The Land: Demand and Conflict

Photo of an unidentified village used to promote tourism by the Vermont Travel Division in the 1970s.
One of the greatest ongoing battles in modern Vermont has been over the use and control of the land. As population has grown, land values have increased, especially near urban areas. Many people who work in Vermont cities don’t live there and suburban communities now encircle urban centers. Unfortunately, in many instances these suburbs have swallowed up some of Vermont’s most productive agricultural lands. Farmers who were already hard-pressed to make a living have found themselves pressured to sell their land to developers.


Springfield shopping plaza signs in the 1970s. Concerns over urban sprawl have resulted in battles over the building of malls and big-box stores convenient to the expanding suburbs. Ski developers have found their plans for expansion thwarted as local communities have come to understand the impact of second homes on their infrastructure. Lumber companies as well as private loggers have been under pressure to stop clear cutting and find other ways to harvest timber. As roads have improved, some people have chosen to live even greater distances from their work and commute from rural communities. Newcomers who want to live in rural areas have demanded improved school systems and more town
services, which has increased property taxes.

Sugarbush ski area, Warren.As the number of farms has declined, the landscape has changed, and the pastoral beauty and scenic views that are promoted to Vermont’s tourists are quickly vanishing. Legislation such as Act 250 and lower tax rates for farm and forest lands haven’t stopped the sprawl. However, state and community land trusts and conservation groups have preserved some of Vermont’s farmlands and natural habitats. This debate more than any other has tested Vermonters’ resolve and ingenuity in trying to balance individual and collective rights while preserving community life.

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