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Friday, March 17, 2023

To: Members of the Vermont Senate
From: Karen Horn, Director Public Policy & Advocacy
Date: March 16, 2023
Re: Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee Amendment to S. 100

The Vermont League of Cities and Towns is deeply disappointed in the Senate Natural Resources and Energy action on S.100. S.100 is no longer a bill to facilitate the development of housing. Yesterday the Senate Natural Resources Committee passed a municipal pre-emption bill that will not solve the housing crisis.

Every legislator campaigned with the promise to address the catastrophic lack of housing in Vermont, a crisis that affects every aspect of the economy. The Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee took that charge seriously and voted out S.100. They understand, as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights established, that housing is a human right.

We cannot support the Senate Natural Resources version of S.100. That bill grants no flexibility to local governments in tailoring new requirements for density to the circumstances in their communities and makes no meaningful changes to Act 250.

Land use planning and permitting are core responsibilities that voters in 253 cities, towns, and villages have assigned their municipal governments. Today, 253 municipalities have adopted municipal plans. 207 municipalities have adopted zoning or subdivision bylaws. Local officials are eager to change their zoning bylaws to promote more housing. Ninety-eight municipalities have received municipal planning grants or bylaw modernization grants in the last two years to update their bylaws to facilitate the development of housing. Their citizens are voting to affirm the zoning changes at their town meetings.

Towns and cities are doing the hard work to make their communities hospitable to housing that serves all. Those efforts are futile without state permitting reform.

Municipalities with wastewater and water supply capacity need to accommodate a range of housing within those service areas. Duplicative permitting for connections to those municipal water and wastewater systems needs to be eliminated. Disincentives in Act 250 to right sizing housing development projects need to be eliminated. Developers’ economic decisions to build projects that do not trigger Act 250, and thus result in lost housing units, need to be recognized and the law remedied to eliminate those impediments to housing development.

Addressing Act 250 and other state permitting laws is crucial. S.100 that the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee passed does that.

We strongly support the sections of their bill that:

  • eliminates Act 250 jurisdiction for priority projects in designated areas,
  • increase the number of units that can be built before Act 250 is triggered to 24,
  • eliminates the ability of “any ten people” to appeal a zoning permit,
  • eliminates appeals of zoning permits for housing in designated areas based on “character of the area”, and
  • establishes a system for providing enhanced designation status to local governments that adopt bylaws addressing Act 250 criteria as was proposed by Mayor Weinberger of Burlington on March 10 – thereby eliminating duplicative and expensive permits that cost developers time and money.