A month ago, I had faith that all five members of the South Burlington City Council would trust and accept the amendments to the land development regulations submitted by the planning commission. Further, I expected that it would add some key amendments to those land development regulations as cited by the South Burlington Natural Resources and Conservation Committee and other independent organizations like the South Burlington Land Trust.

What would seem to be a common sense, 5-0 vote in support of both smart growth and addressing the climate crisis now appears to be in jeopardy.

In a recent opinion piece addressing land development regulations written before the full council has had time to complete their public hearings, city councilor Thomas Chittenden did not wait to take a page from the decades-old Republican playbook creating fear around the loss of individual property rights, freedom and choice, increased taxes and too much regulation. Let’s hope there are no other councilors who buy into this outdated narrative. Even a Blue Dog Democrat would not go this far and be unabashedly pro-growth in an age where we know we need to mitigate the climate crisis and have decades of experience with smart growth planning and development for all types of housing and commercial development.

All members of the city council and planning commission have heard from multiple environmental experts, independent environmental firms, dozens of residents, key organizations and committees, and hopefully read the scientific research on the climate crisis. They know of the importance of large buffers around rivers, streams, wetlands and wildlife habitat, protecting those habitat blocks and wildlife corridors, increasing tree canopy to reduce heat domes and improve carbon sequestration, limiting the expansion of impervious surfaces to reduce water runoff and pollution, and saving as much of our grasslands, meadows and wetlands as possible to mitigate air and water pollution.

Why then would any city councilor reject recommendations from environment experts as well as the planning commission and natural resources and conservation committee? Do they not believe in the science behind the climate crisis? Do they believe we can procrastinate now and act later to mitigate the climate crisis?

I’d like to think the other four councilors believe in the science and support the planning commission’s draft amendments.

Second, I would hope that city councilors are well informed, have likely read the Vermont Economic Progress Council definition of smart growth and been involved in discussions around this much-needed planning for Vermont. One would assume they understand the importance of creating compact village and urban centers separated by rural countryside, and the importance of protecting important environmental features, including natural areas, water quality and scenic resources.

The economic council specifically points out that smart growth is not characterized by scattered development located outside compact urban and village centers that is excessively land consumptive. Again, one would assume a well-informed city councilor would understand that smart growth is not development that limits transportation options, especially for pedestrians, does not allow for the fragmentation of farmland and forestland, does not allow for development that requires municipal infrastructure stretched across undeveloped lands in a manner that would extend service to lands located outside a compact village and more urban centers, and does not allow for linear development along well-traveled roads.

Does Chittenden understand what smart growth is and what it is not, and how does he reconcile this with his unabashedly pro-development statements? Does he not understand that development always leads to higher taxes to pay for the needed increase in municipal services, increases that are never off-set by growing the grand list?

Are there other councilors who do not realize these harmful consequences of being pro-development, and who do not support the time-honored guidance of smart growth? I am hopeful there are not, and councilor Chittenden ends up standing alone.

Smart growth and climate crisis mitigation are forever linked. We have no other choices if we are to bequeath our children a livable environment in South Burlington, and that’s what makes Chittenden’s statements so disturbing and out of touch with the reality of 2022. We are now past the time of having some of the choices and freedoms we all had just 20 years ago.

No city councilor can act as if it is 1990 or even the year 2000, when there was not a code red warning from the science community and when we had not yet realized the long-term benefits of true smart growth development. It’s 2022, and we need to recognize the facts and change with the times.

Tightening requirements and regulations are the wave of the future, and we must change our way of thinking to sustain our community. Enacting land development regulations that include the amendments made by the planning commission, the city’s natural resources and conservation committee and the South Burlington Land Trust are absolutely essential. The city already emphasized the requirement to preserve our undeveloped, natural spaces and to encourage development only in the city core and along transit lines, as written in their 2018 interim bylaws.

Now is the time for all South Burlington city councilors to step up and follow the city’s vision.

John Bossange lives in South Burlington. He sits on the board of the South Burlington Land Trust.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexual language.
Don't threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be proactive. Use the "Report" link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.