City Council Corner
Matt Cota, South Burlington City Councilor
August 26, 2021
I recently joined hundreds of other South Burlington residents to celebrate the opening of our new City Hall, Library, and Senior Center. The $22 million structure is an important investment by South Burlington taxpayers and comes after nearly 40 years of planning. It is a modern municipal building for a city that is growing and thriving and I encourage you to visit. While the building is open to the public and the City Council is meeting in person once again, we are all mindful of the risks associated with the Delta variant of the Coronavirus and we encourage the wearing of cloth face masks while inside City Hall.
The Board of Civil Authority (BCA) has and will continue to meet at least twice a week to hear from those appealing their property reassessment. These appeals are heard, investigated, and decided by the BCA’s twenty-one member panel, which includes all five City Councilors and elected Justices of the Peace. Approximately 90 appeals are now being heard by the BCA. This is a tremendous amount of work for both city staff and the BCA who are also responsible for operating our local elections, which is one of the reasons why I am not in favor of holding a special election in October. The Council is considering a city wide vote that would increase property taxes to create a new $6 million open space fund. While I am in favor of the city purchasing land for conservation, I don’t support a special election which would cost the city about $10,000. Taxpayers also deserve to know what they are buying before the money is collected. There are more than two dozen parcels identified in a recent study that have some environmental significance. It isn’t clear how much land the city would be able to acquire for $6 million, how the parcels would be prioritized, and whether the public would be able to access the land. I support open space for all, not just those who live nearby, which is why private property purchased by the city should provide for passive recreation. The best way to do this is by negotiating a price with the land owner, determining future use, and asking voters to approve a bond.
While a vote on a new conservation fund could be on the ballot in 2022, land conservation continues to be a priority now. A decade after the city voted to permanently protect the Wheeler Nature Park, the City Council is making good on that promise. Approximately 107 acres will become a permanent conservation easement to be conveyed from the City of South Burlington to Vermont Land Trust. This will not impact plans for a dog park at the northwestern edge of the Wheeler Nature Park. While still in the permitting phase, the dog park could break ground in the spring.
The need to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and increase affordable housing in South Burlington are two of the concerns that I have heard most consistently. These important issues do not have to be in conflict. There is an opportunity to address both as interim zoning expires this November and we update our environmental protections standards and further regulate Planned Urban Developments (PUDs). Included in the update will be additional protections for our wetlands, river corridors, and riparian habitats as well as guidelines for how and where new housing is built. One of the ways we can support environmental justice as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion in our city is to ensure our land development regulations allow for affordable housing near employment centers. We will reduce carbon emissions by allowing for greater density near existing infrastructure. Many of the employees at the University of Vermont, the UVM Medical Center, and the burgeoning local clean-tech industry drive through South Burlington but don’t live here. Since most of Vermont’s carbon emissions come from vehicular traffic, we contribute to climate change by limiting housing development in South Burlington. Our essential workforce is trading a longer commute for more affordable housing and increasing vehicle related emissions. This is not a good trade-off. We are fortunate to live in a city well served by water systems, bike paths, public transportation, and other critical infrastructure thanks to investments made a generation ago. It’s time for these investments to pay dividends for our environment and our community by reducing transportation emissions and creating more affordable housing opportunities.
Another investment under consideration is an Indoor Recreation Center at Veterans Park next to Cairns Arena. While the conceptual phase is nearly complete, I joined with a majority on the City Council who asked to re-examine whether Veterans Park is still the best location for the proposed facility and to explore the feasibility and cost of constructing an outdoor community pool.
One of the most important things the City Council does is manage the public’s money in a transparent, thoughtful, and equitable way. I appreciate when fellow South Burlington residents reach out with their opinions and concerns. While we sometimes disagree on policy, I am always impressed when city leaders and community volunteers devote their their time and expertise to making South Burlington a special place to live, work, and play. Please reach out to me anytime at or 802-222-0817.