January 24 2017
Landlocked Forest Zoning Changed to Open Space
By: Rich Hosford
Burlington’s Landlocked Forest now has stronger protection against the possibility of development.
Town Meeting on Monday voted 92-11 in favor of changing the zoning of the 247-acre forest from General Industrial to Open Space. The zoning change required a ⅔ majority.
The warrant article was the product of a group of four Town Meeting members, Monte Pearson, John Iler, Jonathan Sachs and Joanna Schlansky who argued the zoning change was necessary to protect the forest.
“The current zoning is General Industrial, a status that says that it is up for potential sale,” Pearson said. “What we are doing today is deciding whether this land is municipal land or whether it is for sale. Once we take down the ‘for sale’ sign we can focus on enhancing its value for municipal use and recreation use.”
Proponents of the zoning change also said designating the forest Open Space would better reflect the reason why the town took the land by eminent domain in 1985, a time before the town had Open Space zoning bylaws.
“As noted the land was taken by eminent domain to protect the watershed and preserve open space,” Iler said at Town Meeting. “We think it is important our zoning reflects the original intent of why it was taken, we want the zoning to be consistent. I think right now the town is lacking credibility because we took it for preservation but left it zoned as ‘industrial.’ We should have the courage to zone it in a way that is consistent with why we took it.”
There were arguments against the zoning change. For one, three members of the Board of Selectmen had voted against recommending the article be passed at a recent meeting, citing that there may be municipal needs for part of the land that would be prohibited under Open Space zoning.
“The problem is if you rezone the property you limit our ability to potentially address municipal needs,” Selectman Mike Runyan, one of those opposed, said.
Pearson and others pointed out that Open Space does allow for some municipal uses, including cemeteries, non-commercial recreation, parks, playing fields and water distribution. Runyan argued there are other possible uses that might be prohibited or that the language in the bylaw may not explicitly address.
“Monte [Pearson] mentioned water distribution system but that is different than water treatment,” he said. “There are so many questions and by rezoning the property you are severely limiting the options the municipality may have.”
Those against the zoning change also pointed out that there is currently no developer looking to buy the land and that even if one came forward the current board of selectmen, who oversees the property, would never sell it. Others countered that the situation may change in the future if someone with a lot of money started to try and make a deal and different people were on the board.
The last time a developer tried to purchase the land was in 2008 when an entity called Patriot Partners made a failed bid for it.
In the end the argument that if, in the future, the town wanted to do something not allowed under Open Space zoning with the land it would need to get a ⅔ majority of Town Meeting to approve it, thereby putting the default emphasis on preserving the land, won out, mand the article was approved.