Shelburne added 573 new residents since the last census in 2010.
The recently released 2020 U.S. census puts the town’s current head count at 7,717, an increase of 8 percent.
Shelburne’s growth and predictions about how much it will grow has been a topic at recent selectboard meetings, especially conversations about economic development and a wastewater system upgrade capable of handling sewer capacity needs for the growing community over the next few decades.
Gail Albert, chair of the town’s natural resources and conservation committee, said the number of new residents and the percentage population increase aren’t as critical as how that growth happens.
She believes there is a way for Shelburne to continue to grow and at the same time preserve the village character of the town.
“My concerns are that we do a kind of growth that is smart and suited to the community, as well as respectful of the natural resources that we have here,” Albert said.
She wants to make sure that as the population increases the town is careful to protect patches of remaining forest, wildlife corridors and “the plants and animals that are living in our midst whose places we are taking.”
Albert supports growth that will increase the amount of affordable housing and the diversity of the community’s residents. She’s opposed to sprawl and big box stores in Shelburne.
Aldrich & Elliot, the consulting engineers conducting the wastewater study, projected the town would grow by 8.1 percent from 7,144 residents in 2010 to 7,725 in 2030. Their projections were based upon figures from the Vermont agency of commerce and community development released in 2013.
But according to just-released census numbers, the town’s population — now — is just eight residents shy of this projection 10 years into the future.
According to the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission’s figures, the population will be 8,474 in 2030, an increase of 1,330 residents from 7,144 in 2010 for a growth rate of more than 18 percent over those 20 years.
Selectboard chair Michael Ashooh said as much as he supports well-thought-out economic development in Shelburne, he shares concerns about growth becoming sprawl.
“I grew up in Northern Virginia. I moved to my house because it reminds me a lot of where I grew up,” Ashooh said. But where he grew up is all gone, taken over by shopping centers, condos, townhouses and sprawling developments.
He has heard people say, “I thought we weren’t going to build more than 50 houses in a year.”
He doesn’t think a town can legally set a limit on how many houses can be built a year. Ashooh admitted he might be wrong, but said, “It’s just not in my understanding of how zoning works.”
He also thinks there may be people in town who support having a complicated, difficult and drawn-out application process as a means of stalling growth and discouraging people from moving to Shelburne.
“Everybody seems to acknowledge we haven’t got what we want out of our zoning,” Ashooh said.
For example, he said, development on Webster Road, which some people have complained about, was permitted under the existing zoning regulations. It wasn’t permitted by the current effort to make the zoning application process less burdensome and onerous.
Those applications started before the pandemic.
“What we’re seeing is, in fact, the consequences of the zoning that we have. There’s this confusion that somehow we’ve unleashed all of this development that’s going on,” Ashooh said. “We can’t build a moat, we can’t build a wall, we can’t gate our community. And we don’t want to. We want this mix. This is what we’re asking for — more socioeconomic diversity, more diversity in housing. So, how are we going to do that, how are we going to do that without continuing to build more $800,000 homes?”
One thing seems certain, at least looking at the numbers, is that Shelburne is going to continue to grow.