Two different Committees covered a new Housing Designations Report from the Department of Housing & Community Development (DHCD) this week. The report focuses on creating vibrant places for Vermonters to live and work.
In the House Environment & Energy Committee on Thursday, Chairwoman Sheldon asked about public engagement and Chris Cochran (Director of Community Planning & Revitalization, Department of Housing & Community Development) stressed the input was largely municipalities and staff at planning and regional agencies, the public also was engaged but they were asked to respond to questions like “what is working and what is not?”
He stressed outreach and the benefits for smaller communities with this new approach, such as technical assistance. Communities list of “wants” included a Neighborhood Designation Programs, tax credits, Act 250 relief, and technical assistance, which all received high marks by planners and small municipalities. Complexity of the land use permitting process was major “weaknesses” discussed.
Representative Stebbins asked if they could do more with additional staff. Cochran noted that they had a bill introduced to add $1.5M for the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) to assist municipalities and Regional Planning Commissions. He said they have a proposal for three limited service staff (LSPs) and 8 FTEs and we are “waiting on the Governor’s office for direction” on these proposals.
Representative Bongartz outlined his vision that at least the mapping and governance pieces of this proposal go forward and then further uses of designations, such as regulatory relief, can happen at a newly reformed Natural Resources Board at a municipalities request. “It all depends on these maps going forward,” he stated.
The Senate Economic Development Committee met on Friday to hear from the to review the report. Chairwoman Ram Hinsdale suggested they “need to look at the carrots we provide… against ‘cooperation’ and we still have some communities who want one side of the tracks developed and not develop the other side.”
Senator Brock asked a number of questions about the report and the balance it struck on Act 250 reforms. Cochran stressed that the new Framework will facilitate an increase eligibility because “if you are on the map you’re in,” from a land use approval standpoint. The report bases mapping requirements and the “simpler designations” on the Smart Growth America recommendations.
Senator Clarkson add that this new framework “will eliminate the friction points” as the regional planning commissions do much of this work already.
Senator Cummings asked about “pocket villages” and small neighborhood centers. She received confirmation that these would also have the opportunity in the new mappings for tax credit eligibility and Act 250 exemptions. This mapping is anticipated to take 2-3 years.
She pointed out that “somebody might strike gold there when an industry” or other magnet is centered in a mapped area. She is concerned about winners and losers as a result of this. Cochran calls the mapping process “aspirational” and it moves us forward.
Brock warned that some of these newly mapped areas may become suburbs because economies operate very much differently than in the past (i.e. remote work).
Ram Hinsdale noted that she wants to hear about transit corridors as well. Presumably this is related to transportation infrastructure and accessibility.