SMC Professors present Demographics & Land Use in VT

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Thursday July 12, 2012

How well do you think you know the demographics and land use of South Burlington and Vermont?

During the June 27 Planning Commission meeting, South Burlington residents Dr. Vince Buldoc, Saint Michael’s College professor of Sociology, and Dr. Richard Kujawa, Saint Michael’s College professor of Geography, presented some answers to those questions in their co-authored work, Vermont in Transition: A Summary of Social, Economic and Environmental Trends. The study was done by the Center for Social Science Research at Saint Michael’s College for the Council on the Future of Vermont.

The study consists of four major sections (Vermont Context, the Vermont Economy, Infrastructure, and the Institutions) which looks at trends across these boards over a period of two decades. The authors spoke with hundreds of experts and data analysts to retrieve the information, according to the Vermont Council on Rural Development.

Buldoc and Kujawa also reviewed the appendix of the Comprehensive Plan prior to the presentation for statistics and resources to help compare the city to state and national statistics.

Quality of Life

According to Bolduc, there is an increasing pessimism about our own lives and the future of Vermont. While many people are now concerned with spending more time looking out for themselves and their families, the level of trust among Vermonters declined eight percent in 2010, down from 71 percent in 2005. The percentage is still higher than the national average: 32 percent.

After the recession, 84 percent of Vermonters said that economic growth improves quality of life, a 13 percent increase from 1990. The need for more good jobs tops the state 2010 priority list, followed by family farms and agriculture, clean air and water, open land, limit sprawl, and scenic views. Specifically to South Burlington, open land was a second priority, according to the South Burlington Community Survey of 2011.

Population and Population Growth

Fifty percent of South Burlington residents believe that the city is growing too quickly, according to the South Burlington Community Survey. South Burlington is one of the fastest-growing cities in one of the slowest growing states. Vermont’s population was recorded at 626,431 in 2011—only Wyoming has a smaller population. The low fertility rate plays a part in this as well as people moving out of the state, Buldoc said.

While Vermont’s population growth is at 2.7 percent, South Burlington’s rate is 13.2 percent—higher than the national rate 9.7 percent, Buldoc shared.

South Burlington is more diverse than many cities/towns in a non-diverse state.

Vermont’s median age is 40.4 and South Burlington’s population over the age of 65 is 16.1 percent. Chittenden County has a much lower average age due to the colleges and universities as well as prisons.


Forty-five percent of South Burlington residents live in non-family households. There is  rapid growth of people living alone, and single women dominate the numbers, Buldoc said. Thirty-four  percent of them have never married.
The housing unit growth rate was 29.7 in the 2000’s, most of which were multi-family homes.


South Burlington residents value education: fifty-one percent of people in South Burlington have a Bachelor’s degree, almost double than the nation at 28 percent, Buldoc said.

Land Use

Kujawa shared the following six trends in land use:

Trend 1: The area of rural land is declining, especially cropland and pastureland, while forestland is increasing. The rate of change in forestland has slowed in recent years and reforestation is geographically uneven.

Agricultural use decreased 16 percent from 1982-1997, 81 percent of which went back to reforestation, according to the report. Fortunately, abandoned agricultural land that returns to the forest provides valuable wildlife habitat and ecosystem services, Kujawa said.

However, it is harder to manage forestry since there are more parcels to account for and more owners to deal with,  Kujawa said.

According to the USDA, almost 60 percent of farms in Vermont have sales of less than $10,000 per year, the average age of farmers is 57 years, and less than half of farmers report that farming is their primary population. The state has “excessive dependence” (70 percent) on dairy in Addison and Franklin Counties. There is a decrease in land use by dairy farms, and if Vermont lost these subsidies, it would be “worse than IBM closing,” Buldoc said.

Trend number 2: The percentage of developed land in Vermont has continued to increase.
Increased commercial and residential development has led landowners and planners to convert cropland, pastureland and forestland into developed areas. The National Resources Inventory estimates (1982-2003) reveal that developed land increased from 158,900 acres in 1982 to about 254,200 acres by 2003.

Trend number 3: The rate and extension of land development has exceeded that of population growth resulting in pressure that spills over from urbanized areas into rural areas.

According to the Census, 2000-2010, Vermont’s housing growth was 10 percent, South Burlington’s was 30 percent, and Chittenden County’s was almost 12 percent; this encompasses housing units of all types.

Residents may be interested in looking at the Regional ECOS project ( projecting what the implications of the land use consumption over 20 years would look like for the next 60 years, Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner said.

For South Burlington, 63 percent of total taxable land value is actually owned by people who live in South Burlington.

Trend number 4: In the past three decades, the content and scope of formally adopted land use and development planning has significantly increased. External evaluations of land use change and related policy have also increased.

“It’s transformational,” Kujawa said. “Planning itself has become more surveilled by non-profit groups, by members of the community and by advocacy groups.” As a result, according to the report, “Vermont is known for having some of the most comprehensive land use planning laws in the country.” Act 200 and Act 250 are some legislative changes that have helped make this possible.

Trend number 5: Participation in the Use Value Appraisal Program has increased significantly.

The “Current Use” program, or the Use Value Appraisal Law of 1978, which “taxes farm and forestland based on its ‘current use’ instead of based on its potential value for development” has undergone several amendments in terms of entry.  About a third of the state is in current use.

Trend number 6: Public and private efforts to permanently conserve Vermont land have increased significantly.

The Vermont Land Trust, Nature Conservancy and other nonprofit organizations continue to work with state and federal agencies to conserve Vermont’s green land. Vermont Housing and Conservation Board has made a difference as well.

For the complete report, visit the city web site under the Planning and Zoning tab, or visit number five under “reports and inputs.”

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent