Gil Livingston: In Burlington, open space combines with livable neighborhood

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Gil Livingston, who is the president of the Vermont Land Trust.

Burlington’s wealth of public parks, beaches, community gardens and open spaces makes our city so unique. One of the most defining and treasured features of the greater Burlington area is the publicly accessible and protected waterfront. The waterfront is the backbone of the Queen City: the bike path, public beaches, lakefront parks and water access provide residents and visitors with recreation opportunities and the ability to enjoy the city’s natural beauty.

Access to nature and the outdoors not only promote health and happiness but help build community. Through deliberate protection and responsible stewardship we can maintain the natural beauty that defines our communities, state and economy. For 40 years the Vermont Land Trust has worked tirelessly to ensure that future generations will have the opportunity to remain deeply connected to the land, including places like the Burlington waterfront. For these reasons we are so pleased to work with the city of Burlington, Champlain Housing Trust and Farrell Real Estate to assure public ownership of the last long stretch of beach along the urban waterfront that is not already owned and protected by the city.

Following extensive public conversations, the City, Vermont Land Trust and Farrell Real Estate reached agreement to create a new 12-acre public park – all of Texaco beach, the wooded bluff overlooking the lake, the well-worn path from North Avenue to the bike path, an open meadow, community gardens and the historic stone house. These 12 acres join more than 300 acres of already protected open spaces in Burlington’s North End. The new park provides critical open space to residents of our most multi-cultural, economically diverse Old North End neighborhood.

While Vermont Land Trust was discussing conservation with the city and Farrell Real Estate, developer Eric Farrell was also engaged in discussions with affordable and senior housing organizations, Champlain Housing Trust and Cathedral Square. The result of those conversations is a truly mixed income, livable neighborhood with significant affordable and senior housing. Michael Monte of the housing trust has stated that the project will be “one of the best mixed-income developments that the city will have seen.” The affordable and senior housing will be located adjacent to the new city park, giving residents ready access to the outdoors.

This story could have had a very different ending. It would have been all too easy for the entire property to remain private, with expensive single-family residences and a privatized Texaco beach. Credit should be given to the city, Champlain Housing Trust and the developer, Eric Farrell, for committing to a livable, sustainable mixed-income neighborhood that includes public open space along the waterfront. Only rarely have Vermont communities successfully combined affordable housing and land conservation. The city, Cambrian Rise and Champlain Housing Trust should be commended for delivering a community in the North End that is sustainable, accessible and includes a new public park.

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