Land use organizations unite to increase impact

VERMONT — The Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) and Smart Growth Vermont (SGV) announced on Tuesday that they will be merging, in an effort to more efficiently and effectively promote land use and community development policies that best serve the state’s ecological, economic and social needs.
SGV’s key programs will be consolidated with VNRC’s Sustainable Communities program beginning on July 1. Some SGV board members will likely join VNRC’s board, and SGV’s founder and former board chair, John Ewing, will serve on VNRC’s advisory committee, according to a press release.
“This is terrific news for everybody in Vermont who cares about both natural resources and smart growth,” said Middlebury town planner Fred Dunnington.
SGV (formerly the Vermont Forum on Sprawl) is a Vermont-based nonprofit dedicated to forging innovative solutions to the challenges related to economic and population growth in Vermont. Founded in 1998, SGV works with local officials, developers, nonprofits, political leaders and businesses to support development patterns that reinforce downtowns and compact neighborhoods, understand the factors that are changing our state, and to develop creative land use and development policies to increase our prosperity and protect Vermont’s distinctive landscape.
VNRC is an independent, nonprofit, research, education and advocacy organization founded in 1963 to support good stewardship of Vermont’s natural resources and working landscape. Nearly 6,000 households, businesses and organizations have joined VNRC in support of its mission to approach development in a way that strengthens communities, enhances economic opportunity, and protects Vermont’s irreplaceable natural resources.
“I think the time is right for it,” said Dunnington. “I especially think there’s a new sense of openness and interest to this with the sustainability, the extreme climate, the energy issues, and a lot of things that are … converging in the public’s awareness right now.”
Leaders of both organizations feel that this merger will strengthen the goals and initiatives of both organizations, which converge naturally with each other.
“The merger is a logical integration of two organizations that have been working side-by-side for years and one that will create a unified voice for smart growth and expanded leverage and greater efficiencies at a time when nonprofits are struggling to sustain themselves,” said Ewing in a press release.
According to VNRC Executive Director Elizabeth Courtney, the two organizations’ decision to join forces will strengthen VNRC’s focus on community development and smart growth issues.
“SGV has been a leader in bringing people with diverse interests to the table to try to solve Vermont’s thorniest land use and development challenges,” Courtney explained in a press release. “The programs that they have developed, such as the on-line community planning toolbox, will enhance the work we are doing with communities, state officials, and the development community.”
The merger is the result of a five-month process that began soon after former Smart Growth Vermont Executive Director Noelle MacKay left the organization to become commissioner of the Vermont Department of Housing, Economic Development and Community Affairs in January.
“We decided to explore all options for the future,” Ewing said. “After interviewing stakeholders and meeting with funders and donors, the decision was made that SGV’s mission would be best served by joining forces with VNRC.”
According to Ewing, a key to the success of the merger has been the leadership provided by VNRC Deputy Director Brian Shupe, who served as program director for SGV before joining VNRC in 2008. 
“Brian was heavily involved in SGV’s work.  His passion for Vermont, commitment to smart growth and willingness to work with people with different perspectives to find common ground is an important part of SGV’s legacy that will be well served at VNRC.”
According to Dunnington, Shupe is the perfect man for the job.
“(Shupe is) a superb person to fill this (role) … Among planners in Vermont, I know Brian is held in really high regard. I think this will be a strong and good thing for both movements.”

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