Burlington mayoral candidates talk UVM

  The Democratic candidates vying to be Burlington’s next mayor have laid out plans to mitigate the growing animosity of Burlington residents toward UVM students.   Candidates Miro Weinberger and Tim Ashe discussed plans to increase Burlington police presence on campus and keep more upper-class students from moving off campus at the Democratic caucus held on Nov. 13.   Whichever candidate receives the Democratic nomination will face off against Republican Kurt Wright, a Vermont state representative and city councilor, in the general election scheduled in March.   The main issue that the city’s new mayor will have to face is the growing resentment of Burlington residents towards UVM, and how best to keep Burlington residents’ grievances at bay.   UVM and the city are expected to revisit a memorandum of understanding (MOU) dating back to 2007 in the near future.    The current MOU includes “fees-for-services” that UVM pays to Burlington, however community pressure to expand the scope of the MOU has been mounting, including ways to lessen students’ impact on the community.     Both Weinberger, commissioner of the Burlington International Airport, and Vermont State Senator Ashe said they hope to include such stipulations as increased housing and police presence in the new MOU.   “The single best way to mitigate noise is for UVM and the Burlington Police Department to develop a formal relationship that beefs up staffing Thursday through Saturday,” Ashe said in a phone interview.  “Police need to be well-located and ready to respond, and [UVM police officers] need to be more present.”   Ashe also said that he hopes the increased police presence will function primarily as a deterrence mechanism to make students more conscious of their actions instead of leading to increased criminal sanctions.   “The ultimate goal is not to give fines and put people in jail, but instead to be reminded that their behavior might have an influence on others,” he said.   Weinberger made a similar call at a forum held at Edmunds Middle School on Nov. 8, pledging to personally take to the streets in an attempt to establish an amicable relationship among students and the community.   The increase of college students in Burlington without a proportional increase of on- and near-campus housing has prompted students to infiltrate the downtown housing market.    This integration has caused Burlington residents to become increasingly irritated with student disturbances, particularly at night and on the weekends.   Ashe said that he would seek to work with UVM to develop Trinity campus as a “student village” to relieve some of the pressure that students impose on the downtown housing market.   “I look at that as an opportunity for UVM…to house hundreds and hundreds of students who right now are fleeing into the neighborhoods,” Ashe said at the Edmunds forum.   Weinberger also said that he sees keeping students higher up the hill as critical to mitigating the tension.   “There’s an opportunity to make real improvement in this area by pushing for further on-campus or near-campus housing that will start to bring more of the students living in the residential areas back onto campus,” Weinberger said.   Through these stipulations, Ashe and Weinberger hope that the UVM and Burlington communities can develop a symbiotic relationship and coexist harmoniously.   “The only interaction that some community members have with students is around nighttime noise,” Ashe said.  “In the light of day, UVM contributes to the community in many ways.  We need a balanced sense of UVM’s role in the city.”