VTDigger has seen a sudden flurry of letters and essays from residents of South Burlington, concerned that S.100, the state Senate’s housing bill, is going to turn their green and pleasant land into some sort of overdeveloped hellscape.
News bulletin: That ship has not only sailed, it long ago vanished over the horizon. Your town’s been an overdeveloped hellscape for years.
When I think “South Burlington,” I think the worst suburban sprawl in Vermont. Shelburne Road comes to mind, as does Williston Road and Dorset Street. As do subdivisions that devote vast amounts of land to high-maintenance lawns. The whole thing is, of course, designed around motor vehicles.
Not well designed, but designed nonetheless.
I know it’s a bit unfair to blame the current crop of SoBurbanites for the planning sins of their forebears. But just because they’ve got religion after a decades-long development bender doesn’t mean they can lecture the rest of us on how to address our housing crisis.
The latest missive, “The Paradise That Is Vermont Could Be on the Verge of Being Lost,” is the most ridiculous. It’s from — shocker, I know — multipurpose South Burlington scold Rosanne Greco. It takes a remarkable level of self-unawareness to write a sentence like this from a place like SoBu:
There is a concerted effort to homogenize our state — make it like “Anywhere, USA.”
Good Lord. I can’t think of a single place in Vermont that looks more like “Anywhere, USA” than South Burlington.
Greco slams the political leaders of her fevered imagination for wanting “to build, build, build and grow, grow, grow, even if it causes the destruction of our natural environment.”
Yeah, right. The Scott administration and Legislature are taking steps to ease the housing crunch that affects everyone who can’t comfortably afford a large-tract home in, say, South Burlington. They are not trying to enable an all-out building spree that will pave Paradise and put up a Shelburne Road-style parking lot. They are trying to enact modest reforms aimed at removing some of the most excessive obstacles to addressing our housing crisis.
Greco’s not done with the overheated straw-man punching. “Housing advocates are clamoring that we should be willing to sacrifice just about everything for more housing,” she claims. I challenge her to identify a single housing advocate “willing to sacrifice just about everything for more housing.” She can’t, because there aren’t any.
Greco asserts that the writers of S.100 and its supporters want to “destroy” our natural landscape and “dramatically change our small state,” which, again, bullshit. Any politician clueless enough to espouse such an agenda would find their electoral asses handed to them in a heartbeat.
Truth is, nobody wants to turn the rest of Vermont into something that looks like, ahem, South Burlington. And we don’t have to.
The real irony (and the underlying point) of Greco’s rant is that S.100 is, in fact, designed to protect the natural landscape by encouraging development in places where us humans have already occupied the land. Like, ahem, South Burlington. Yeah, we can’t have high-density housing destroying the “paradise” of big box stores, vast parking lots, traffic jams, and single-family homes on big lots.
SoBu City Councilor Meaghan Emery claims that “S.100 strips away local authority” and turns local government into nothing more than “an extension of the state’s tax collection agency.” That’s a wild mischaracterization of the bill. Nobody wants to kill town government. They might want to rein in municipalities’ power to effectively ban housing development, but that’s all.
Her letter arrived a few days after the entire council had posted its own complaint about how S.100 “could undermine the careful balance our city has achieved.” From my perch, “careful balance” is, shall we say, a less than entirely accurate way to describe South Burlington’s attitude toward development and preservation.
Maybe, after years of abasing their natural landscape at the altar of sprawl, the good people of South Burlington are honestly trying to do better. They are, after all, belatedly fabricating an ersatz “town center” off Dorset Street in hopes that it will turn SoBu from a formless suburb into a real community. But they are in no position to preach to the rest of us, nor to engage in vastly overblown scare tactics in an effort to preserve the powers they have used so unwisely in the past.
Lived here a million years and it still makes no sense to me. S. Burl along Shelburne Rd and S. Burl by the airport.