On Tuesday, the housing bill, S.100, was moved to the House Environment & Energy Committee on the House floor.
Tuesday afternoon the Committee heard from Sue Minter (Executive Director, Capstone Community Action), which was largely a repeat of what she had said to previous committees previously.
Representative Smith took issue with the Committee addressing the Housing portions of the bill and the racial portions of the bill, and not addressing solely Act 250 portions of the bill. Chairwoman Sheldon dismissed his concerns, indicating there "could be discussion."
Brian Shupe (Executive Director, Vermont Natural Resources Council) testified next and also largely repeated previous testimony, however he noted that he had worked with Representative Bongartz over the summer on another housing bill, H.68. He was seeking support for work that others had criticized in that bill.
One Wednesday morning the House General & Housing Committee and Environment & Energy Committee held a joint meeting. The intent was bring legislators up to speed on how they were proceeding with S.100 in their respective committees. Representative Sheldon immediately set the premise of the Committee by by stating it was "an opportunity" for the two committees to share ideas and questions and that it was NOT a forum for any policy debates. After introductions, Representative Stevens identified that the Senate had stripped "much of the housing portions" due to appropriations and that it left his Committee (General & Housing) with the need to bring an amendment related to "rental needs" that would be forthcoming.
Many questions were met with either responses like “we’ll take it under advisement” or no response at all.
NOTE: It was clear that this joint Committee was purposely limited to one hour to be sure that the elephant in the room, Act 250, was not discussed. A number of Representatives have now raised concerns about how Act 250 was not been allowed to be discussed in regards to this bill.
Charlie Baker(Government Relations Chair, Vermont Association of Planning and Development Agencies)offered testimony on behalf of the Vermont Association of Planning and Development Agencies (VAPDA) pertaining to S.100. He highlighted high-priority changes they were seeking, which included:
- Water/Wastewater Permit Duplication – VAPDA believes that adding Section 15 of H.68 to S.100 is very important. This section would eliminate Agency of Natural Resources duplicative permitting of connections to wastewater and water supply. Municipalities, which own, operate, and maintain that infrastructure and whose users pay for those infrastructure investments, should have ownership over the permitting. The current duplicative system "adds no value," they argued, and costs developers both time and money.
- Housing Data Collection - Vermont has inadequate information about the number of housing units built each year, they believe. Adding a requirement that the Grand List of each municipality include a numeric field with the number of dwelling units per parcel will allow municipalities, Regional Planning Commissions, and the State to better understand the existing housing stock and the impact of regulatory changes over time. Therefore, they suggested the following change:
32 V.S.A. § 4152
(3) A brief description of each parcel of taxable real estate in the town. “Parcel” means all contiguous land in the same ownership, together with all improvements thereon, including the number of residential units in a field that can be tabulated.
They suggested having the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) use the grand list data to report back to the Legislature on an annual basis the number and location of new housing units. The data and regular reporting are "fundamental to understanding what is happening and adjusting policy" to achieve State goals, Baker argued.
3. Australian Ballot Elimination - They strongly recommended adding a section to eliminate adoption by Australian ballot for municipal plans and bylaws. Adopting municipal plans and bylaws are "fundamentally a legislative task" Baker contended, and should be carried out by the legislative body of each municipality. This will give rural municipalities the same flexibility as urban (those with a population 5,000) municipalities. Failure to include this provision, he cautioned, is very likely to undermine many of the other sections requiring updated zoning, etc.
4. H.5 Study - They requested that the substance of H.5, which would strengthen regional plans and their implementation, or similar language be added to S.100. It is "critically important" that regional plans and policies become more consistent to better support smart growth development, municipal planning and zoning, and the implementation and improvement of Act 250, he argued.
5. Act 250 Jurisdictional threshold - The bill temporarily lifts the jurisdictional threshold to 25 units for Act 250 until July 1, 2026 in designated downtowns, neighborhoods, and growth centers. They suggested the following edits to include more rural towns:
A. Make the exemption applicable for project located entirely within a designated downtown development district, a designated neighborhood development area, a designated village center plus a 1⁄4 mile buffer, or a designated growth center.
B. Add a definition of “housing unit” in existing statute (10 V.S.A. 6001) that makes it clear that a duplex is to be treated as one housing unit. This will align Act 250 with the duplex-by-right provisions in Section 2 of the S.100 and allow for “gentle density” housing infill in much of the state.
Baker had a few other minor suggestions, but expressed strong support for addressing Act 250-related amendments in 2024. He was adamant that without commensurate changes at the State level, the "municipally focused changes" of S.100 would not produce as much housing in smart growth locations as it should. "Anything" that furthers the commitment to develop Act 250 changes would be "welcome," he stated.
Chris Cochran (Director of Community Planning & Revitalization, Agency of Commerce and Community Development) spoke next, reviewing the benefits of Act 250 and various designation programs, which included:
- Downtown and Village Center Tax Credits
- Downtown Transportation Fund
- State Grant Priorities
- Sales Tax Reallocation
- Reduction of Fees
- Exemption of Land Gains Tax
- Act 250 Exemptions for Priority Housing Projects
On Friday, Sabina Haskell (Chair, Natural Resources Board) spoke to the Committee about Act 250 in general and about S.100. In particular, she addressed the criteria of Act 250 as it pertained to evaluating projects:
Criterion 1: Air and water pollution
- Waste disposal
- Water conservation
- Criterion 2: Water supply
- Criterion 3: Impact on water supply
- Criterion 4: Erosion and capacity of soil to hold water
Criterion 5: Transportation
- Criterion 6: Educational services
- Criterion 7: Municipal services
Criterion 8: Aesthetics, scenic & natural beauty
- Historic sites
- Historic sites - archeology
- Rare and irreplaceable natural areas
- Necessary wildlife habitat
Criterion 9: Impact & Services
- 9A: Impact of growth
- 9B: Primary agricultural soils
- 9C: Productive forest soils
- 9D: Earth resources
- 9E: Extraction of earth resources
- 9F: Energy conservation
- 9G: Private utility services
- 9H: Costs of scattered development
- 9J: Public utility services
- 9K: Public investments
- 9L: Settlement patterns (formerly "Rural growth areas")
- Criterion 10: Local and regional plans
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