To the Editor:

When I walk in Red Rocks Park with friends or watch my grandchildren play in the streams and sandboxes at Wheeler Nature Park, I am so grateful that someone had the foresight to advocate to keep these once private lands open to the public. We can’t take any open space for granted.

With 9,500 existing homes, most of the agricultural soils that at one time existed in South Burlington have already been developed with highways, airport runways, parking lots, buildings, lawns, sports fields, solar farms, or fragmented into tiny parcels. On top of this, there are at least an additional 1,150 new homes in the pipeline to be built on mostly rural lands. This is a 12 percent increase in our housing stock while we are still in interim zoning.

The 2016 Comprehensive Plan anticipated and prepared for a growth rate of 1.5- 2 percent in average annual dwelling units.

Our current rate of growth is unsustainable and has serious consequences for the citizens of South Burlington and the quality of life we hope to maintain.

A cost of community services in Vermont study shows that increased residential development actually increases per capita tax rates as municipal taxes are inadequate to cover services. We will need new schools, roads, increased municipal services, etc. The Earth Economics Report commissioned by the city confirmed the vast economic benefits of preserving our remaining open space.

Our interim zoning bylaws state: “With the delicate ecosystems and preparedness of both our natural and constructed infrastructure in mind, the city needs to determine what locations, types, and densities of development are most desirable in order to maintain the balance between natural and developed spaces and sustainability and to avoid a fiscal crisis — not when it is upon us, but before we reach that point.”

Our few remaining open spaces provide extensive public health, social and economic benefits.

“Science shows us that leveraging the power of nature is one of the most effective tools we have to address the climate emergency. Healthy forests, grasslands and wetlands can deliver up to a third of the global emissions reductions needed by 2030.” (Nature Conservancy)

As climate change scientists are imploring, now is the time to act. Yet, we are targeting much of this existing open space for development.

Let’s rethink the “location” of development in our city. Why are we building on our remaining open spaces? Why aren’t we incentivizing redevelopment of existing structures for housing?

These underutilized properties already have infrastructure (water, sewer, roads, utilities).

The city should make it easier to redevelop already existing land than to develop on green space. This could be done by making it harder and more expensive to develop green space, by removing barriers/costs to redevelopment, or a combination of the two. In neighboring towns we see many creative examples of redevelopment of commercial space for housing.

Now is the time for South Burlington to recognize open space as the asset and finite resource that it is. Now is the time for citizens of South Burlington to speak up and advocate for the strongest environmental protection standards in our new land development regulations.

Janet Bellavance

South Burlington

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