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Champlain College Development Seeks To Ease Burlington Housing Woes

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Taylor Dobbs
/
VPR
Mayor Miro Weinberger thanked (from left) Champlain College Vice President David Provost, Preservation Burlington's Ron Wanamaker and City Councilor Karen Paul for their work on the Champlain development.

Champlain College is one step closer to a new mixed-use development near the heart of downtown Burlington.

The new building is set to replace what is currently a parking lot with a 104-unit student housing development with underground parking and commercial space on the ground floor.

“This will add 104 units, 290 beds in the downtown corridor, walking distance to our campus on our existing shuttle bus route,” said David Provost, Champlain’s senior vice president for finance and administration.

The project fell behind its initial timeline last year when nearby residents as well as a local preservation group raised issues with the new development. The building will be on a lot the city sold to Champlain for $1.1 million in 2013. But soon after that land sale, the neighbors raised issues with the scale of the project.

Since then, the college and the city have worked with those advocates to come to an agreement on a new project, settling a legal dispute over it before they went to court.

“As part of the mediated agreement, Champlain College has agreed to lessen the size of the building and incorporate exterior material changes to better fit the neighborhood,” according to a release about the agreement.

Mayor Miro Weinberger was a leading advocate of the project from its inception. He and other proponents say the development would preserve the space’s existing use by keeping the same number of public parking spaces below the building while adding student housing in an effort to alleviate the high rent prices and low vacancy rate in the Burlington housing market.

There’s an added benefit for the city, too.

“Another thing that we think that is important that will flow from this is real substantial revenues to the city,” Weinberger said. "It’s estimated that when this project is built, it will generate approximately $400,000 in new property tax revenue.”

The project is part of a larger effort by both Champlain College and Weinberger’s administration to reduce the student pressure on Burlington’s housing market and improve the quality of life in the city’s neighborhoods.

The two groups formalized that effort as part of an initiative also announced today called the Neighborhood Project. Preservation Burlington, the advocacy group that raised issues with the development, is also part of the Neighborhood Project.

"If we succeed at creating new housing on campus and in some locations off campus that house half of the 3,000 students currently living in the historic neighborhoods, what happens to those buildings that the students leave?" - Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger

“The idea is this: If we succeed at creating new housing on campus and in some locations off campus that house half of the 3,000 students currently living in the historic neighborhoods, what happens to those buildings that the students leave?” Weinberger said.

Champlain College and the city of Burlington have dedicated $25,000 each to the effort, and Preservation Burlington put in $5,000. The money will fund the development of “an overall strategy and toolkit of policies and programs based on national best practices,” according to the release.

As an example of a policy the group could come up with, Weinberger mentioned the idea of a program that would provide incentives for owners to renovate apartment buildings into single-family homes to be owned by the residents. While the group may not adopt that very policy, the goal is to come up with ideas that will keep Burlington’s neighborhoods stable.

The University of Vermont was notably absent from the group involved with the Neighborhood Project. UVM’s student body of roughly 10,000 students is triple the size of Champlain’s, and many of those students live off-campus.

Weinberger said renovations to add capacity to on-campus housing are underway at UVM, and he thinks the university will be a willing partner in the city’s effort to improve the housing situation.

“I certainly don’t think UVM is absent from this overall push to try to add student housing,” he said. “They also may well end up being part of this – we’ve been in communication with them about being part of this stabilization Neighborhood Project and they simply were not a party to this, in terms of the Eagles [Landing] and have not been in the center of these conversations, but I’m hopeful that as we go forward from here they will join on and be part of that effort.”

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