The comment didn’t come until near the end of the meeting, but Malcolm FitzPatrick questioned whether the city-owned Country Club Road property is suitable for housing development in any case. In its second public meeting reviewing early draft site plans for the property, residents focused on housing and recreation. The third and final meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 9, from 12 to 2 p.m. on Zoom.
As the city of Montpelier works out a plan for its newly acquired nearly 140-acre Country Club Road property, it has invited the public three meetings to review and discuss three several early site plans. White + Burke’s Stephanie Clarke opened the meeting reminding attendees that the three sketches were intended to provide context for discussing options and ideas for the property. The consultant’s charge is to manage a “transparent and inclusive” public process that will lead to the presentation of a conceptual master plan to the city council in March.
FitzPatrick, who introduced himself as an urban planner, suggested that Montpelier has many sites more appropriate for housing development than the former golf course. Among the obstacles FitzPatrick cited is the several acres of prime agricultural land that, being the most level and accessible area of the property, is shown as having the most concentrated area of housing development in two of the sketches presented by White + Burke, the consultants contracted by the city.
Noting that Act 250 review is going to be required because of the prime agricultural soils and several wetlands, FitzPatrick asked, “What is the depth of the bedrock?” a concern that consultants have indicated will be addressed during data collection.
Road development and traffic flow are also concerns, FitzPatrick said, “The slopes (on the north perimeter of the property) are too steep for roads” that will be used in winter. He added that in his view a traffic study should have been done before the city purchased the property. Using a roundabout at the intersection of Country Club Road and Route 2 rather than expensive traffic lights had been suggested earlier in the meeting. With a traffic circle already in place at the nearby intersection of Routes 2 and 302, FitzPatrick said, “One rotary after another would be a nightmare.”
Other Questions and Suggestions
Previous public sessions, along with interviews and surveys of a variety of stakeholders in the community, have indicated the leading ideas for the future of the property are housing and recreation — with respect for environmental impacts and wildlife corridors, Clarke restated in a summary of the process to date.
Dan Voisin asked what upgrades to the city’s infrastructure will be required outside of the parcel? He also asked for clarity about what types of housing the city needs. City planner Josh Jerome, noting that new data about the city’s residents and existing housing stock is coming soon, providing more current data. The last study was done in 2011, he said.
“The Vermont Housing Finance Authority (VHFA) has indicated that Montpelier will need to have 400–600 new housing units by 2030 to meet the projected demand in the area,” said Jerome.
Parks Director Alec Ellsworth raised another concern that will need to be dealt with in any development plans. “Some of the streams are underground for part of their routes,” he said. David Saladino from the engineering firm “vhb”and a member of the consulting team, noted that the “streams now in culverts could be restored.”
Noting confusion about what level of housing would require improvements to the property’s single access at the intersection with Route 2, Steve Sease asked whether it was 75 units as stated at an earlier hearing about the project, or the 300 units Saladino referenced in his presentation today. Saladino explained that a 75-unit development would require a traffic study, but that the 300-unit threshold would require more extensive changes at the intersection, which is adjacent to a recreation path, railroad tracks, and access to the Agway farm and garden center across the highway.
After noting that roundabouts have proved a more functional way of managing traffic than signals, Paul Carnahan asked about the plans for the trail between the Vermont College of Fine Arts campus and U-32 high school. Ellsworth said that the trail concept was developed before the city’s purchase of the property. The proposed path of the trail is shown on sketch maps across the northern property line near adjacent woodlands.
Ben Block, co-chair of the Montpelier Conservation Commission, noted that the sketch maps show the stream and wetland buffer zones as 50 feet but that the standard for buffer zones is 100 feet. He also asked if there is a limitation to building heights: structures of three to five stories have been represented as possible options in the discussion sketches.
“It would be helpful to have a detailed GIS (map) of the whole area, including the adjacent properties,” said Sease, “We need to see the slopes and contours that need to be considered.” Saladino replied that it is already clear that one of the ravines between the property and town would require building a bridge to accommodate a roadway.
Several people commented on the long-standing winter use of the property for cross-country skiing, most recently groomed for training and race events by Montpelier High School. Support was voiced for a plan that would accommodate both housing and recreational trails, but Nat Winthrop’s – vice chair of the board of The Hub – request for a show of hands for support of a “multi-use hybrid model” was not taken up.
When Clarke reminded attendees that an online survey about potential options for the property can be taken online, Jessica Barnard commented that she had found the structure of that survey unclear. “It was difficult to determine whether some questions applied specifically to the Country Club Road property or what is desirable for the community in general,” she said.
Didi Brush asked about Clarke’s reference to a limited timeframe for available funding. “How much? What is the timeframe?” Clarke replied that ARPA (the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021) funds can be used for infrastructure development, but projects must be established within the next two years (in other words, funding must be obligated by the end of calendar year 2024 and expended by the end of calendar year 2026.)
Jerome added that of the several housing projects under discussion in Montpelier, only the Isabelle Circle proposal has submitted an application.
Cindy McCloud and David Kidney both stressed that any new recreation center needs to be established within walking distance of the schools. Kidney suggested construction of a new recreation center building would be more appropriate on what are now fields near the Elm Street swimming pool; alternate playing fields could be developed at the Country Club Road site.
Clarke’s overall question, “What is the most important and desirable use of the property?” remains open for discussion. The third and final hearing of the winter series will be held virtually, Thursday, Feb. 9 , from 12:00 to 2:00 p.m. on Zoom.
Country Club Road Winter Session 3
Time: Feb. 9, 2023 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/88217978710
Meeting ID: 882 1797 8710