Words by the South End Alliance. Photo by James Lockridge.

Note: The artists of the South End of Burlington recognized early in a recent city planning process that it was endangering the sustainability of their naturally occurring cultural district. Starting with little to no understanding of the processes that were in motion and threatening their studios with all the consequences of gentrification, they united to prevent harm to their district by learning what they needed to know and engaging their neighborhood in constructive, community-building terms. They emerged as a wizened and respected social force for good in the city, with their message generating endorsement by the city councilors of their ward and resulting in a supportive change of perspective by the mayor.

Mayor Weinberger expressed his change of position in an editorial statement in the Burlington Free Press (PDF). The core coordinators of the group of artists that became the South End Alliance respond below, with a statement delivered to the Burlington Free Press but not yet printed. I’ve learned lessons of perseverance and commitment from the artists of the South End, as well as reassurance that standing up for universal values is necessary even of people who might not be prepared for it when that need first emerges. I feel lucky to have witnessed a triumphant effort by good people seeking to ensure their city remains fair and vibrant in spirit and setting. Find more from the South End Alliance at http://southendalliance.org

Let it be known that citizens all over Burlington would like to see an end to the dismantling of public processes and a return to participatory engagement in the Vermont tradition.

The Arts and Enterprise District community was thrilled on Friday to read the Mayor’s announcement that he would be removing the proposed zoning change in this 4% industrial area from the draft Plan BTV South End. We have worked full time over the last 11 months to encourage discourse about the threats posed by the proposed change to allow mixed use/housing into the industrial zone. Although we are relieved by the mayor’s decision, we’d like to offer thoughts and clarification regarding his explanation for why he has changed directions. When the mayor says that he has decided to remove the zoning change because it has been a “distraction” from the rest of the plan, when he says (7 Days Off-Message) that he is frustrated because we have “simplified” and “distorted” the issues, he demonstrates a lack of full understanding of our concerns about both the idea of housing in the Enterprise District and the process by which it came to be such a prominent and controversial part of the plan.

South End Alliance is a diverse group that has sought to become educated and share information on the challenges, issues, and implications of a zoning change in the South End Enterprise District. The public did not receive an in-depth analysis of the issues from the planning team or its hired consultants despite much money spent. The process, which looked more like a promotion of one viewpoint rather than a true public conversation, left many community members feeling disappointed. Every option presented by the planning team included housing in the Enterprise District without entertaining or discussing an alternative option. This, not the public engagement, was the real distraction.

Much credible analysis, including a market analysis conducted by some of the City’s own advisors, demonstrates that changing zoning in industrial/arts area has been proven to cause the demise of naturally occurring cultural districts like ours. Our position that housing was not a good fit for the Enterprise District was supported by many prominent voices, including  Bruce Seifer (former CEDO chief/ author of Sustainable Communities); Michael Monte ( Champlain Housing Trust); Steve Conant (long time creative business owner); Mannie Lionni (local architect), as well as by area manufacturers, countless local experts on ecological design, transportation, city planning, artists, educators, critical thinkers, sociologists, writers, voters. Despite the Plan’s persistent promotion of a zoning change, this expanding group continued to believe in the preservation of the Enterprise District, the industry, artistry, jobs, manufacturing, innovation and making that happen in the District and the importance of not chipping away at the area with competing land uses.

We ask the mayor to respect the efforts of the well-informed and engaged citizenry of Burlington. Members of our group have expressed viewpoints creatively and perhaps unconventionally which is what artists do when faced with the need to shine a light on important issues. We know that our message reaches beyond just the issues of the South End. Let it be known that citizens all over Burlington would like to see an end to the dismantling of public processes and a return to participatory engagement in the Vermont tradition. We believe an educated constituency, given an opportunity to participate in a truly public and transparent process, will bring the best outcomes for our City.

Now, let’s let the Enterprise District visioning truly begin.

The South End Alliance

Photo, L-R: Genese Grill, Diane Gayer, Steve Goodkind, Ibnar Avilix, Amey Radcliffe, and Charles Norris-Brown of the South End Alliance.

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