The South Burlington City Council will soon vote on new land development regulations that will determine the future of our community’s remaining open lands and the natural resources these lands hold. The importance of land regulations to the environment and the climate crisis is often overlooked and underestimated.
For the past few years, the planning commission has been working on revising sections of the regulations that address protections for natural resource open lands. City staff and the seven volunteer members of the commission put in hundreds of hours of their time working on a new draft of the land development regulations.
We are most grateful for their efforts on this important task, and we acknowledge and appreciate that they added some new protections for some areas. However, they removed some existing protections and did not include protections for the natural resource areas that were identified by a city committee.
They also ignored expert advice from the independent environmental consulting firm hired by the city to recommend ways to protect some of these lands.
As currently written, the draft regulations do not adequately address the immediate and long-term needs of our fragile and threatened environment. While commissioners voted unanimously to send the draft land development regulations to city council, not all seven were satisfied that enough had been done to protect our natural resources.
Here are a few problem provisions in the draft:
• A newly created requirement to build a minimum number of houses on rural areas.
• Rezoning parcels of land from being natural resource protection areas to dense development.
• Eliminating existing protections for grasslands and farmlands.
• Not adding sufficient buffer areas around wildlife habitats and water resources.
• Removing protections for some key wildlife habitat blocks.
Some members of the South Burlington Planning Commission have expressed their disappointment with certain provisions of the draft, stating that they want tighter environmental protections in the regulations.
The South Burlington Land Trust agrees with these commissioners.
As a non-profit organization, the mission of the South Burlington Land Trust is to preserve the open land, wildlife habitats, natural resources and farmland that make South Burlington unique. We are committed to this work because we know that undeveloped land benefits the health and prosperity of all South Burlington residents and is an essential part in the fight against climate change.
We advocate for actions that will help us and future generations adapt to climate change impacts, and we call out actions that will exacerbate the climate crisis.
Preserving the last remaining open meadows, wetlands and woodlands along with our wildlife, birds and insects is essential if our city is to survive and thrive. Meadows absorb the methane and carbon we produce. Trees cool our temperatures and sequester greenhouse gases.
Wetlands and other pervious surfaces prevent flooding and soil erosion. Open lands, like grasslands and forested areas, prevent runoff from impervious surfaces — developed and paved areas —and lawn chemicals from reaching Lake Champlain, which is the source of our drinking water.
Without all these gifts of nature, we will suffer more from heat waves, algae blooms, intense wind, violent rainstorms, floods, soil erosion and more.
Therefore, we strongly urge the city council to adopt the kinds of environmental protection measures that are needed to keep intact our natural resource lands, so that they will be in place to help us and future residents cope with the impacts of climate change.