Yes, the city council meeting was tonight. The Free Press stressed the importance of this meeting - it was to allow public discussion on the zoning rewrite. Varying times were announced. Was it 6:15 PM per the Free Press article? 7:00 PM? Who knew? The City Council wants public input, but it's as if the local media is in cahoots with our esteemed councilors in giving out shit information. The fine residents of Burlington are confused enough about the details of the proposed zoning ordinance, so why insult them more?
So, the room was packed tonight.
The roster for public comment was so full that the council president made a ruling: a two minute limit per speaker. The draft zoning ordinance is incredibly long, detailed, and confusing for any resident to understand - and the council seems bound to rush the voting and not seriously listen to residents. At this writing, the votes were not made.
The majority of the two dozen or so speakers were alarmed at the environmental impact of the proposed zoning changes. Yeah, I was there - along with 3 other Green town committee members - Owen Mulligan, Vermont Green Party co-chair and Burlington resident was present. Above is a photo of René Kaczka-Vallière, interim Chair of the Green Party of Burlington. He spoke eloquently about driving up from Brattleboro as a youth to Rockpoint summer camp and how he was overwhelmed by the unobstructed lake view from the top of Main Street [an amendment to the draft zoning ordinance allows for taller buildings closer to the street and blocked views of Lake Champlain]. Maurice Mahoney, of Citizens for a Liveable City commented on the council's rush to judgment. A representative from Vermont Interfaith Action spoke in support of an inclusionary clause for affordable housing. And several people wanted room for the Women's Rape Crisis Center's new building. I had an opportunity to comment, too -
My name is Jay Vos, a resident of Ward 5 and a town committee member of the Green Party of Burlington. You can’t get to where you want to go unless you know where you are. I thank the City Council for finally allowing your fellow citizens of Burlington to comment on the zoning rewrite.
It’s a no-brainer, folks.
The best you can do is to take decent and principled stands on Burlington as a truly healthy and liveable city. The idea of the zoning rewrite as a socially responsible act – rather than being merely a marketing tool or a grandiose reflection of neo-capitalism – means doing it with soul and decency. Zoning can be achieved in a lot of different ways other than those sought by the typical developer. But to understand this and deal with it, one must free the debate from rhetorical grasp of those who see a city’s future primarily in economic – rather than ecological or humanistic – terms. Or to put it in another way, I would rather see a more ecological footprint analysis reflected in the rewrite. Certainly issues of ecology –both natural and human – need to be raised to the same level as present considerations of economics.
The hope, and I believe the reality, is that in the long run, a zoning rewrite constructed on integrity and honesty will stand in increasingly stark contrast to the Knodell-Wright-Ashe-Deselles amendments, whose politics are based on the windfalls of corporate cash which manipulation, cynicism and dishonesty provide access to.
Councilors Shannon and Ellis - members who have listened to the concerns of constituent residents and sought their advice – have introduced amendments that are ecologically and human-sensitive and merit the full council’s support. At minimum, political integrity means standing firm against individuals for whom a pet cause - a zoning variance benefiting developers, for example - constitutes a litmus test for their support and being willing to accept the cost in doing so.
I'll give an update tomorrow from the local press reports.