The state has a plan aimed at making town and city zoning bylaws less of an obstacle to housing.
Josh Hanford, commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Development, said Thursday that many municipal zoning regulations no longer address the population’s current needs, and that changing them is a cumbersome process.
For instance, he said, zoning regulations make it hard to build multi-unit dwellings in areas zoned for single-family homes, even though there’s more demand for the former. Local laws pertaining to the number of parking spaces a building needs have also hampered growth in some areas, and it’s likewise difficulty for many to enter into home sharing agreements, or build or accessory dwelling units, because of local zoning bylaws.
He said these laws have all been crafted over long periods of time with the best intentions in mind, but in many places they’ve been a barrier to people trying to find or create housing.
The “Zoning for Great Neighborhoods,” project, Hanford said, will create templates for bylaws and zoning regulations that will allow people to do more things with their properties. He said it’s entirely up to local governments to use them or not, but the program plans to solicit feedback from municipal leaders and planners during the summer.
Hanford said the goal is to have something towns and cities can make use of by spring of next year.
The department has a contract with Congress for the New Urbanism, which according to its website is an international nonprofit organization “working to build vibrant communities where people have diverse choices for how they live, work and get around.”
Hanford said CNU has a track record for this sort of work and will give and receive information from Vermont’s cities and towns on what regulatory obstacles they’re facing. This meeting is scheduled for July 10. Among those invited are several mayors and the leaders of various regional planning commissions.
“Vermont’s housing needs are quickly changing with striking implications for the housing market,” said Helen Hossley, CEO with the Vermont Association of Realtors, in a statement. “Many municipalities have outdated zoning and land-use regulations that not only discourage the type of residential development needed today, but also don’t help create walkable communities when development occurs.” Housing plays a large role in an area’s economy, Hanford said, from attracting and keeping workers, to giving folks more options in monetizing their property.
Hanford said those working on the program will stress that it’s voluntary, and isn’t a case of the state imposing zoning regulations on municipalities. He’s aware that many are leery of things that appear to be more, burdensome regulations.
“Residents and communities are sometimes uneasy about these options,” said Catherine Dimitruk, head of the Northwest Regional Planning Commission, in a release. “People get concerned the change could negatively affect the character of their community, the value of their property and their quality of life. Showing examples of where it has worked is really valuable.”