BURLINGTON – A recent Burlington Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO) white paper calls for razing the Five Sisters neighborhood in Burlington’s south end and replacing it with at least a half-dozen six-to-eight-story apartment buildings. Calling the popular neighborhood ‘a blight of unaffordability’, the proposal calls for using urban renewal-style initiatives and authority to knock down approximately thirty existing houses on Caroline, Catherine, Ledgemere, Marion and Margaret streets. “We must recognize that areas can be blighted by unaffordability, where market forces have so altered a neighborhood that it is destroyed by a blight of money instead of one of disrepair”, the report reads in part.
The proposed development – which city officials insisted remains in the discussion phase, even as changes in zoning ordinances were being sent to city council subcommittees – envisions compensating existing home owners with apartments in the newly developed buildings, or purchasing existing housing stock “at pre-housing boom prices”.
The impetus for the proposal, as identified in the CEDO white paper, is nothing less than the transformation of the city’s increasingly stratified south end neighborhoods. “We must not allow our vital south end neighborhoods, “ the report states emphatically, “ to become accessible only to those who with the means to spend twenty dollars for four cans of beer and exult in Lake Champlain sunset pictures posted on social media accounts.” The working name for the development appears to be the New Sisters, and naming rights to the proposed buildings will be auctioned off once construction begins, with the caveat that they must all be women’s names.
Reached at her Marion street home, Linda Spendhaven-Shapiro said the New Sisters proposal appeared reasonable, despite the personal hardship it presented her. “Burlington is a world class city after all,” she acknowledged. “I guess we all need to do our part.” Her neighbor, Bob Krassenfelt, disagreed vehemently. “We moved up from Brooklyn last year and spent a half-million on this,” he said, gesturing at the modestly clapboarded home behind him. “Then we redid all the wood floors, planted a mini-orchard of heirloom kiwis in the back, and I’ve just spent the past week installing a state-of-the-art kombucha bubbler in the basement. We love the Vermont lifestyle. If we wanted to live in an apartment house we’d have stayed in Brooklyn.”
Attempts to reach Mayor Weinburger for comment were not successful. In a subsequent statement, however, he argued that – if successfully approved – the New Sisters project would demonstrate his administration’s commitment to a sustainable quality of life and a profitable economic future, while at the same time advancing existing and contradictory city initiatives of parking, bike lanes and walkability. Along with the erection of the fourteen story mall and the destructive renewal of the archdiocese property, the New Sisters project will help to cement Burlington’s reputation on a regional and national level, the mayor said in the statement. Burlington is a world class city, after all, the statement concluded, and referred future requests for comments to Director Eric Hoekstra at the newly created Department of Redstone.