A modest entreaty to our conservation groups

Okay, here I go again, disappointing some of my lefty friends. My request:

Please don’t pursue the Burlington College land. Let the sale to a developer go through, and find another use for the $7 million you’d need to block the sale.

The news kinda got lost in the IBM/GlobalFoundries shuffle and resultant flood of Republican petulance, but Burlington College announced Monday that it would sell most of its 32-acre lakefront property to a real estate developer, who would build a mix of affordable, senior, and market-rate housing. The College desperately needs the money to get out of debt and give itself a fighting chance at survival.

The deal includes a 60-day window for preservation groups to match the purchase price and keep the land from being developed.

And I’m begging you, please don’t.

Look, I realize this is Vermont and we’re going to be inundated by earnest calls to Keep This Land Pristine and Save It For Our Children. But sorry, I’m not on board.

Vermont needs more housing. A recent report by the Champlain Housing Trust and Housing Vermont shows that a lack of housing stock is driving purchase prices and rental rates upward, making housing unaffordable for many. The high price of housing is also a drag on the economy: the report says the housing crunch hurts businesses trying to recruit workers into Vermont. Which we need, to kickstart our stagnant economy and bring more kids into our under-populated schools.

And for the sake of the environment, we especially need new housing in our cities and towns. We don’t need more sprawl, particularly in Chittenden County, which already suffers from the effects of sprawl. Infill housing is good for our environmental footprint.

Every chance for a new development brings a value judgment. Do we want to preserve the land, or do we think the benefits of a development outweigh the preservation interest?

The best answer depends on the specifics of an individual project. But bear in mind: Every time we opt for preservation, we lose property taxes, we keep housing prices high, we make it harder for people to move to Vermont, and we encourage sprawl.

So please. Go ahead and raise $7 million. But use it for something that’s a clear environmental plus, instead of the usual kneejerk reaction against a project that would actually do some good things.

3 thoughts on “A modest entreaty to our conservation groups

  1. katrinkavt

    And while you’re at it, stop trying to protect our mountains, will ya? We need them to provide profits for multinationals and so we can go on living large comfy lifestyles while saving our planet. Who needs to see the damn lake, anyhow–there are Vermont Life calendars for that.
    Compact cities are a great idea, but Vermont does have other locales that might better accommodate growth that is currently concentrating in B’ton. Rather than blame anyone for trying to save something unreplaceable, why not steer development to central or southern Vermont where living (and housing) is more affordable and new opportunities are most needed? Once you’ve paved over the lakefront and STILL have a lack of housing, what will you suggest then – minimum garden plot sizes so more upscale condos can be shoehorned in?

    This logic reminds me of DC Beltway traffic… A cousin living there wants more lanes added to the belt line to reduce gridlock, yet all that would do is buy him a year or two until we stupid humans fill it up again.

    Sorry but I think your suggestion is shortsighted and underestimates how important open spaces are to a livable city.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      I see you submitted the same comment under two different names. I’m posting one of them.

      Sure, there are spaces outside Burlington that might be more propitious for development, but… (1) that’s where the jobs are, and that’s where the demand for housing is highest (and the commuter traffic is worst), and (2) I seem to hear the same objections just about anytime a development is proposed.

      1. katrinkavt

        Sorry for the second posting; I’m new here.
        At some point employers/potential employers should realize that a workplace where traffic jams and housing shortages make life miserable and higher salaries necessary isn’t a smart financial model and locate/relocate elsewhere. Once a city loses it’s natural amenities, development might be forced to migrate elsewhere, but would leave a diminished city in its stead. I read someone on Digger the other day promoting the area around Knapp airport as a smart location. That focus could reduce in-traffic from central Vermont. Bennington or Springfield come to mind. If you keep hearing the same objections to building in Burlington, perhaps that may be for good reasons. Neither eating up remaining open space nor building a seventh beltway lane seem to be viable solutions. Building on the lake would be easy enough but that does not solve the problem you describe. You could build on every open space in Burlington and the same problems would remain.

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