Several commentaries appearing in The Other Paper in the past several weeks have bemoaned the disappearance of land for building in South Burlington.

They urge that protecting important natural resources areas on city lands is stealing it away from those who would build on it. (see Dec. 15 letters and Dec. 23 Guest Perspective).

Those opinion pieces are part of a systematic campaign by some in the development community to overrun protections envisioned in the comprehensive plan and in land use regulations now being considered by the city’s planning commission

The latest is an ad-hominem attack on a group of people who objected to a proposed housing development, Dorset Meadows project and purchased the land themselves to protect it. That purchase is the best possible solution.

Are the building promoters going to now advocate against private ownership of land?

The city commissioned environmental consultants and also created an “open spaces” sub-committee to study the remaining undeveloped lands to determine important natural resource features.

Here is a 2014 Arrowwood study conclusion about these purchased lands:.

“The great swamp, and the upland forest and shrubby fields that surround it comprise a 400-500 acre cluster of contiguous and varied wildlife habitat. It is the anchor, the source habitat for the western southeast quadrant and must remain un-fragmented if the level of current wildlife array is to be maintained in the SEQ. Wildlife, within the region need to be able to continue to access the food, cover, and space resources of this area.

Recommendations:

1. The great swamp should be protected from development by a minimum of a 300-foot isolation buffer.

2. The upland forest surrounding the great swamp should have no paved roads, or development within its current boundaries. It should remain un-fragmented.

3. The shrubby fields to the west of the great swamp should be managed as early succession habitat and not be fragmented by paved roads or development.

4. Open space, including the large fields west of Dorset Street should remain as unfragmented as possible and kept as open space.”

The southeast quadrant area in question has long ago been called out in the city’s comprehensive plan for special protection to maintain its still somewhat rural character. The Dorset Meadows project went against the spirit of the city’s comprehensive plan, failed to protect wildlife, and consequently was not given a permit to continue.

The author, in belittling this accomplishment, neglected to mention the many additional developments still active in the pipeline — so many that there is difficulty selling them all.

Yet the author clamors for more construction, coveting the areas considered high priority for natural resource protection. This building craziness has to stop at some point.

Unfortunately, much has changed since then with numerous housing developments and destruction of much of that rural ambiance described in the comprehensive plan. Finally, many citizens got fed up with runaway development leading to opposition to several more proposed developments (interim zoning happened because of a citizen referendum).

Thus, the author’s attack is against a group of people who have had good reason to resist the proposed development, one that failed the permitting process locally because it did not adequately convince the development review board that the natural resources would be sufficiently protected. That permitting failure was a vindication and affirmation that this group of residents were correct in their negative assessment of the project.

The best of all solutions obtained here should gladden city residents but more so those who fashion themselves environmentalists/conservations/preservationists. Most of the land was purchased and thus permanently protected — an ideal outcome and a credit to the new owners, but to the chagrin of some who would rather pave over those areas.

What areas that have previously been given protections adjacent to the project area would be overrun with people, by cats and dogs, by sheer proximity and by intrusion of construction, and the destruction resulting from cutting of many canopy trees in those areas.

Add to those abuses eventual lawn herbicides, pesticides and fungicides which would have direct negative impacts on insect life and leach into the brook likely ultimately poisoning the shining jewel of Shelburne Pond into which the brook flows.

The brook itself, a central feature of this neighborhood, would be crowded to such an extent that anything natural about it would greatly be diminished if not just disappear. The three properties of interest act as a buffer to those high-quality habitat areas

Much of the protected open space referred to by the author are, by and large, mandated by the state and federal government in wetland regulations — meaning that in reality the city has done minimal over the years that has resulted in substantial real protections over and above state regulations.

Others are golf courses. With a few exceptions, the protected places are city recreation parks which are people places — museum pieces — not noted for protecting or complimenting wildlife habitat. Exceptions are Redrocks and Wheeler Park which get extremely heavy use by city residents indicating the popularity of such areas even though attempts are to keep them in their natural state.


Ray Gonda, of South Burlington, is a former chair of the Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club, a co-founder of Vermont Conservation Voters and is currently chair of the South Burlington Natural Resources and Conservation Committee.

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