BE Home Bill - Feb 6-9, 2024

The Senate Economic Development Committee spent most of the week working on their draft bill titled 'BE Home'. The bill would overhaul the current Act 250 framework and development designations into a new mapping structure.


Peter Tucker (Advocacy & Public Policy Director, Vermont Association of Realtors) was the first to speak to the Committee on Tuesday. He thanked the Committee for their work last year in “addressing the housing crisis… and we are now seeing this year is the crisis kind of moving to a property tax crisis.” He argued that “expanding the grand list is the simplest most effective way” to keep tax rates low, but unfortunately it is not a ‘this year fix.”

He raised some concerns about how the appeals would work with an administrative board. However, he did support language that Senator Harrison had added around an Act 250 trigger known as the 10-5-5 rule. This would trigger Act 250 review if a developer built 10 or more units within a five-mile radius within a five-year time period. The new language would raise this threshold to 30 units within a two-year period but remove the geographical component as long as the units are served by municipal water/sewer infrastructure. “Where the pipe goes… you ought to have the ability to develop,” he commented.

He supported the changes to downtown and village center designations and the new mapping system the bill contemplates. However, he was concerned about an exemption for prime agricultural soils that might be in these designated areas. He didn’t think there would be much if any of these.

He also commented that “qualifying for tiers needs to be within reason and within the abilities of the towns that are going to be applying for them.” He cautioned that capacity varies from town to town and that “keeping it simple is important.”

Additionally, he raised the road rule provision allowed in Tier 2 mappings which might be too broad (the current road rule essentially prevents a road above 2k feet elevation). Chairwoman Ram Hinsdale agreed they needed to define Tier 2 areas better.

Senator Clarkson chimed in to agree and note that “Tier 2 may need an ‘A’ and a ‘B’.” Tucker agreed with this idea, as did most of the Committee.

Tucker also supported the $70k investment in the Vermont Housing Investment Program (VHIP) but had mixed feelings about a Land Bank concept and the rental registry included in the bill. Some realtors support the rental registry, but others worry about too much oversight over the rental market.

Somewhat surprisingly, Tucker supports the current flood disclosure requirements in the bill, noting it supports the current legal standards of disclosure. Apparently, realtors already are required to disclose this information so the new language would level the playing field with private sales. However, there are questions about how far back they need to go in disclosures and making sure the statue will be easy to comply with. There are also some concerns about the disclosure triggering a requirement for flood insurance which can be costly.

Read the draft bill.



Alex Farrell (Commissioner, Department of Housing and Community Development) testified first in the Senate Economic Development Committee on Friday morning. He shared that the Administration is advocating for the existing exemptions to be extended with a sunset to provide a bridge to the new system. They don’t want to define the tiers now but hold until the Natural Resources Board (NRB) does its work and then start the transition.

He also construction cap on “land at or above 2,000 feet,” saying it would have a surprising unintended consequence, recommends 2,500 feet instead. There was some confusion about there that number had originally come from. Senator Cummings asked if this “will this affect the ski areas?” Farrell responded that it is “a lot more than that.” Cummings admitted that she doesn’t “know enough about any of this to decide these.”

There was more discussion about separating the Tier 2 designations into Tier 2 with local zoning versus Tier 2 without zoning. Because “it is so broad,” said Chairwoman Ram Hinsdale and “we probably want to make distinctions there about what is allowed.”

Cummings wondered if “on these maps are we saying anything about where we are putting solar panels…beauty versus aesthetics.” Senator Clarkson added that we have ruined every “view-shed in Vermont” with power lines.

Ram Hinsdale noted that they are already saying “that commercial/industrial are acceptable” in certain Tiers, but wondered should we include specifically what kinds of activity is acceptable in each.

Senator Harrison added that the Public Utility Commission (PUC) has mapped certain areas as preferred, such as old gravel pits, as good locations for solar.

Continuing on with his testimony, Farrell notably did not take a position on changing the appeals threshold to 25 people. NOTE: This is a pain point that many developers have pointed to.

John Groveman (Policy and Water Program Director, Vermont Natural Resources Council) was up next, joined by Kati Gallagher (Sustainable Communities Program Director, Vermont Natural Resources Council). Groveman led by saying he has “been working with everybody in the building and very closely with Charlie Baker at the RPCs every day” on this bill.

His presentation and conversation with the Committee was lengthy, but he provided a helpful explanation of the different mapping tiers contemplated in the bill as well as a sample of how this mapping might work. He stated that Tier 3 is going to be determined by the Legislature as there will be some subjectivity and qualitative analysis that will have to be done in the planning process whereas 1A and 1B is less so because we can better identify the towns that qualify for these.

Groveman joked “this is historic stuff…like a giant shift. And it is exciting because we are really building it all on planning, and the RPCs are really stepping up like I have never seen in my 30 years.”

Ram Hinsdale agreed, saying it was a “60-year paradigm shift.” 

NOTE: There is an argument that this is moving towards the statewide planning model that Act 250 was originally pitched as.

Charlie Baker (Executive Director, Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission) followed Groveman. He shared a known constraints map with the Committee that outlined where the development could not happen given the mapping tiers.

Paul Conner (Director of Planning & Zoning, South Burlington) also shared written testimony with the Committee that outlined some concerns.

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