BURLINGTON -- Residents who live near Champlain College say that, generally speaking, the college has been a good neighbor. About 250 people in the neighborhood have use of the college's library, meeting rooms, parking lots and other facilities. Some can even audit classes for free. But the school has added three major buildings in as many years, and some residents are saying, "Enough is enough!"
A community group calling itself "Concerned Neighbors of Champlain College" has filed an appeal in Environmental Court to block construction of a new dormitory at 306 and 308 Maple Street, behind Burlington's Edmunds School. Champlain proposed the project about a year ago and received a building permit from the city late last summer.
David Provost, Champlain's vice president of finance and administration, says the $5 million project includes construction of a new, three-story dorm to house 75 students, and renovation of an existing carriage house to accommodate 19 more students. The new dorm would not include new parking, but Provost says that any students who live there would need to park their cars in a campus lot.
Because the construction would also require Champlain College to run new water, stormwater and sewage lines across the Edmunds property, Champlain has signed an agreement with the Burlington School District to re-grade and reseed Edmunds' athletic field, and to let the district tap into the water line for a new sprinkler system.
Champlain wants the new dorm to accommodate its existing students, Provost explains, not to help boost enrollment. Currently, only 750 of Champlain's 1800 traditional students can live on campus. The college's current housing situation "worked well when we were a two-year commuter school," he says. "But as we're getting more students from other states, they want more of the traditional campus experience."
The new dorm would be built within the confines of Champlain College's "core campus," as defined in a 1994 memorandum of understanding with the city. That memorandum recognized the need for Champlain College to keep growing, but also placed restrictions on its ability to purchase new properties outside those boundaries.
But some area residents say that Champlain is growing too big, too fast without spelling out its long-range vision. They have also raised a number of objections to this particular project, citing its size, impact on neighborhood traffic and parking, and proximity to Edmunds Elementary and Middle Schools.
"To have a four-story college dormitory so close to a middle school and elementary school just doesn't make sense," says Linda Jones, who lives at 2 Tower Terrace. Jones, whose two children attend those schools, fears the new dorm would become the tallest in the neighborhood and "would tower over everything else."
Jones' husband, Mark Stephenson, says he's also troubled by the lack of balance in the development process. He says Champlain has been pursuing an ambitious building schedule but has done an inadequate job of informing neighbors or soliciting their input.
"My concern is the overall effect of a development plan that no one is privy to," Stephenson says. "I'm a supporter of Champlain College and I'm also a supporter of Edmunds. I just want a balance. Right now, there is no balance. Champlain gets whatever it wants."
Provost acknowledges the need for a campus master plan -- in fact, the city will not allow Champlain any more major construction until it adopts one, he says. Sometime this week, Champlain will announce the name of the firm that will help devise one. Drafting of the master plan will begin in February.
The Environmental Court hearing on the new dorm is scheduled for March 8 and 9. If the permit is upheld, construction would begin this summer, with the first students moving in by September 2007.
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