Meghan Emery: development regulations are a big step in the right direction

This comment is from Meaghan Emery, Vice President of South Burlington City Council.

The VTDigger article (South Burlington removes 1,000 acres from development) provides an inaccurate description of the new land development regulations that were just passed in South Burlington.

Here are four inaccurate claims, direct or implied, that the article made, followed by responses:

1) Conservation of forests, wetlands and habitat blocks reduces habitation potential.

This is not the case. The land use planning regulations (now enacted) do not diminish or increase the potential for development in the southeast quadrant of the city. They provide for all types and styles of housing, close to our municipal infrastructure, favoring small housing and densely developed neighborhoods, which helps ensure the protection of the natural resources listed above and reduce the carbon footprint. of these new homes.

Developable plots in the southeast quadrant will add a minimum of 1,600 new housing units – more than previously allowed.

Additionally, rules are being written for the rest of the city. As infill and mixed business rules are being drafted, the potential for more affordable housing and labor will be increased in our already developed areas. Students who currently live in single-family homes with yards should have the option of living in an apartment, freeing up those homes for new families. Condos can be the gateway to our city for young professionals entering the workforce and families looking to build capital.

2) Another implicit assumption is that our past land use regulations met our needs.

They were not. Housing was being developed without efficient use of land. The developers have chosen to build nine houses on 5 acres of land instead of 10, simply to avoid Law 250. The new regulations will prevent this.

There is now a minimum of four units per acre throughout the city. Inclusive zoning has been extended across the city – although this is also an imperfect tool, and we will have more success using another tool (partnerships with nonprofits) to provide owner-occupied housing to our service workers (bank tellers, restaurant staff, etc.) with growing families across the city.

Our five strands are altered; the proliferation of blue algae in our lake prevents us from swimming in it in summer. It is a sign of overdevelopment. We need to take care of our lake.

Also, because we are in the Winooski Valley, our area will become more prone to flooding. Our wetland, our buffer zones and our forest blocks will protect us from the worst disasters. The council has contracted with Earth Economics to assess the value of the 20 parcels identified by the Open Space Committee (confirmed by Arrowwood) as our most valuable. The final report shows that these plots – located across the city – will provide up to $240 million in services over 20 years. Put that in relation to the $17 million the city receives per year in property taxes.

There is no infrastructure we can build that will do the work of our wetlands and forests. They are now protected.

3) The article contains the implicit assumption that, as Vermont’s economic engine, South Burlington can sustain this growth, perhaps indefinitely.

South Burlington is on the verge of huge tax hikes. With the thousands of homes we’ve added since 2003 when the old land use planning regulations were approved, we’re told we need one if not two more elementary schools and a new high school. A vote to build a new middle and high school complex was resoundingly rejected by voters in 2020. Our highly capable and highly valued city staff are also stretched thin; we are understaffed in highways, planning, fire and EMS. Our budgets are reaching a critical point.

The article assumes that increased development will lead to lower housing costs and more economic opportunity for new home buyers.

Where in this country have you seen more development lead to lower house prices? Which growing US cities are “affordable”?

The answer to these questions is none.

The answer to the problem is to partner with Habitat for Humanity, the Champlain Housing Trust and Cathedral Square, and use our ARPA funds to set in motion the expansion of truly affordable housing. Since the housing crash of 2008, banks are more likely to provide financing to these nonprofits than to developers. This is the way forward for our economic development.

Another answer is to ensure that we conserve land for food production. Food costs are expected to increase by 30% by 2030. The council was advised by the agricultural coordinator of AALV that garden plots are a critical part of ensuring housing equity for our service workers – not just in the southeast quadrant, but across the city. The new Habitat for Humanity condos on Hinesburg Road include gardens.

This is smart growth and the growth model recommended by the Vermont Climate Action Plan.

I sincerely believe that South Burlington is leading the way to a solution to both the housing crisis and the climate crisis. We do not turn our backs on new and young families. We will continue to welcome them and be able to assure them that we are doing our best to ensure that South Burlington remains an affordable and sustainable city where our residents can thrive.

It’s not easy and it won’t be easy, but this land use planning by-law is a step — a big step — in the right direction.

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