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Weinberger Supports Partial Development Of Burlington College Land

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger has weighed in in favor of partial development of the 25-acre plot of land Burlington College is selling in order to improve its troubled finances.

Relying largely on a 2001 report prepared at the request of then-mayor Peter Clavelle, Weinberger said in a release Tuesday that he’s in favor of “housing of all types” being developed on the lot while “a generous portion of the land should remain open space, and the open space should be open to the public.”

Burlington College bought 32 acres along North Avenue in Burlington from the Catholic Diocese in 2010 as the diocese worked to get out of debt caused by child sex abuse settlements.

Now the college is dealing with debt of its own. Burlington College interim President Mike Smith said last month that “debt service is bleeding the institution to death.”

Smith said then that Burlington College’s $11.4 million in debt, which made the debt service unmanageable for the school. 

“If we paid all our debt service – and we haven’t been, we haven’t been paying the Catholic Diocese … it would be $735,000 on a $5 million budget,” he said.

The 25-acre land deal is set to take $7 million of that debt off the school’s books, Smith said. The buyer would take from the school $3.5 million in debt to the Catholic Diocese, then pay an additional $4 million to Burlington College. Smith said that money, too, would be used to pay down debts.

The land deal, approved last week by the Burlington College board in agreement with Burlington developer Eric Farrell, also includes a 60-day provision that would allow conservation groups to step in and buy the land for the same price and conserve it.

Those groups said last month that such a move would be unlikely without partnership from the city. Now that Weinberger has made his administration’s stance clear, it’s unlikely the entire 25 acres will be conserved, though the mayor made it a priority to conserve parts of the plot.

“The bluffs directly east of the bike path [near the waterfront] should be protected from any construction and development,” the mayor’s release said, adding that “[d]evelopment should be sensitive to and protective of significant natural features, especially the path and treescape on the bluffs, including the rare pine-oak-heath sandplain forest in the Northwest corner of the property.”

The land includes a popular path used by walkers, runners and bicyclists used to cut through the property from North Avenue to the city’s bike path. Weinberger said he hopes to maintain that access.

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