Will parking problems stop Beta Technologies from expanding in Vermont?

Published: Mar. 29, 2022 at 8:58 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 29, 2022 at 4:48 PM EDT
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Is a major development project in South Burlington in jeopardy?

Beta Technologies’ planned manufacturing facility has been in the permitting process for about a year and the company is running out of time to get started.

Hundreds of jobs could be at stake.

And what’s holding it up? Parking problems.

Renderings from Beta Technologies show what they hope their new manufacturing facility off Williston Road would look like. Workers there would build new electric planes and roll them out onto the runway.

Rendering of the proposed Beta Technologies facility.
Rendering of the proposed Beta Technologies facility.(Courtesy: BETA)

The South Burlington Development Review Board decided last week the company can move forward with its plans, with the condition that there be a separate building in the front to block the view of the planned parking lot from the road. Per city regulations, parking must be on the side of or behind buildings, not next to the road.

The proposed view from Williston Road of the Beta Technologies manufacturing facility.
The proposed view from Williston Road of the Beta Technologies manufacturing facility.(Courtesy: BETA)

That’s a major snag for Beta Technologies, which would then have to get a second building designed and permitted. That would set their manufacturing project back.

A source at Beta Technologies tells me that they are running out of time to start construction on this project in Vermont.

The issue brought the South Burlington Development Review Board into a special meeting Tuesday afternoon, where a local business owner and resident, Tyler Barnes, made a passionate plea to the board to find a compromise.

“Beta is everything South Burlington could possibly ask for from a local business,” said Barnes of Threshold Training.

In a unanimous decision, the board opted to reopen the application. While it’s not a guarantee that anything will change for Beta, it allows the city and the company to revisit the application and potentially find another solution.

“The responsibility for interpretation of the regulations is with the DRB,” said Paul Conner, the South Burlington planning and zoning director.

Conner says the DRB is tasked with making sure that all new builds, no matter who they are for, follow the city’s agreed-upon regulations. He says if Beta needed to design a new building, the city would work with them on a schedule.

“We would work with Beta and others to make sure that we hear applications in a timely manner,” Connor said.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: Do you think the city is doing all it can to keep Beta here?

Paul Conner: We’re working with Beta and all the other applicants to make sure that they can put together the best applications in front of the development review board that are compliant the city’s regulations.

The DRB’s decision was welcome news to city councilor and former DRB member Matt Cota who says he understands how difficult it is to balance the land development rules with the desire for new growth.

“I’m appreciative of the fact that they’re going to take a second look to ensure that it can comply which is important because Beta is a very important project, not just to South Burlington but to the state of Vermont,” Cota said.

That’s a message that was even echoed by top state officials Tuesday.

Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, said he’s very concerned that Beta might look to take some 500 jobs elsewhere, like over to Plattsburgh, New York, where they just expanded operations.

The governor said if local officials can’t fix it, he’ll ask lawmakers to.

“This is too important for Vermont. This is not just about jobs for Chittenden County; this will have a ripple effect across the state,” Scott said.

In a statement to WCAX News Tuesday afternoon, a spokesperson for Beta Technologies said: “Today’s decision by the South Burlington DRB to reopen the application for our facility is an important step, but this project still remains uncertain. As we have said all along, we believe that the best outcome, both for us and the greater community, is to grow here in Vermont. This is about more than BETA. This is an opportunity to bring hundreds of green, new jobs to the state and add to its legacy as a leader in clean energy. We want to stay here in Vermont so are continuing to work with the City of South Burlington to find a quick resolution in hopes of keeping this site, and the jobs, here.”

The next meeting about the project is on April 25 at 7 p.m. It is open to the public.

Beta Technologies electric plane
Beta Technologies electric plane(Burlington International Airport)

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