by Carolyn Grodinsky, member of the Parks Commission and former member of the Planning Commission. Leigh Seddon, former chairman of the Parks Commission.
Montpelier City Council is reviewing and taking public comments about the zoning updates. The first hearing will be on April 12. While there are many changes, the concern we would like to address here is the impact on open spaces — specifically Sabin’s Pasture.
Since the early 2000s, Sabin’s Pasture has been the top conservation priority of the Parks Commission and the Conservation Commission. In 2004, the Parks Commission sent its first request to the Planning Commission to consider conserving the upper pasture portion of the property. At that time, the upper pasture ranked as the highest conservation priority of the Parks Commission, based on the 2002 Open Space Plan completed by the Conservation Commission and Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission. The Parks Commission also supported the development of housing on the lower hillside along Barre Street.
In 2008, after a year of discussion, the Sabin’s Pasture Working Group published their report recommending development on the lower portions of the property, and preservation of the upper pasture as a new park to be acquired with suitable compensation to the landowners. These recommendations were reflected in Montpelier’s master plan process. In the 2015 updated plan, the upper pasture was called out as a future potential park, and the land off Barre Street was designated as a five-year growth area priority.
The planning commission — in rewriting zoning regulations and specifically, in changing the zoning of Sabin’s Pasture to a higher density “Residential 6000” designation — has ignored the adopted master plan and the recommendations that the Parks Commission, Conservation Commission and Sabin’s Pasture Working Group has provided over the last decade.
Without a consensus plan to protect and develop Sabin’s Pasture for both open space and affordable housing, development proposals will not materialize. Residents in the eastern neighborhoods of Montpelier will also lack walkable access to a public park. It is important for zoning to reflect the recommendations that have come from many years of community discussion and consensus building. Having zoning that includes this consensus only strengthens development. It will guide a developer to build with community support.
As Montpelier tries to develop new housing options, bring in new businesses and achieve Net Zero by 2030, there is a fundamental need to protect our existing open spaces and natural resources. The proposed new zoning does not do this and could undo years of effort to achieve a balanced approach to development. We urge all Montpelier residents to review the new zonings regulations and voice their opinions to City Council.