Smart Growth in Action: Fundamental Principles
Principle 4: Protect and preserve environmental quality and important natural and historic features of Vermont, including natural areas, water resources, air quality, scenic resources, and historic sites and districts.
The quality of our environment is heavily dependent on how we use, develop and steward the land. The decisions we make at the federal, state and municipal levels and the personal decisions we make every day have an impact on the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the ecosystems that our wildlife depend upon. In planning and developing land for the future, we must balance our needs for homes, business and services with the impact on open space and wildlife habitat, air and water quality, recreational opportunities and the economic value of tourism. If we are not careful in our planning efforts, we run the risk of damaging the qualities that make Vermont special.
Historically, Vermont developed around town and city centers, with homes clustered close to jobs and services. Over the past thirty years, newer homes, businesses and services have been built further away from our centers, taking valuable land out of food production and threatening the health and diversity of our environment. Scattered development has interrupted critical wildlife habitat and corridors and exacerbated pollution from storm water runoff. Vermont loses over 1,500 acres of significant wildlife habitat every year to development, which contributes three times more phosphorus to our water than the same number of acres in agriculture.
Vermonters have an opportunity to change current trends and to restore the health of our water, air and scenic resources. One solution is to concentrate a majority of new development in and around our town centers, while incorporating green infrastructure into site designs.
Towns have a variety of tools and methods available to protect and enhance environmental quality, historic sites and our working landscape. Conservation easements and Vermont’s Current Use program provide tax incentives to farmers and landowners who struggle to keep their properties and livelihood intact. Clear town plan language and regulatory tools such as overlay zones, cluster zoning, conservation developments and adaptive reuse can help protect these important resources. Check out our Toolbox for tools and case studies your community can use.
Active citizen participation is also critical to preserving what Vermonters value most. Attend town meetings, volunteer to monitor rare and threatened habitat and wildlife areas, and spread the word to friends and neighbors to get involved when important land use decisions are up for review.