District 6-3’s Carbon Footprint – Cover Letter Downtown Burlington and the Old North End

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Rep. Curt McCormack

District 6-3, An Analysis of Relative per capita Carbon Footprint, Summary

April, 2017

A letter to the editor from a State Senator decried the “leveling of the ridge-tops of the Northeast Kingdom so that Chittenden County could have electricity”. He was writing about large wind turbines. A State Representative from Rutland County introduced legislation that would require the installation of wind turbines on the shores of Lake Champlain at Burlington, implying that Burlington wanted wind development but not in its own backyard.

Several (not all) Vermont environmental groups campaigned for Burlington to change its zoning to accommodate the Town Center Mall project even though three of the stories of the tallest two buildings proposed were parking garages because we “need to densify”. Recently, another State Senator, whose large district contains not one of Vermont’s nine cities, extolled the need to densify our development and that downtown Burlington was the place to do it.

Downtown and the Old North End neighborhoods of Burlington make up my district (Chittenden 6-3). It is already the most densely populated district in the State. It is already the most dense commercial district. Average residential consumption of electricity in Burlington is 31% less than the State’s average. Adjacent to District 6-3 lies the largest power plant in the state, the McNeil biomass plant. While I think it’s beautiful as I do solar collectors, bicycles, sailboats and large wind turbines, some of my constituents may not. Some look right down on McNeil from their windows. Those that close can hear it. The plant adds a little to our particulate air pollution although nowhere near as much as the tens of thousands of cars and trucks driving into and around Burlington from points outside of the City everyday (63% of those who work in Burlington live outside of the City, most commuting by themselves in their automobiles).

District 6-3 is as far from the NIMBY syndrome as a community can be. Indeed, and most ironically and most unfairly, we suffer more of the negative side of the American (and Vermont) automobile life-style than most of the rest of Vermont does and we contribute less to the negatives as this research illustrates.

The environmental groups mentioned above, were telling this district, of all places, that we need to densify more than we already have; that we need to build to heights (14 stories) greater than a majority of the district wants to. In just the past two years, in three different projects, 96 new housing units have been constructed within two blocks of each-other in the middle of the Old North End residential neighborhood. The three buildings have 24, 28 and 44 apartments and at three, four and five stories high, they tower over the neighboring houses. At a district average of only 414 square feet per person of living floor space, the district is twice as dense as the national average. At 4,116 people per square mile, Burlington’s density is exceedingly greater than the State at 68 or the nation at 87.

We substantially reduce the benefit of making our cities and town centers denser when we then pile more cars into the same area. And ironically, most of these cars do not come from those who live in this density but rather, come, especially in Vermont, from very, very not dense areas.

I would challenge any Vermont environmental group to compare it’s own membership’s carbon footprint to that of the people who live in District 6-3. I wonder how their members would feel about 14 story buildings in THEIR neighborhoods – three of those stories, entirely parking decks. We (environmental legislators and professional advocates) spend so much time in the Legislature working on technical fixes to mitigate the damages of our extravagant, wasteful energy use. Environmental groups should look TO District 6-3 to learn about and try to replicate, real efficiency, in amounts that actually make a difference, far greater than knit-picking at the edges, instead of telling us we need to provide more parking for those who want to drive their cars into our downtown from other (far less densely populated) areas.

Personally, I don’t mind 14 story buildings but when I learned that three of the stories in the Town Center would be parking decks in our downtown that already has 8,000 parking places, more than a third of which are unoccupied during peak parking hours, I made my support of the project contingent on the proposed parking decks coming out. I pleaded with the most vocal environmental group to do the same. I voted the same as a majority of my district did, for the TIF (Tax Incremental Financing) authorization and against the zoning change. A majority of the District, where the project is located, voted that way on November 8th.

We do not need and we certainly do not want, more cars in our downtown. We want people in our downtown. We need bike tracks and lanes, better sidewalks and bus service and we need those who advocate for the environment to start using them. We need to work for a future of electrified bus, trolley, light rail and commuter trains. We will never see these things actually become the centerpiece of our transportation if we continue to make them adjuncts to the automobile. They have learned this in the more progressive cities in Europe and to a lesser extent, the U.S. Lets become one of those cities that we now only read about.

This study documents measurable differences in housing density and size, electricity and heating consumption and five transportation modal choices. Of course, one would think that town-living is going to be more efficient but to the extent this analysis shows may surprise most readers. I could not be more proud to live in and to represent, such a place.

Summary            

U.S. Vermont District 6-3
Residential Buildings
People per square mile (# of people) 87 68 > 4,116 (Burl.)
Housing size (square feet/person) 800 NA 414
Housing Built Before 1940 (%) 13.5 27.5 63.2
Home Building Energy (million btu) 121.3 98 (Burl.)
Transportation
No Automobile in Household (%) 9 6.6 31.5
Walk to Work (%) 2.8 5.7 24
Bicycle to Work (%) 0.6 0.7 9.5
Public Transit to Work (%) 5.1 1.2 7.9
Commute to Work by Car Solo (%) 76.4 74.5 44