Marcelle Leahy with Sen. Peter Welch and Mayor Weinberger at State of the City in April
City finances, infrastructure better off now, too
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger took office in 2012. Today, his office released a retrospective of his tenure that highlights what the mayor believes are his accomplishments. For people interested in Burlington but unable to follow the day-to-day developments, the statement provides interesting detail and perspective on how Burlington has changed in the last decade. – Editor
|by Mayor Miro Weinberger|
Our city in 2023 is in many ways a better place than it was in 2012.
In 2012, we were teetering on a financial cliff, millions of dollars in the red. Today, we are once again a AA city, with millions of dollars in reserve.
In 2012, our housing market was badly broken having only produced about 500 homes over the prior decade. Now, after many ordinance reforms and major focus, we are starting to make good on the promise that housing is a human right by building many more homes. We built over 1,200 homes in my first ten years in office and are on track to meet our goal of doing that again in just five years, with nearly 800 homes under construction in the city right now.
In 2012, Burlington had fewer than 25 solar installations. Today, we have 385 solar arrays generating well over 9 megawatts of deployed PV, the most per capita of any city east of the Mississippi.
In 2012, major elements of our public infrastructure were in disrepair. Since then, we have used our renewed financial strength to complete over $100 million of investments in our essential public infrastructure.
In 2012, the city was pock-marked with stuck and stalled projects. The former coal-fired Moran Plant sat crumbling amidst the weeds and industrial debris of the northern waterfront, bus riders were still using a makeshift transit center from the 1980s, and the Champlain Parkway right of way was laying fallow. Today, the revived and remediated Moran FRAME is a monument of Burlington’s innovative spirit on the now vibrant northern waterfront, 750,000 riders a year enjoy our 21st century transit center, and the Champlain Parkway is under construction again after a 34-year hiatus.
On this year’s Town Meeting Day ballot, Burlingtonians narrowly voted down an effort to remove significant authority from local elected officials and I believe the Administration and my colleagues on the Council must make good on that vote of confidence and deliver progress promptly in its wake to protect public safety, advance racial justice, continue action on climate, and deliver on the promise of housing as a human right.
You can read the full State of City here.
|The Patrick Leahy Burlington International Airport – Of all the City’s stories of recovery and investment over the past 11 years, none has been more dramatic than the Airport. In 2012, BTV was one of just two junk-bond rated airports in the U.S. and was courting disaster with less than one month’s cash on hand. We now have nearly two year’s cash in reserve, and a solid, stable rating from Moody’s. |
BTV is now one of the busiest airports in New England, second only to Boston’s Logan Airport, and is an economic engine for our region. None of this success, or prior decades of growth, would have been possible without the critical support of Senator Patrick Leahy. He has always understood what a critical link the airport is between Vermont and the world, and worked tirelessly throughout his 48 years in office to strengthen that link. In a particularly special intermission during the State of the City, I was proud to announce the City of Burlington will rename its airport the Patrick Leahy Burlington International Airport.
|Confirmation of Chief Murad – Last Thursday, surrounded by dozens of supporters on the steps of City Hall, I announced that I will be seeking City Council confirmation for the appointment of Chief Jon Murad at the June 5th City Council Meeting. Our City needs and deserves a strong and reliable leader in our Police Department, and we have been fortunate to have one in Chief Murad for the last three years. The Chief is on track with our rebuilding plan, having successfully added social workers, community service officers and new police officers to the team. |
Under Chief Murad’s leadership, the BPD has arrested suspects in over 80% of the shootings in the last two years. Throughout challenges of historic high drug overdoses and housing pressures, the Chief has continued the department’s proud legacy of being one of the most transparent, progressive municipal police departments in the country. The Department has created a new use of force policy with much greater focus on de-escalation, implemented a new body camera release policy, worked with the Police Commission to formalize an expanded citizen review of all complaints, and launched a new racial justice training program for officers.
|Recent Public Safety Action: Creating a Crisis, Advocacy, and Intervention Program (CAIP) Assistant Director In May, the Council voted 11-1 to approve the creation of the new Assistant Director of Crisis, Advocacy, and Intervention Programs (CAIP) at the Burlington Police Department. |
This critical new civilian leadership role will oversee the new, alternative public resources we have worked so hard to create and expand over the last several years. The creation of the Assistant Director of CAIP also represents the first step that we will take this spring to launch a new mental health crisis response team called Burlington CARES (Crisis Assessment, Response, Engagement Service). Burlington CARES will be a team of medical and social work professionals equipped to response to calls for service for mental health. In June, the Administration will bring forward a number of actions for approval by the Council to enable us bring Burlington CARES online later this summer.
|Forward Progress on the Housing Crisis – There are more new homes in construction now than at any point in the last several decades – but, we are digging our way out of a deep hole and we need many more homes to meet our needs. We must keep taking decisive action to create more homes. |
New Zoning for the South End Innovation District We have another excellent opportunity to build new homes at scale on what is nearly 13.5 acres of surface parking lots in the heart of the South End Innovation District. I proposed this new zoning in 2021, and the Planning Commission approved it in January. I have urged the new Ordinance Committee – which is clearly going to be busy in the year ahead – to also make review and approval of this new district a top priority in the months ahead. You can find out more and stay involved with this initiative here.
The Neighborhood Code Our other major land use policy effort for 2023 is to create the Neighborhood Code. So far, this effort has documented that for the last fifty years, Burlington made a series of zoning changes that effectively prohibited cottages, duplexes, triplexes from being built in nearly 70% of the city’s neighborhoods.
|Whether these policy changes were well-intended or intentionally exclusionary, it is clear now that they work against not only our housing goals, but also our climate goals, our racial equity goals, our City revenue goals, and much more. Over time, the new Neighborhood Code has the potential to create thousands of new homes in Burlington. In early May, the Planning Department delivered a presentation on this work, you can read the full report here.|
Our goal is to put a new ordinance in front of the Council before the end of the year. Updates and more information on this effort are here. Act 250 Reform To realize the benefits of all of this work at the local level, we must have State action and participation as well. I was very pleased that, after months of advocating, State legislators took an important step and amended bill S.100 to include an increased trigger for Act 250 in designated areas (14% of Burlington), and, critically, language that initiates a process to achieve “municipal delegation” of Act 250. Here’s a column I wrote about municipal delegation back at the beginning of the year.
This effort still has a way to go, but when it is in place next year, it will cut the cost and time in half for many new housing permitting projects in Burlington and other pro-housing Vermont municipalities, without any diminishment of environmental review or loss of public value.
|A Clear Path for the Champlain Parkway – As we have been through so many legal and regulatory challenges in the past decade, with the Champlain Parkway and in other housing and infrastructure battles, the City has once again prevailed in our efforts to implement this generational improvement to Burlington’s public infrastructure. In May, Honorable Judge Geoffrey Crawford of the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont filed his decision on motions for summary judgements in favor of the Defendants including the Federal Highway Administration, the State of Vermont Agency of Transportation, and the City of Burlington in a suit related to the Champlain Parkway project.|
While there is still the possibility of an appeal over the next several weeks, this decision cleared the project’s last major hurdle. After 34 years of misguided designs and delays, with this decision, the City now has a path to completing and opening the key middle section of the Parkway within a year. The Parkway will create nearly three miles of safer streets, stormwater improvements, and updated utilities — creating a new gateway into our City for visitors, cyclists, and pedestrians to enjoy along one of our most vibrant arts and business districts, while also alleviating traffic and congestion in residential areas.