Higher Ground litigation heading to Supreme Court

An artist's rendering of a parking lot.
An architectural rendering of the site on Queen City Park Road where Burton hopes to build a new performing arts center. Photo courtesy of the City of Burlington

This story by Corey McDonald was first published by The Other Paper on Oct. 5.

A group of 140 Burlington and South Burlington residents opposing Higher Ground’s Burlington relocation appealed to Vermont’s Supreme Court, ensuring a continued battle over the location of one of the state’s most prominent music venues.

The residents, under the collective Citizens for Responsible Zoning, filed documents Thursday appealing a Superior Court ruling earlier this month allowing the project to move forward.

“The CRZ has been asking that Burton (and) Higher Ground commit to being a good neighbor by accepting conditions that would ensure the project does not degrade the quality of life for its neighbors,” the group said in a statement. 

“At every step of this permitting process, Burton has insisted that there will be no adverse noise, traffic, or safety impacts on the area, and that such issues will be adequately addressed by current resources or internal operational procedures. Despite these claims, they have been unwilling to agree to any enforcement provisions, or enforcement permit conditions.”

“Taking this case to the Supreme Court,” the group said, “is the only path to fully protecting the surrounding neighborhoods from the impacts of this venue.”

A spokesperson for Burton and Higher Ground did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Burton and Higher Ground have been working to relocate the music venue from its current location on Williston Road in South Burlington to Burton’s warehouse space north of Queen City Park for four years. Plans call for the site to be turned into an outdoor plaza, food court, indoor skate park and music facility, which would hold up to 1,500 people — 400 more than can fit into the current site.

But the project has been stalled through appeals and court hearings initiated by the Citizens for Responsible Zoning group, who say Burton Corporation has showed an “unwillingness to accept permit conditions that would ensure they take responsibility if neighbors are negatively impacted.”

The issue turned tense this summer after nearly two dozen residents affiliated with the litigation were issued no trespass notices by the Burton Corporation, after the company said it had reason to believe members were coming onto company property “to place signs and put flyers on employees’ and guests’ vehicles in our parking lot without our permission.”

The relocation, residents have said, will cause parking and heavy traffic problems to an area with only one access point over a one-lane bridge; will bring late-night noise, via loud bass frequencies from the venue, as well as from inebriated concertgoers in the area; and will force an increased police presence in the area.

“Red Rocks Park, just across the street from the Burton campus, is an access point for emergency services to Lake Champlain. It sees regular requests for rescue from people boating, paddling or who jump off the park’s cliffs and find themselves in distress,” one South Burlington resident, Lori Hayes, said. “One can only imagine the uptick in people, inebriated and amped after a show, wanting to test their jumping luck.”

Burton first received local approval in September 2020. Act 250 then OK’d the plan in 2022, but approvals were quickly appealed by the resident group.

A superior court judge in July upheld those state and local permits, allowing the plans to move forward, but not without tacking on certain stipulations.

The company would have to coordinate with the cities of Burlington and South Burlington to ensure that no event parking will take place on Arthur Court or in Queen City Park; that all ticketed events will end by midnight, with the exception of 12 events per year that must end by 2 a.m.; and that Burton will install a permanent noise monitoring station at its property line to enforce World Health Organization noise limits.

These conditions would “provide a slightly improved level of protection for the surrounding neighborhoods,” the citizens group said.

“However, there is no assurance that these permit conditions will actually prevent nighttime disturbances, or provide adequate safety for bicyclists and pedestrians,” the group said. “As it stands, the imposed conditions still do not provide any mechanism for enforcement. If Burton (and) Higher Ground do not abide by them, the impacted neighbors’ only recourse will be to reengage in lengthy and costly legal actions.”

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