing the demand for parking.

Commissioner Lee Buffinton questioned why nature and green space weren’t stressed more, and she recommend that the presentation be tweaked to make it clear that “we’re not shrinking Waterfront Park.”

Other sections on the plan cover the creative economy, farm to city food innovation, and making downtown more pedestrian-friendly. The pedestrian is king, White said, and the bicyclist is queen.

Changes envisioned for the Church Street Marketplace include incorporation of local agriculture on the top block and more benches throughout. Nearby, Plan BTV envisions new building above or adjacent to the existing mall, and perhaps even a re-connection between the north and south sides of the former urban renewal area.

Toward the waterfront’s north end, a parking deck is placed at the foot of Cherry Street, along with a multi-function Waterfront Pavilion at the corner of Lake and College Streets. Significant changes around the current ferry terminal, owned by Lake Champlain Transportation, are described as “adaptive reuse and infill.”

In addition to seeking input at various meetings, the Department of Planning and Zoning has engaged consultants to develop an interactive website that allows visitors to dig into the details and leave their reactions. Printed copies of the plan will be available at locations like the Fletcher Library by the end of July.

The insights from Phase 1, which generated with more than 1000 comments, include the following:

* only 12 percent of homes in the downtown and waterfront are owner-occupied and the average market rent is $1,250

* 63 percent of those living in this area are under 35; more than half are in single person households

* Burlington has 8,846 parking spaces downtown and on the waterfront; in any peak period 35 percent of them are vacant

* 74 percent of Burlingtonians drive to work regularly but a majority would like to be less auto-dependent

To review the Plan BTV discussion draft and comment on it, visit

Greg Guma

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  • Don Peabody

    From what Greg’s reported it seems there’s not much consideration in Phase 2 given to the fact that Burlington Bay provides a working harbor capable of handling industrial-grade water-going transport connecting to existing rail lines (and, possibly, a major roadway close-by or immediately adjacent.) I’m all for the upscale development and “opening up the waterfront to everybody” but I wonder if the desire to “clean up the waterfront” permanently distracted people from recognizing the benefits to Burlington’s working families of the “grittier” economic activities associated with deep water harbors.

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