The academic year may be over, but the University of Vermont’s plan to build more dormitories on the Trinity campus is just getting off the ground.
The proposal – part of Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger’s 10-point plan to increase the city’s housing stock – would rezone the Colchester Avenue property to allow for more buildings at a higher height and more near the road. It is proposed by the university but has also been approved by the town hall.
The design of the plan received a mostly positive reception from the Planning Commission at a meeting on Wednesday evening. But the school’s overall strategy for housing students — as Burlington battles a sub-1% vacancy rate for long-term rental accommodations — has come under greater scrutiny.
Purchased by the university in 2002, Trinity Campus is the former site of Trinity College, a Catholic women’s college which closed in 2000. It now houses a mix of academic, administrative and residential buildings for UVM.
If the zoning changes are passed, the university’s immediate plans would involve building two new residence halls: one for graduate students, the other for undergraduates, school officials said.
Commissioners welcomed the proposed addition of graduate housing, which the university does not currently have. But as UVM’s undergraduate population grows — forcing school officials to institute “triple forced,” where three students cram into a dorm intended for two people — some commissioners have questioned whether the plan was to solve the housing crisis in Burlington or that of UVM.
“Historically, it seems to me that the university is just not a very good partner in the city of Burlington,” said Commissioner Alexander Friend.
Lisa Kingsbury, the university’s associate director for planning, acknowledged that the new dormitory would give UVM “some leeway to withstand fluctuating enrollment.”
But that flexibility doesn’t mean the university is trying to create more buildings for the same number of students, Kingsbury told the commission, pointing to demographics that show the number of Northeast students enrolled at the college will decrease in the coming years.
Kingsbury also said that – while the university plans to build the building for freshmen and sophomores, who must live on campus – juniors and seniors could also choose to live in the dorm.
Some commission members asked the city’s director of planning, Meagan Tuttle, if the body could approve the zoning changes on the condition that UVM house a certain proportion of its students on campus, freeing up more rentals in town for non-students.
“Do we have a mechanism to ensure that it will actually be an increase in the number of accommodation at UVM?” Commissioner Emily Lee asked. “And not just a location transfer or relief from their current overcrowding in the dorms?”
Although Tuttle didn’t give a firm “no,” she suggested that any agreement between city officials and the university on housing would likely come from city council or the mayor’s office, as one did. similar agreement between the two parties in 2009.
“At the end of the day, getting some kind of agreement in place about a certain percentage of on-campus housing or on-campus students has always been handled by agreements outside of the zoning ordinance,” said Tuttle.
The Trinity Campus proposal is one of three major zoning reforms considered in the Mayor’s housing plan. The plan also calls for parts of the South End to be commercially zoned to accommodate residential development, and parts of the city that only accept single-family homes to allow for the creation of multi-family buildings, such as duplexes and triplexes.
Any changes to the city’s Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance must first be approved by the Planning Commission in a three-part process: a vote that moves the measure to a public hearing, the public hearing itself, and then a final vote recommending the change to the City. Advice. Upon its arrival before the city council, the zoning amendment undergoes at least two additional votes and another public hearing.
Wednesday’s meeting featured a discussion of the Trinity Campus proposal. The commission could hold a public hearing for the zoning changes at the next meeting that deals with the matter, which Tuttle said is scheduled for late June.
In addition to their criticisms of UVM’s impact on the city’s housing market, the commissioners weighed in on multiple technical aspects of the proposed zoning changes. Of particular concern was a change that would allow buildings to sit as close as 25 feet back from the property line (about 40 feet from the Colchester Avenue sidewalk).
Although former Ward 1 Councilwoman Sharon Bushor criticized the detail for not allowing enough green space in comments during the meeting’s public forum, Commissioner Michael Gaughan argued that the step back measure was not far from what other college buildings adhered to. And to solve the city’s housing crisis, he argued, the campus should squeeze more buildings onto its land.
“Everyone wants UVM to build more housing,” Gaughan said. “Parts of campus will have to look quite urban for that to happen.”
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