Housing groups want to steer development to growth areas

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(Host) A coalition of groups wants to use incentives to steer new housing toward designated growth areas, such as village centers and downtowns.

Members of the coalition say the state needs to ease state environmental review for some housing projects.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The coalition got to work after the legislature, in the last session, failed to advance a housing bill.

Its members include environmentalists, home builders and housing developers. It’s a fragile coalition – and there’s not consensus on every point.

Greg Brown is the executive director of the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission. He told lawmakers that the coalition wants to encourage new housing in areas designated for growth.

(Brown) The key incentive on the table is a proposed change in Act 250 jurisdiction. What the proposal would do is raise the trigger – the number of housing units – that would trigger Act 250 review of a specific development proposal.  

(Dillon) Under current law, Act 250 review is required for projects of 10 or more housing units, except in designated downtowns.

The proposal would raise that threshold substantially for areas set aside for growth known as "community neighborhoods." These areas would have to be in towns with zoning and local sewer service. And they’d have to be near to existing downtowns or village centers.

Environmentalists want something in return for supporting these changes to Act 250. Steve Holmes is with the Vermont Natural Resources Council. As part of the bargain, he’s looking to strengthen Act 250 review of projects that could create suburban sprawl.

(Holmes) What we’re trying to do is, yes, provide for more affordable housing close to downtowns and village centers, but to deter additional development in the countryside. I don’t think we’re there yet with this proposal.

(Dillon) Robert Dostis, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, questioned if the proposals would work to create more affordable housing.

The group has not yet agreed on the definition of affordable housing. And Dostis pointed out that the "new neighborhoods" proposed by the coalition would contain just 15 percent of affordable housing units.

(Dostis) If we’re only putting a 15 percent requirement on this new development, how is this an affordable housing bill?

(Dillon) Greg Brown of the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission said that if legislature wants to create much more affordable housing – then the issue is money for housing subsidies, not state environmental regulation.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.


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