Originally posted to Burlington Free Press…
South Burlington is being roughed up every day by a bully to the north. We must stop collaborating. Now is the time to rebel.
Burlington is the bully. Burlington hosts an otherwise well-regarded tenant at its airport that operates screamingly loud F-16 fighter jets that cause serious health and safety misery, and property losses to families in South Burlington.
The misery is visible: 200 affordable homes near the airport bulldozed since the arrival of the F-16.
The misery is also invisible: The noise is so awful it causes cognitive impairment of half the children living in the remaining 961 South Burlington homes in the F-16 extreme noise zone.
Burlington gets millions of dollars in grants, primarily from the FAA but also from the state of Vermont, to do its vicious deed on South Burlington neighborhoods.
Burlington gets to own the property purchased with that free money. Property that will become incredibly valuable if South Burlington collaborates with its own destruction by re-zoning the land from residential to commercial.
While the Burlington bully is a huge financial winner from the F-16 noise, the city and the people of South Burlington are huge losers. Homes no longer standing owe no tax to South Burlington. Each and every remaining resident of South Burlington pays a higher tax to make up for that loss.
In May and again in September Burlington accepted yet more millions of dollars in FAA grants, and 44 more South Burlington affordable homes are now standing in line for execution by Burlington.
The reason the FAA gives Burlington grants to buy homes in South Burlington is the extreme noise produced by the Vermont Air National Guard.
An effective solution is available for the South Burlington families now living in the extreme F-16 noise zone. One solution is to replace the Air Guard’s fighters with one of several Air Force alternative missions that are compatible with the airport location in a densely populated city.
We know several compatible Air Force aircraft and missions are available that make way less noise, would preserve South Burlington neighborhoods, save affordable homes in the FAA designated F-16 extreme noise zone, prevent cognitive impairment of children, provide more jobs for Air Guard members, align better with Vermont values than attack weapons that drop bombs, and that would continue to have the Air Guard providing positive services at our airport.
Like all landlords, Burlington, has the power to tell its tenant to turn the noise down. What is different and unusual in this case is that Burlington as landlord gets to receive more FAA grants to acquire and to keep more and more South Burlington property the louder the military jet noise.
In the face of free money and property coming Burlington’s way, mere persuasion alone has not worked and won’t ever work. We need to apply pressure.
First, South Burlington would enact a replacement tax on every house Burlington seeks a permit to demolish. The new tax would not interfere with the grants or with Burlington acquiring property. It would make Burlington pay for any home it demolishes and does not replace.
Second, if Burlington leaves purchased houses vacant, South Burlington could enact a vacancy tax because vacant homes contribute to neighborhood deterioration.
Third, South Burlington could impose a tax on the Burlington airport and its owner for the damage to people and home values inflicted by Burlington’s tenant on those continuing to live in the screeching F-16 noise zones. Placing a substantial tax for the health, financial and emotional burden on the families and for the impairment of their ability to fully enjoy their property might give Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger several million dollars worth of reasons to stop being a bully to South Burlington.
South Burlington using its legitimate tax authority to force Burlington to require its tenant to replace fighter jets based in South Burlington with one of the several compatible Air Force missions is consistent with the Vermont Guard’s mission to protect Vermonters. Affordable homes, children, jobs and money would all be saved. The Air Guard would enjoy even greater respect. Using tax authority to stand up to the bully and turn Burlington into a friend is the right thing to do.
Jimmy Leas is a candidate for South Burlington City Council.