Burlington, VT’s Kiley-Barnes-designed Cathedral Approved for Demolition
On Wednesday, January 11, 2023, the Burlington, VT, Development Review Board (DRB) voted four to two in favor of a permit to demolish the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, a collaboration between Edward Larrabee Barnes (architect) and Dan Kiley (landscape architect). The vote followed a 75-minute hearing during which nearly twenty members of the public offered testimony, much of it against demolition.
Advocates had been calling for the adaptive reuse of the Cathedral building, supplemented with appropriate new construction that respects the existing building and landscape. On December 13, 2022, the city's Design Advisory Board voted unanimously against demolition; but as the group's title suggests, their role is advisory only.
TCLF originally added the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception to its Landslide program as an at-risk landscape in June 2006, when the newly-proposed Downtown Transportation Center first posed a threat. The center’s eventual construction on St. Paul Street, abutting the property and effectively blocking a view of the veiled landscape of rows of locust trees, compromised a key feature of Kiley’s landscape oeuvre, which was influenced by André Le Nôtre’s order, geometry, and sweeping lines.
On May 8th, 2018, the Burlington Free Press reported the Cathedral property was to be sold for redevelopment (the city valued the property at $4.47 million). In December 2021 the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington applied for demolition permit, though it was withdrawn. In October 2022, the Diocese again applied for a demolition permit and indicated they were not interested in an adaptive reuse of the building. At that time Monsignor Peter Routhier of the diocese announced that the site was under contract to be sold. According to the news outlet VTDigger, the property was listed for $8.5 million.
The DRB’s January 11 decision hinged on the Board’s interpretation of a state statute that limits municipal jurisdiction over religious properties. It was not a decision based on the merits of the property itself, its architectural and design significance, or the broad public support for its preservation.
In Vermont, decisions of a municipal panel can be appealed to the State Environmental Court. There may be other potential options, though local advocates have not announced any course of action they might pursue.