Burlington Needs Housing More than Another Park

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It was recently announced that a portion of Burlington College’s land on North Avenue is proposed to be developed into 520 new housing units. Some are against this idea and prefer that this land be kept open. At first blush the idea of keeping the land open is appealing. Yet pause and consider – what is the most beneficial use for the residents of Burlington?

This property is surrounded by publicly-owned open space: North Beach to the north, the “Urban Reserve” (aka “North 40”) abutting the property to the south, and Waterfront Park further south are all within close proximity. Just a short hop to the east across North Avenue is the vast Intervale acreage, including Ethan Allen Homestead. Not far away are Leddy Park and Ethan Allen Park. Most of these are owned and paid for by the City and its residents. For our urban environment, this is a lot of valuable open space. Do we really need more? Or would there be greater benefits from an infill project that will provide a larger and more diverse housing stock?

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I love public parks and am a strong supporter of them. Yet I am also a strong supporter of affordable housing. Burlington is being crippled by the high cost of housing and too many families cannot afford it. We do not yet know if this project will be all market-rate or affordable housing, but even predominantly market-rate housing will reduce the housing crunch.

As a matter of sound public policy and as an economic development measure toward sustainability, we need housing on that site far more than we need another park (that will cost more tax dollars to maintain) — especially when we already have substantial public lands in the immediate area.

Of course there are many aspects of such a project that should be (and will be) scrutinized during the permit process – traffic impacts, stormwater, pedestrian and bicycle connectivity to the waterfront bike path – to name just a few. But with review of those considerations, I urge everyone to bypass the easy appeal of another park and support housing on the site. This is exactly the kind of urban infill needed for this City we all want to keep beautiful and affordable.