City looks to stimulate housing
City officials are looking to make it easier to build housing around downtown.
The city has applied to the state for a Neighborhood Development Area designation, a status that builds on the city’s designated downtown. Residential developments within a half-mile of the designated downtown could be eligible for reduced permitting requirements, exemption from land gains taxes, limits on appeals to conditional use permits and priority consideration.
“By focusing efforts on new and (infill) housing around a designated downtown, the designation will help support commercial establishments within the City’s Designated Downtown,” City Zoning Administrator Andrew Strniste wrote in a memo to Board of Aldermen earlier this month.
Materials available on the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development website indicate Middlebury has made use of the designation.
Mayor Michael Doenges said he particularly liked the idea because it would effectively expand the boundaries of the TIF district the city is contemplating beyond those it would need for projects included in the initial proposal.
“It’s not necessarily about what we have on tap but what we might do in the future,” he said.
More immediately, Doenges said, he expects developers would be encouraged by the cap on permit costs within the zone.
“It also really circumvents Act 250 rules,” he said. “We don’t have to push up against the same regulations we would otherwise.”
The state does not require a resolution from the Board of Aldermen or any sort of other vote to grant the designation, but Doenges noted the plans were presented to the Board of Aldermen ahead of time.
“There’s no negative impact to the city, no liability to the city,” he said. “If anybody wanted to raise a ruckus, there was an opportunity to raise a ruckus.”
No such ruckus was raised — a brief presentation from Strniste drew no comments at the board meeting last week.
“I think more than anything the reason people were supportive of it ... is the urgency of taking swift action on anything to do with housing,” Board of Aldermen President Michael Talbott said. “The root of everything we’re dealing with here is a lack of housing. ... This neighborhood designation is another tool to deal with the lack of housing.”
Talbott also said he was impressed at how Strniste had been finding opportunities for the city such as the designation.