Business & Economy

Artists snub ‘Makerhood’ proposed for Burlington’s South End

A mockup of a mixed-use district in the South End, presented by the city of Burlington and Goody Clancy, a design firm that supplied the image.
A mockup of a mixed-use district in the South End, presented by the city of Burlington and Goody Clancy, a design firm that supplied the image. Courtesy of the designers and the City of Burlington.

Pine Street may get a facelift. City planners have their eye on a revamp of the 600-acre neighborhood in Burlington known as the South End, which includes residential neighborhoods with largely single-family homes, a few commercial stretches, and the antique industrial buildings that have long served as artists lofts and craftspersons studios.

But the proposal, which could include residential towers on currently fallow plots of land, live-work studio housing geared towards artists and “makers,” and new multi-purpose retail-cum-industrial buildings, wasn’t enthusiastically embraced by local residents at a hearing on Wednesday.

Burlington city planners revealed their vision for “PlanBTV South End” this week, and defined the neighborhood as the area which is bounded by Maple Street to the north, Queen City Park Road to the south (where Red Rocks Park and Burton are located), Lake Champlain to the west, and Shelburne Road, which turns into South Union Street, to the east. The community makes up 15 percent of Burlington’s population, planners said.

Two public meetings were held Tuesday night and Wednesday morning at ArtsRiot, a community art gallery on Pine Street.

ArtsRiot, a community arts space and eatery in the South End. (Photo by Jess Wisloski.)
ArtsRiot, a community arts space and eatery in the South End. Photo by Jess Wisloski/VTDigger

Artist Teresa Davis was skeptical about plans for live-work space development along Pine Street.

“What you describe sounds like a great place to live when you’re right out of college,” Davis said. “To live by yourself. But I don’t think that’s realistic for the artists that are here.”

Davis operates a studio that teaches group art classes on Howard Street. She said the city’s effort to ensure studios would be built catering to the artists that lived in – or wished to move to – the area for its robust art scene seemed misguided, especially if the housing didn’t accommodate artists with families or established business.

“Are you getting that feedback from artists? I just am curious where that concept is coming from, because if we’re being displaced from our studios but being encouraged to move into a live-work space, I think that means the artists that currently exist here don’t have a spot,” she said.

PlanBTV South End was released June 16 and 17, and zeroes in on development along Pine Street. (Image courtesy of the City of Burlington and Goody Clancy.)
Fig 1: PlanBTV South End was released June 16, and zeroes in on development along Pine Street. Image courtesy of the city and Goody Clancy.

A 100-page glossy brochure was available to attendees at the presentations, and more than 200 people came to listen to the two presentations, according to local press reports. The plan will soon be printed, and available for a fee, but wasn’t yet on hand for distribution. (A link is provided below the story.)

While the site plan area is called the PlanBTV: South End – in a logo on the city’s website features graffiti-esque scrawl and gears moving in the background – the plan actually zeroes in on a thin corridor in the center of a 225-acre Enterprise Zone (Fig. 1).

The area is currently zoned for industrial and manufacturing uses only – and is situated along the bustling Pine Street corridor. In the plan, housing would be located in three areas, shown in yellow in Fig. 2, deemed as underutilized portions of the industrial district.

Five areas in the South End were highlighted (shown in blue) as possible areas for housing development outside the Enterprise Zone.

The city’s planning team, which includes Boston design firm Goody Clancy, told Davis that recent surveys of residents showed support for live-work housing in the district.

The yellow areas represent spaces where PlanBTV proposes to incentivize housing development. Courtesy of the City of Burlington.
Fig. 2. The yellow areas represent spaces where PlanBTV proposes to incentivize housing development. Courtesy of the City of Burlington and Goody Clancy.

Davis said artists in the area don’t want rents to go up. The enterprise zone, she said, “protects the makers’ spaces.”

David White, Burlington’s director of planning and zoning, said the idea was to preserve both the arts and business while also creating housing. “That’s the goal,” White said. “Artists and workers, living and working together. The fundamental objective is to maintain this area of our city as a cultural and industrial corridor.”

Amy Kohn, a lead designer for the Boston firm that produced the plan, echoed that as she showed the firm’s renderings. “Preservation and retention is a priority of this plan,” she said.

Still, comments regarding the live-work space and new housing in the “Maker’hood,” as it’s been branded by the company, promised housing of a different stripe, designed for all sorts of “makers.”

“That could be maker enterprises from making websites to making chocolates,” said Kohn.

When asked afterwards where the call for more housing came from, White said some of the larger local businesses had been very outspoken about the need for housing nearby.

In fact, the plan was partially funded by contributions from Burton Snowboards and Dealer.com, according to the documents, which together employ about 20 percent of the population of employees in the South End (about 1,200 people.) The plan was also sponsored by several grants, donations from local planning and housing groups, the AARP, and governmental bodies, but White said no single group had particular sway.

“Both Dealer and Burton provided some funding to help support the project, but they made no requests or had any unique influence over the recommendations,” he said.

In an email, White said, “like many other companies in the city and region, they will often tell you that the shortage of available and affordable housing is a major factor in their ability to grow and thrive (and for many other companies to locate here in the first place).”

Planners say the enterprise area alone comprises half of Burlington’s industrial and office space – or 2.6 million square feet – and the goal of the planning process is to boost economic development.

Audience members listen at ArtsRiot on June 17, as city planners present PlanBTV South End. (Photo by Jess Wisloski)
Audience members listen at ArtsRiot on June 17, as city planners present PlanBTV South End. Photo by Jess Wisloski/VTDigger

As designed, the Maker’hood could flourish, and serve the needs of the community by meeting the demand for more housing, especially for local workers, White said. Meanwhile, it could also respond to the need for diversified commercial spaces and mixed-use developments, he said.

“Gentrification is already happening in this very neighborhood,” White said. “Rents are being pushed upward by the types of development that we’ve seen and the types of land uses that we’ve seen evolve over the last 10 years, and that’s affecting artists and that’s affecting small businesses as these properties are becoming increasingly expensive to rent.”

The city hopes to help develop “protective mechanisms” for the art spaces, while stimulating economic growth with new buildings and property-owner incentives.

The South End, largely defined by its former role as an industrial hub in the 19th century, encompasses the homes of 6,400 residents and 472 businesses that employ about 6,300 workers, according to plan documents.

This iteration of PlanBTV is the second in a series of neighborhood planning initatives being undertaken by the City of Burlington, and follows a 2010 study and final plan adoption in 2013 for the city’s downtown and the waterfront.

The plan names areas and lots prime for housing and “infill” development – including a map highlighting in yellow which spots should be rezoned for residential use. One is a massive, former industrial area on Lakeside Avenue, near the future extension of I-89.

“The key element regarding housing, however, is to try to use it as a tool to help get the type of development we want in this area, and to ensure that there are affordable housing units and workspaces for the long term,” White said.

Amy Kohn, senior planner and associate at Goody Clancy, a Boston design firm tasked with developing PlanBTV, describes the plans to a community member. (Photo by Jess Wisloski)
Amy Kohn, senior planner and associate at Goody Clancy, a Boston firm developing PlanBTV, describes the plans. Photo by Jess Wisloski/VTDigger

Thirteen pages of the plan are devoted to photos of community events and survey results gathered over the past nine months as evidence of the involvement of locals in guiding the plan.

Yet some local residents said the process ran, if not counter to, at least parallel to existing city initiatives, like the Neighborhood Planning Assembly of Ward 5, as well as an organic grassroots effort led by artists that culminated in a May summit that addressed housing and affordability in the neighborhood, that they did with the help of Champlain Housing Trust.

“There are different groups in the city right now, really we have overlapping concerns,”said Ibnar Avilix, a Web developer who works in a building on Howard Street. “It’s got so many layers, and it’s very complicated.”

Additionally Champlain Housing Trust, an affordable housing agency that helped fund the plan, warned that an approach to housing that included residential units along the main corridor of Pine Street could, as artists suggested, drive rents too high for existing tenants, or any small commercial operations, and also possibly create a residential friction that would drive businesses away.

“There’s two cautions: One is that (housing is) more valuable, and therefore, then people like artists and commercial uses could be displaced, and secondly, there’s an impact on the commercial and industrial uses if housing is too close and gets in the way. That’s happened quite often in the South End, actually, that’s not an unusual thing,” said Michael Monte, chief financial and operating officer of Champlain Housing Trust.

He mentioned a case of neighbors complaining about sounds emanating from Rhino Foods’ refrigeration units, on Industrial Parkway, running all night long, despite the fact that the machines needed to be on in order to preserve ice cream.

“To throw housing on areas that are at this point industrial and commercial uses could in fact jeopardize the current affordability and nature of the South End, Pine Street in particular,” he warned. “Housing is just more valuable.”

After the meeting, as she talked to neighbors, Teresa Davis said she wasn’t against new development, just that she felt that her voice was being pushed aside.

“I’m not not open-minded. I just feel like there’s this housing agenda that keeps getting pushed through. And we keep giving our feedback. And they keep saying, ‘Housing,'” Davis said.

Residents can submit comments on PlanBTV at the planBTV South End website.

Audience comments after a presentation of PlanBTV at ArtsRiot on June 16, in the South End. (Photo by Jess Wisloski)
Audience comments after a presentation of PlanBTV at ArtsRiot on June 16, in the South End. Photo by Jess Wisloski/VTDigger

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  • Tony Redington

    This story ignores the voracious opposition expressed in the first session against the Champlain Parkway, a $30 million poor quality and unsafe roadway and roadway improvement project which undermines in its current design any of the good things in the plan. Burlington non-college student population/non-senior age population now remains below that of 2000 and 2010-2014 just released Census data also is down. Affordable housing hard to come by with the feds withdrawing over 800 vouchers for low and moderate income families over recent years with Burlington losing about 60. One would have to build 600 units of housing to get those 60 lost voucher units back, new moderate income apartment units unaffordable for most of the typical voucher household. More housing does not deal with the direct need of affordable units as one speaker pointed out. The plan failure to call for quality and safe infra for all users cones out of the box with a basic defect which means it has to be sent back to get a major fix.

  • Amey Radcliffe

    Thanks for this article. I believe the actual story behind the needs of Burton and Dealer requires some further digging. Their sign-on as sponsors does not indicate an interest in “workforce housing” and idea which has been used by the city to promote the housing agenda in the Enterprise District. In fact, one of these large employers found the housing survey unsuitable to distribute due in part I believe, to the leading hypothetical questions about living in an industrial area. If I were these companies I would be (angry) that my good-intentioned financial support to the city has my name being used as a pawn in a grand promotional scheme. Seven Days and VT Digger, please get to the bottom of this to get the complete story.

  • Mary V Tegel

    The opposition voices land right on the mark: unaffordable and likely inappropriate housing for established businesses and households rather than single occupants. The key would be to design a mix of housing types to meet a variety of desires and limits, and to include potential residents in the making of the architectural program, and ensuing design iterations. And, keep it funky.

  • Neil Johnson

    How can you have talk of this expansion along with all the other expansions without addressing the additional sewage.

    Burlington needs to pay for it’ own…..! Currently they are passing some of this expense to all Vermont property purchases with an increased transfer tax.

    From this article and the other about Burlington not having money enough for side walks, it appears that our Chittenden County cities need to get their finances in order…

  • Grace Guispy

    How about building “real” houses” for Burlington’s “real” middle class people. Art is great, but a collective of artists all living in the same part of the city is not going to solve my problem of finding nice affordable housing for myself, my husband and our kids. The last thing families want is a more studios. If that is not possible, how about more commercial space to lure more tech companies to downtown Burlington, instead of the over flow of crafts people and artists who do very little to contribute to a solid tax base…. “Welcome to Burlington, where middle class families fail and artists thrive.” Our next city motto…

  • “Amy Kohn, a lead designer for the Boston firm that produced the plan…”

    I’m pretty sure the woman’s name is “Amy Kaiser”, based on this from the BFP,…

    http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/local/2015/06/16/planbtv-south-end-kickoff/28831429/

    …, and this from, y’know, Goody Clancy itself:

    http://www.goodyclancy.com/news/goody-clancys-plan-for-burlington-vermonts-south-end-district-launched-for-public-review/