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By: Mia Watson

July 12, 2019

Earlier this week, the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) launched the Zoning for Great Neighborhoods project, an initiative aimed at helping Vermont cities and towns break down the regulatory barriers preventing them from meeting the housing needs of Vermonters.

Although many Vermont cities and towns have acknowledged the need for more housing, including a variety of different home sizes, home types, and price points, municipalities often have outdated zoning requirements that constrain new development or redevelopment. It was very common in the 1960s and 1970s for towns to adopt boilerplate zoning codes that heavily prioritized suburban development over downtown infill, and many municipalities have not completely overhauled these codes since then. These codes often require unnecessarily large lot sizes and other restrictions that make it difficult to build the walkable neighborhoods close to work, schools, and services that both millennials and seniors want to live in.

Many towns and cities are interested in reevaluating their zoning bylaws to promote housing and lower costs associated with development, but do not have the staff resources to devote to the project. Zoning for Great Neighborhoods will help provide guidance and model bylaw language as well as launching a campaign to heighten public awareness of the need for flexible housing options and updated zoning codes.

Led by the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development, the Zoning for Great Neighborhoods project is supported by the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, AARP-VT, and the Vermont, Green Mountain and National Association of Realtors. The project will receive technical assistance from the nonprofit Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) and Vermont’s Regional Planning Commissions.

Mallory Baches, Program Manager for CNU, remarked, “The main goal of this project is to meet communities where they are: assess local capacity, provide strategic support, and offer practical solutions that enable great neighborhoods.” 

The project began with DHCD’s survey of municipalities and housing stakeholders to identify factors that add to the cost of housing and undermine neighborhood vitality, the results of which will be released in the coming weeks. The project’s next steps will involve meeting with communities, analyzing typical local regulations, and proposing alternatives that can support the types of homes needed. The full toolkit for municipalities will be completed by this spring, 2020.