Airport Expansion Denied: A Huge Victory for the Chamberlin Neighborhood
The airport and the City of Burlington can still monetize its 44 acre land holding by building desperately needed affordable housing
In a huge victory for the Chamberlin Neighborhood, last night the South Burlington Planning Commission killed off the airport’s request to expand with industrial-type buildings into the Chamberlin neighborhood.
The unanimous vote of the Planning Commission approved the unanimous recommendation of the Commission’s Airport Expansion Task Force on April 28.
Voices of the people were decisive
Key factors in the defeat of the airport’s request were the sustained participation in Task Force public hearings by dozens of neighborhood residents and business owners, as well as dogged work by members of the Coalition to Stop Airport Expansion to reach out to neighbors.
Coalition members canvassed more than one thousand homes in the Chamberlin neighborhood adjacent the airport, gave out flyers, listened to concerns, and obtained nearly 300 signatures on a petition.
The Task Force gave careful attention to the voices of neighborhood residents as they spoke at two Task Force public hearings.
The 115-decibel F-35 was repeatedly cited by neighbors at those hearings as a central reason to deny any further airport encroachment into their neighborhood.
According to studies cited by the US Air Force, the AARP, and a leading Vermont medical professional, the health and safety of children and elderly are severely degraded by repeated exposure to such extreme noise.
Planning Commission members not only voted to deny the airport request; several of its members also said they wanted to be sure that Task Force findings and recommendations will be incorporated into the City’s Comprehensive Plan. That means that any hope to eventually monetize the 44 acres with industrial development is gone.
Follow the money
It was military jet noise that gifted the airport with the land for which it was seeking the zoning change. The Vermont Air National Guard changed configuration of the external fuel tanks on its F-16's in 2008 so the jets required use of its screamingly loud afterburner for each takeoff.
That F-16 afterburner noise enabled Burlington to receive over $50 million of FAA noise compatibility program grants to acquire and demolish 200 affordable homes on the 44 acres facing the airport. But the plan to sell off that land to developers to build industrial and commercial facilities stalled because it required that South Burlington change the zoning of that land from residential to airport industrial.
City of Burlington can still monetize the 44 acres
The decision last night to continue zoning that land “residential” does not deny all economic value. The 44 acres can still be monetized for housing. Which is in desperate short supply. Land prices have jumped. Growing businesses have difficulty bringing in new workers for lack of housing. And Beta Technologies, now building an electric airplane manufacturing plant at the end of the runway, will soon need housing for hundreds of new workers. Suddenly, building housing on the 44 acres is an even better idea than industrial facilities.
Just one impediment: FAA “grant assurances” only allow development that is “compatible” with the noise level on the 44 acres. Fortunately, the noise of civilian aircraft are not the problem: The US Air Force Environmental Impact Statement reported that “The contribution of civilian aircraft [to the day-night average noise contours] is negligible compared to the military aircraft contribution.” (p. BR4-30).
That means the F-35 has to be relocated if housing is to be built on those 44 acres.
The Vermont Air National Guard’s military regulations require it to conduct its training operations “distinct,” (separated) from populated areas so civilians are not hurt or injured and so tens of thousands of Vermonters are not made into human shields for such nuclear bomb delivery vehicles as the F-35.
Thus, a confluence of factors has come together: Health and safety, the military’s own rules that protect civilians, a desperate need for affordable housing, including for Beta Technologies, and monetary gain for the airport and local developers are now all aligned calling for a halt to the F-35 training at BTV.
Airport, city, and state officials have all the legal authority they need to respond to that call, as reported here and here. The power to halt the F-35 training from the Burlington Airport is already in their hands.
But consider that the Air Force was not eager to base the F-35 in such a densely populated area in the first place. Volume II of its Environmental Impact Statement described severe harm to hearing and learning from repeated exposure to its 115 decibel noise. It had to be forced by the Senate’s most senior senator.
And consider that the Air Force is under increasing pressure to conform to the military’s own regulations that protect civilians from its operations. Just this week the Pulitzer Prize was given for a New York Times series of articles that described how even senior CIA officers and an Air Force intelligence officer—representing organizations not widely thought to be staffed by peaceniks—complained “about the disturbing pattern of strikes” by the US Air Force targeting civilians in Syria.
With a commitment to improve its respect for and its compliance with the law of war, the Air Force might not be totally unhappy to relocate the F-35 from Vermont’s most densely populated cities and to provide a replacement mission for the Vermont Air National Guard.
Especially if the Coalition is persistent, and if the people from the neighborhood around the airport continue to speak out as they did so successfully to stop the airport expansion, the F-35 training in the Chamberlin neighborhood can soon be stopped.
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Governor Phil Scott 802-828-3333 Chief of Staff <Jason.Gibbs@vermont.gov>
Vermont National Guard's Complaint Line: 802-660-5379 (Note: the Vermont Guard told a reporter that it received over 1400 noise complaints. But the Guard won’t release what people said).
Instead or in addition, submit your report & complaint to the online F-35 Fall 2021-Winter 2022 Report & Complaint Form: https://tinyurl.com/5d89ckj9
See all the graphs and in-your-own words statements on the F-35 Spring-Summer 2021 Report & Complaint Form (513 responses): https://tinyurl.com/3svacfvx.
See links to the graphs and in-your-own words statements on all four versions of the F-35 Report & Complaint Form since Spring 2020, with a total of 1670 responses from 658 different people.
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