Burlington (VT) Adopts Open Space Plan

Burlington, VT–At their meeting Monday evening (30 October 2000), the Burlington City Council unanimously adopted a comprehensive plan to protect natural areas and open space in Burlington.

Protection of natural areas and open space in Burlington has long been identified as one of the public’s highest priorities. Recent studies throughout the country have debunked the myth that conservation and development are inherently at odds. The fact is open space conservation is good for everyone – residents, visitors, and businesses – and their bottom line. The 2000 Burlington Open Space Protection Plan is a plan that:

  1. Seeks to balance development with conservation. Open space protection is envisioned as a tool that will make Burlington more attractive for future development and investment rather than an obstacle to future growth.
  2. Highlights the many natural, social, and economic benefits derived from natural areas and land conservation. Protection of Burlington’s natural and recreational systems will benefit everyone -both today and long into the future. It will benefit the city’s economy in addition to its environment, and quality of life.
  3. Emphasizes priority areas for protection rather than individual properties. The Plan outlines a vision of Burlington where natural areas, parklands, and greenbelts are physically integrated into the urban fabric of the city in order to compliment development with land conservation.
  4. Concentrates primarily on non-regulatory means of implementation. While regulation certainly has its place as a tool for protection, it is not considered an effective and sustainable solution over the long-term. The Plan outlines an process for the purchase of land or conservation easements on important sites and features throughout the City.

The Plan offers a vision for Burlington “where natural areas, parklands, and greenbelts are physically integrated into the urban fabric of the city in order to compliment development with land conservation.” This “vision” embraces two forms of open space that define the character of an urban place within a distinctively natural landscape, and identifies areas of the city that are high priorities for long-term protection – Significant Natural Areas which include the Lake Champlain shoreline, the Winooski River and Intervale, and Englesby and Centennial Brooks, and Urban Greenspaces which include neighborhood greenspace such as pocket parks and community gardens, the downtown waterfront, treebelts, and recreational corridors such as trails and footpaths.

The Plan proposes the creation of a comprehensive land conservation program – the Conservation Legacy Program – to be jointly administered by the Conservation Board and Parks & Recreation Department, and comprised of three programmatic elements:

  1. Conservation Education: To improve the public’s familiarity and appreciation of Burlington’s natural areas, to communicate the importance of open space protection, and to encourage public participation in the protection and planning process.
  2. Land Acquisition Planning: To identify and prioritize land that is of greatest significance to the City as natural area and open space, and negotiate long-term protection through public acquisition by the City and other governmental and non-profit partners.
  3. Stewardship, Management, and Enhancement: To assure responsible long-term stewardship, management and enhancement of significant natural areas and important open space according to Long-term Stewardship Plans prepared and adopted by the City.

Additionally, the Plan recommends the creation of a Land Conservation Fund – sustained in-part with dedicated City funding – to be set aside for the purchase and long-term protection of significant natural areas and important open space in the City of Burlington. An “Advisory Referendum” is on the November ballot (Question #4) in Burlington regarding the creation of such a fund. If approved, local officials will seek authority from the Legislature to enable local governments to create a local option tax to support open space protection funds. The creation of any new tax for such a purpose would still require local voter approval before taking effect.

Finally, the Plan outlines a series of recommendations for continued Planning & Improved Development Review to act as a safety net to protect specific resources and features from the adverse impacts of nearby development. Specific examples include a plan to create or protect small areas of greenspace within the most densely developed parts of the city, and changes to the city’s zoning to more effectively protect existing natural areas and open space.

Prepared under the direction of the Burlington Conservation Board, this plan is the result of nearly two years of work, more than 10 public meetings, and input from more than 500 citizens. This Plan is the result of a resolution passed by the Burlington City Council in July 1997 that directed the Planning Commission and the Conservation Board to prepare a “natural areas/open space protection plan” for recommendation to the City Council. Financial and technical assistance was provided by The Trust For Public Land, and additional funding was secured from the VT Municipal Planning Grant Program and the Kelsey Trust. A Final Draft of the Plan was unanimously endorsed by the Conservation Board, Planning Commission, and Parks and Recreation Commission at a series of meetings held over the past two months.