The relationship between soil types and residential development in a rural region of southeastern Vermont

Toepfer, Andrew
Jon Atwood, PhD
Department of Environmental Studies
The rugged landscape of southeast Vermont creates challenges for the placement of new homes. Community planners and residents often conclude that the limiting features of the terrain will restrict new home construction and serve to maintain the rural characteristics of the countryside. Diverse mixtures of soils exist along road corridors throughout the region, some with attributes favorable to development and some without. Through GIS analysis of existing home locations in relation to the physical characteristics of the underlying soil, building density averages for each mapped soil unit were determined. Maps from the early 1900’s were used to analyze historic land use patterns. A relationship was found to exist between house locations and soil types in both the current and historic data sets. The strongest correlation was among four soil attributes: slope, depth to bedrock, depth to high water table and a State septic system siting index named “onsite”. The “onsite” attribute, which combines lope, bedrock, water table and percolation features, was the best indicator of building densities on specifc soils. Slope was also a good indicator of house site densities. Bedrock features showed some value as an indicator of building potential and water table attributes were generally a poor indicator. Analyses of each soil type in t he region, the historic and current building densities for each type, and possible use of soil types to predict rural development are discussed.

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