No new arguments were presented on the House floor Tuesday; the bill primarily deals with municipal zoning reform and feigned to address Act 250 issues, shy of a few time-limited exemptions. It focused on large lot sizes, excess parking requirements, excess setbacks, and other local zoning requirements legislators felt inhibited housing growth.
Critics of the bill argued that municipal reform should be paired with rollbacks to Act 250, the state’s major land-use and environmental law. However, since the bill passed third reading in House with a voice vote, incremental progress will have to be settled for. Amendments were introduced to limit energy requirement that could drive up construction costs by tens of thousands of dollars, but it was disagreed to. Other amendments would have moved up some of the implementation dates, add reviews of current processes for inclusivity, and widen the priority housing project exemption in Act 250. They were met with varying levels of success.
After passage, the Senate Committees began reviewing the bill.
Wednesday afternoon, the House Environment & Energy Committee returned to hear from Josh Hanford (Commissioner, Department of Housing & Community Development) on a draft amendment related to the appeals process in Act 250 that allows 10 unrelated persons to petition for an appeal. The language that he was proposing, and that the VNRC and others had agreed to, would prevent such a group from appealing if some component of the project included affordable housing. The previous language that the Committee had passed would allow any “aggrieved” person to appeal except for affordable housing projects.Read more
On Thursday morning, the House Environment & Energy Committee returned to review their committee amendment to the bill. The changes included the recommended amendment by Commissioner Hanford from the previous day. The amendment also included the language requested by Green Mountain Power, as well as a study on the distribution of utility projects, where they were occurring, and what permits were required. Finally, the amendment would change the 5-5-5 rule to a 10-5-5 framework.Read more
The new draft of the bill includes a section signaling a major policy shift. The new language would call for the Natural Resources Board to work with the Vermont Association of Planning and Development Agencies to develop a framework for delegating the Administration of Act 250 permits to municipalities. The Committee expressed interest in asking for consultation with an “environmental organization,” state agencies (presumably the Agency of Natural Resources), and possible public hearings.Read more
On Monday, the House Environment & Energy Committee took up S.100, which is the main housing bill this session. The Committee was reviewing Draft 4.3 of the bill with Legislative Counsel. A number of provisions in the bill would override local zoning regulations that some consider discriminatory and may discourage growth.Read more
The House Environment & Energy Committee heard from a few repeat presenters on Wednesday from the Agency of Natural Resources, the Department of Public Service, and Green Mountain Power. They didn't have much new to add to the conversation and one of them even said “I don’t really know what else I can offer to help you.”Read more
The Committee began marking up S.5 on Wednesday. Chairwoman Sheldon asked if cooking was included in the definition of thermal sector and therefore covered under the bill. Legislative Counsel confirmed that it was included and transitioning from gas to thermal induction stoves in restaurants qualifies for credits.Read more
Alex Weinhagen (President, Vermont Planners Association) spoke to the House Environment & Energy Committee on Wednesday about housing and permit reform legislation. He gave an overview with his opinion on the housing crisis and explained that State and local government can and should take action in the areas over which they have control. The Vermont Planners Association (VPA) strongly supports modernizing municipal land use regulations, state permitting reform (e.g., wastewater, stormwater, building codes, and Act 250), as well as changes to expedite development review appeals processes. This final point is one of the main focuses of S.100.Read more