Vermonter Poll 2013
Each year the University of Vermont’s Center for Rural Studies conducts the Vermonter Poll to take the pulse of Vermonters on a variety of issues. VNRC uses this poll to track Vermonters’ opinions about sprawl, development in downtowns and village centers, and the appropriateness of state and local action on these issues. Our ongoing collection of this data allows us to see, and share with our members, public opinion and trends over time. This polling continues and builds on the questions polled by the Vermont Forum on Sprawl (later Smart Growth Vermont) since 1998.
1) Do you feel that action should be taken to stop sprawl in Vermont?
Since the beginning of the “sprawl” questions in the Vermonter Poll (this one has been asked since 1998), well over half of all Vermonters feel that action should be taken to stop sprawl. The 2013 results continue this trend, with 58.6% of 2013 respondents saying “yes,” up slightly from 56.8% of respondents in 2012, though down from the all time high of 78% in 2005. The level of concern dropped sharply concurrent with the economic collapse in 2008-2009. As the economy continues to recover, we expect concern to increase to pre-recession levels.
When the responses are compared with those from Question #2 (below) about where development should occur, it suggests that even those who feel no action should be taken to stop sprawl support developing in our downtowns and village centers.
2) Should the State of Vermont and local communities take actions to focus development in our existing downtowns and village centers?
In 2013, over 85% of respondents agree that the state and local communities should take actions to focus development in existing centers. Over the four years that this question has been asked, there has been a small but steady increase in the percentage of respondents saying “yes” to this question.
Focusing development in existing centers can use existing infrastructure efficiently, provide opportunities for transit and walking, and take development pressure off of our “greenfields” – which is often the undeveloped farmland, forestland, and open space.
3) Should Act 250, Vermont’s state land use and development regulation, be strengthened to discourage development in outlying areas and encourage development in existing compact centers – downtowns and villages?
For the first time, this year VNRC used the Vermonter poll to ask a question about Act 250. This question stems from the recognition that incentivizing development in downtowns and villages, while an important (and thus far successful) strategy, is
not fully discouraging the outlying, sprawl-style development that chips away at Vermont’s agricultural land, forests, and water quality.
About 55% of respondents felt that Act 250 could be strengthened to reinforce our villages and downtowns and to better protect outlying areas; 35% disagreed. Ten percent of respondents weren’t sure.
While it is important to recognize that there are myriad factors influencing development decisions – ranging from real and perceived parking issues to the unwillingness of many larger chains to deviate from their building formulas – Act 250 is one tool that Vermont may be able to use to level the playing field between our downtowns and our outlying rural areas as destinations for development.