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Vermont Senate Approves Changes to Growth Centers Program

March 2010

Despite the recent success with the Hartford Growth Center, there are several problems with the growth centers program that need fixing. 

Late last year, VNRC, Preservation Trust of Vermont and Smart Growth Vermont began meeting regularly with Agency of Commerce and Community Development Secretary Kevin Dorn and agency staff responsible for administering the growth center program.   It was quickly agreed that all parties shared a common interest in strengthening the growth centers program, making it more user friendly for both the agency and municipalities, and that changes were required to ensure that commercial development within designated growth centers will not undermine the fragile economic vitality of the state’s traditional downtowns.

A result of these meetings was a package of legislative changes that were incorporated into Senate Bill 64 (S.64), sponsored by Senate Committee on Natural Resources & Energy Chair Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden). 

S.64 revamps the application process by eliminating the Expanded Downtown Board and the advisory Planning & Coordination Group, and creating a new Growth Centers Board that will include greater planning expertise.  It reinforces the “downtown first” principle by clarifying how development potential of designated downtown should be considered, and changes some of the more subjective qualitative standards with more specific quantitative standards related to the size of growth centers and the density and patterns of development that should be accommodated within them.

On Friday, March 19th, the full Senate passed S.64 onto the House.  It is expected that the House Natural Resources & Energy Committee will take the bill up in the next three weeks.