The first official day of fall has come and gone, and I hope you all are enjoying the beautiful colors beginning to show on the trees in our parks, streets, and urban wilds.
We have a big election coming up in five weeks at the local level as well as for state and federal offices. The local ballot will be a referendum on whether we go forward with plans to make the city more affordable, sustainable, inclusive, and vibrant, or go backwards on major initiatives the City has been working on for years. Below are summaries of the major issues. Please go to BTVFuture.com for more information and opportunities to ask questions.
Sustainable Infrastructure Plan for the 21st Century
One of the major reasons that Burlington is an outstanding place to live, work and visit is that prior generations have made major investments in our streets, sidewalks, bike path, breakwater, parks, water system and more. That infrastructure is now failing in a number of areas and it is our turn to take the actions necessary to keep this foundation to our quality of life and economy strong.
On September 19, City Council unanimously approved a comprehensive $50 million, 10-year capital plan and placed the associated bonds on the ballot as Questions #1 and #2. A “Yes” vote on #1 and #2 will address important basic City infrastructure. These water pipes, streets, sidewalks, and firetrucks are the foundation that underpins our commerce and makes our community accessible. After two years of municipal property tax rate cuts (it's true – look carefully at the municipal portion of your tax bill!), and with the City’s finances restored to a strong position and interest rates at historic lows, now is the most cost-effective time to address this growing challenge.
We have worked hard to find non-property tax revenues to pay for over 40 percent of the plan in order to keep the impact on property taxes as low as possible. The plan would add a couple of dollars a month to the median property tax bill in 2018, and it would go up a little bit more each of the four years after that as the $27.5 million general obligation bond you will vote on is drawn down incrementally between now and Fiscal Year 2021. In return, residents will see vastly improved streets and sidewalks, the replacement of 2/3rds of our fleet of aging fire trucks, a completed Bike Path renovation and enhancement, updated water mains, and much more.
Burlington Town Center Takes Substantial Steps Forward
The City Council also took a number of important steps at the end of September to decisively advance the BTC Mall redevelopment project and placed language on the ballot as Question #3 supporting a zoning change that allows for greater density in the downtown and Question #4 authorizing tax increment financing (TIF) for public improvements.
A “Yes” on #3, the zoning change, will allow for greater density in the downtown, improved protections for the Lake, more housing options to help make the City more affordable, and the potential for more retail and jobs.
A “Yes” on #4 will grant the City the tax increment financing authority to pay for new public improvements – including reconnecting St Paul Street and Pine Street, lost in the 1970s when the current mall was built across each of those streets – using new tax revenues generated by the BTC Mall redevelopment, expand the City’s property tax base, and allow for public improvements that benefit the environment and make the City more affordable to live in.
A further benefit of the proposed mall redevelopment is the potential of a district energy system in Burlington. This would dramatically reduce the energy needs of the City (reducing our carbon footprint by 20 percent) by using waste heat generated by the operation of the existing McNeil plant to help heat homes in the City. That long-sought concept is now viable thanks to the potential addition of substantial new downtown load through the proposed redevelopment of the BTC Mall.
North Avenue Pilot Project
For the last year at my weekly Bagel Café 8-9am coffees, the most common topic of conversation with New North Enders has been the North Avenue corridor pilot project. This has been a difficult project with very strong opinions on both sides of the issue and it is going to continue to be a topic of conversation for some time, with a presentation on data related to the pilot and public opinion planned for October 17 at the regular City Council meeting.
I would like New North End residents to know this about the pilot as we continue these important conversations:
- The City is working hard to respond to public input on the project. Since the pilot started we have made numerous adjustments based on comments we have heard, including building a bus pullout to address congestion issues near the Ethan Allen shopping plaza, and adjusting the corridor’s signalization to address unexpected back-ups. More changes are being considered now in response to the survey.
- There has been a huge response to the online survey about the pilot. As of the time I am writing, more than 1,100 residents of the New North End have filled out the survey, which had to be done as an online survey available between the start of school and now to meet the deadlines for this pilot set by the City Council in recognition that winter is coming soon. In the spring, before final decisions are made about the pilot, there will be another survey where filling out a paper version will also be an option.
- The initial data about the pilot indicates that it may be making the road materially safer for drivers. This data is preliminary and needs more analysis before it is conclusive, but is worthy of consideration by all of us who care about the safety of Burlington residents. As I have said from the beginning, this pilot effort is being attempted because some elements of North Avenue have been problematic for drivers, pedestrians and bikers, and we are looking to make it better for all users of the road.
As always, I invite you to join me and share your ideas and concerns about the City at the Bagel Café on Wednesday mornings from 8-9 am or at numerous other community events each month. To stay informed about City progress and happenings, please visit www.facebook.com/MiroBTV. I hope to see you soon.