• Montpelier considers housing: How much is too much?
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     | April 10,2013
     

    MONTPELIER — The city’s effort to rewrite its zoning continued Monday with a focus on how to encourage the construction of much-in-demand housing for all ages and incomes while maintaining the vitality of the historic downtown, green spaces, and cultural and educational institutions.

    “There is a traditional Vermont village where people live, work and can walk to their services. Then out from there would be what we’re conceiving of as the suburban area ... far enough away that people have to drive, then further out would be the rural district,” said Planning Commission member Jon Anderson at the panel’s meeting Monday.

    The meeting centered on how future zoning would allow the development of particular parcels, including the area around Crestview Drive owned by Planning Commissioner Alan Goldman, Sabin’s Pasture along Barre Street, and the Towne Street and Towne Hill Road neighborhood.

    Under the proposed zoning, the district into which each parcel falls would require 10-acre lots, with two units allowed on each lot, but developers proposing to build clustered housing or 20 percent affordable housing could receive a building density bonus of up to 1,000 percent, allowing for more units.

    “Montpelier is a great place to live, and people should have the opportunity to live here,” said Jack McCullough of the Montpelier Housing Task Force. “The master plan recognizes and establishes the need for additional housing. Montpelier has the infrastructure, water, sewer, educational facilities, every element to support a substantial increase in our population.”

    Those in attendance, including city officials, housing representatives and residents, seemed to agree that clustered development is the way to go on Montpelier’s largest undeveloped parcels. But does it need to be mandated? How dense should it be?

    And should there be bonuses granted for certain types of development?

    “I don’t want dumb zoning, but I want zoning for dummies,” said Planning Commissioner Eileen Simpson. “I want neighbors and developers to be able to pick up a book and know what to expect.”

    Some, including Simpson, Goldman and Anderson, expressed support for changing the zoning of Sabin’s Pasture and Goldman’s Crestview property to a suburban designation, which could allow four to six units per acre. The commission called on the city’s director of planning and community development, Gwen Hallsmith, and her team to look at what a future zoning map might look like if parts of these parcels were changed to suburban.

    Goldman cautioned fellow commissioners to be aware of how zoning changes may affect Act 250 oversight. Under the proposed changes Act 250 would not be required unless a project included more than 49 units. “The city doesn’t have the oversight to manage a project that large,” he said. “It should be kept at nine units or below.”

    Anderson agreed that it’s important that Act 250 oversight be involved at a lower threshold than 49 units but said he was looking to the planning staff for some guidance on how to set that level.

    “We need to figure out what the zoning should be, what the allowed density should be in the suburban district, and do we give higher density for clustering,” he said.

    Don’t bother mandating clustering, said Goldman, because that would remove an incentive for the developer to give something back. In Sabin’s Pasture, he said, you may have open land, but whether it’s open to the public is another story. “A developer could offer a 25-foot right of way to get to the next leg of a bike path.”

    Added Commissioner Kim Cheney: “I don’t want to give people a blank check. We have to look good and hard at the ordinance and how it relates to Act 250.”

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