It’s looking like South Burlington is slated to become the high-density housing center for Chittenden County. We must consider: Is this what we want? Don’t the people of South Burlington deserve the same vistas, lack of congestion and pollution-free neighborhoods as the people of Jericho, Shelburne or Charlotte?

In 1990, South Burlington had a population of 12,845. In 2020, the population was 20,292. That’s a staggering increase of 63 percent in just 30 years. The state did a study in 2013 that projected there would be 670,000 people in Vermont by 2030. Those projections are now hopelessly low. South Burlington’s population may well exceed 30,000 by 2030 and the state as a whole will surpass 850,000 people.

There has been a profound shift in population projections. The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed our future. Global warming has moderated our winters, and our quality of life is being lauded in many different studies.

In our highly mobile society, thousands of out-of-staters are waiting for a chance to relocate here. Their high population-density makes catching COVID-19 a real safety hazard. They are also more likely to become victims of crime, and less access essential goods or services in times of crisis.

Allied Van Lines data shows that Vermont has the highest percentage of inbound moves, while New Jersey has the highest percentage of outbound moves. These migration patterns are projected to hold steady in the next decade. Vermont’s real estate prices have skyrocketed since the pandemic started.

How many people are too many? We must decide at the state, county, city and town levels what our maximum density is going to be. Each community can’t plan in isolation or kick their green-space requirements down the road to the next town. We can’t let developers build homes and destroy our wild spaces without any controls.

Where do the developers live who want to plow under all our available green space? Do the supporters of the F-35 — or our congressional delegation and business owners who profit from their presence — live directly in their flight path? Or are they safely removed from hearing the deafening noise?

World population has more than doubled since 1970. If someone were to ask us whether the people of developing countries have the same rights as the people of Vermont, I feel certain we would say yes. Well, if all these billions of people had SUVs, several wide-screen TVs, air conditioners, oil or gas heat, snow blowers, lawn mowers, microwaves, several computers and the countless other appliances Vermonters take for granted, the Earth would cease to exist. Likewise, if everyone who wants a home on a half-acre is allowed to move to Vermont, the Green Mountain State as we know it now will also cease to exist.

But we can’t make South Burlington a gated community. We can’t refuse admittance to those who want to share our bounty. When the clamor for more housing also combines with developers wanting to make more money, is the future preservation of our unspoiled wilderness doomed?

It doesn’t have to be. We can do both at the same time. We can offer new housing while still preserving our land.

How do we handle the inevitable influx of people who want a safer, greener, more humane environment without destroying the very land we all wish to cherish? First, we must create steadfast density requirements, and prohibit the destruction of our last remaining wilderness areas. Then we can reclaim vacant shopping and industrial parks, rewild them in part with green space, and build affordable housing. Nobody has yet torn up a parking lot to plant a forest. We can be the first community to reclaim and rewild parts of our city.

The United States can’t admit every person who wants to live here. That’s why there are immigration quotas. Neither can South Burlington. But we can’t have an immigration quota. The only way we can limit our growth is by sensible planning and development limits. Without them, all our highways will wind up looking like the New Jersey Turnpike.

There is a terrible irony here. People are attracted to Vermont because of our green way of life. And so, developers, seeing the projected population increase, want to pack housing into wild areas that will ultimately destroy the reasons out-of-staters moved here in the first place.

Beware of any developer who wants to doubletalk you into thinking that an apartment complex in the beautiful, treed forest parcel that you enjoy seeing every day will be good for your quality of life. All he is looking at is his bottom line. Let him move there first. You have the right to look at trees and not concrete.

Joe Randazzo, a 37-year South Burlington resident, is a former member of the city’s zoning and development review boards.

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