Tag Archives: development vs. preservation

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.