Keeping the Vermont We Love

Keeping the Vermont We Love

Are you one of the growing number of Vermonters who sense that we’re losing the Vermont we love?

Did you ever wonder what it would take to get you really riled up about the direction Vermont is headed? I mean, what do you think your “last straw” would be, before you’d take serious action to avoid losing the Vermont you love?

Would it be that your kids, who have grown up in Vermont, couldn’t afford to own their own homes here as adults? Or would it be that you now have to sit through six long traffic lights just to get to work and are no longer employed by your neighbor but by a huge multinational corporation?

Or would your tipping point come when your best birding areas or secret hunting spots were paved over? Or when your favorite trout run was too polluted by growing development to hold fish any more? Or when you become so suspicious about the water quality in your local swimming hole that you don’t want to go there now.

Perhaps you’ve seen one too many farms disappear. Maybe you can no longer buy local meat and poultry. Possibly your century-old general store closed down.

Is it too late already?

These losses can be so incremental that we might not even notice that the very fabric of our community and quality of life are disappearing. If we stop to look for a minute, we can see that development is carving the Vermont landscape into smaller and smaller pieces. As development spills out of our town centers, wildlife habitat is fragmented into islands, working farm and forestland is converted to sprawling development, and more energy is consumed by commuters.

Vermont has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest per capita consumption of gas for driving. And in the last 10 years, average forestland parcel sizes were halved from roughly 120 acres to 60 acres. Smaller parcels spell steeper prices. Land costs have skyrocketed. It is no surprise that twice in the past decade, Vermont has been designated one of “America’s Most Endangered Places” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

That’s why a broad cross-section of Vermonters have been working hard this past year to address the slow, steady, persistent erosion of the Vermont we love. The Vermont Natural Resources Council has enjoyed the pleasure of collaborating with legislators, business groups, conservation organizations, heads of state agencies and town and regional planners across the state.

We’re working together to adopt robust “growth center” legislation that creates meaningful incentives to concentrate needed development– especially housing and affordable housing– in city, town and village centers, while limiting wasteful and polluting sprawl in productive farm and forestland.

While it’s not easy to bring together such a divergent group of Vermonters, it is essential. And promisingly, its working. That’s because most everyone agrees that the landscape that defines this state and enriches our lives is also the backbone of our economy. After all, we’ve got a good thing going for us here in Vermont, and surely it’s worth keeping.

Any version of Senate Bill S142 (growth center legislation) that is adopted should contain:

  • A consistent definition of growth centers that recognizes development should occur in or adjacent to downtowns, villages, and new town centers;
  • A process for designation;
  • Financial and regulatory incentives for development within growth centers;
  • Insurance that state’s investments in sewer, water, roads, schools and the like will support Vermont’s growth centers and not lead to sprawl;
  • Increased protections for valuable resource lands in the countryside.

For all the reasons you cherish this place, please join me in calling or writing our legislators in Montpelier to urge them to support meaningful, effective growth center legislation. Let’s keep the Vermont we love, before it’s too late.

By Elizabeth Courtney

Executive Director, VNRC