VNRC: Active on Growth Centers
VNRC continues to work to strengthen Vermont’s downtowns as well as protect the state’s spectacular and countryside. Specifically, VNRC has been a part of several initiatives implementing the “growth center” law passed last year.
VNRC helped shape both a manual to help guide communities through the Growth Center designation process, and an interim procedure to reduce the effect of development on agricultural lands. VNRC also assisted in ushering through the Legislature in 2007 a growth centers “technical corrections bill” which will improve and clarify the law.
VNRC and other groups including the Conservation Law Foundation and the Vermont Forum on Sprawl have joined up with affordable housing advocates and legislators to craft a proposal to encourage a proposal on affordable housing that builds on the growth center concept. The idea would be to create more incentives for affordable housing in good locations.
VNRC has been actively involved in several initiatives related to the implementation of the new Growth Center law (Act 183).
VNRC submitted written comments and testified on the Growth Center Implementation Manual which will help guide communities through the Growth Center designation process. The Manual has been submitted to the legislature and is now being used by a handful of communities to prepare Growth Center applications.
VNRC submitted recommendations which were used by the newly established state Growth Center Planning and Coordination Committee in developing an Interim Procedure for Agricultural Lands Mitigation related to growth centers. The law established this Committee, overseen by the Chair of the Natural Resources Board’s Land Use Panel and the Commissioner of Housing and Community Affairs, to provide growth center designation application assistance to communities and coordinated staff support to the expanded Downtown Board. The expanded Downtown Board, which includes representatives of natural resources and planning interests, will make the decisions on designating new growth centers.
Another aspect of the law began to take shape in late October, as the Growth Center Study Group (on which VNRC has a seat) was convened by the Secretary of Agriculture. In January, 2007, the Secretary of Agriculture presented to the legislature a work plan and budget for options and recommendations for future agricultural and other land conservation policies for the countryside to be developed by this six-member working group.
VNRC has helped advance a Growth Centers “technical corrections bill” which will improve and clarify provisions in the law. The bill passed in May 2007.
VNRC has participated extensively in the rulemaking proceeding of the Natural Resources Board’s Land Use Panel (LUP) which is in the process of writing rules that will impact the way that agricultural lands are protected under Act 250 and the Growth Center Law. Some of our concerns have been addressed, however we needed to advocate before the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (LCAR) on other aspects of the rules that were not satisfactorily addressed by the LUP. At this point it appears that LCAR will support our position, making it harder for developers to build on prime agricultural soils outside of growth centers.
VNRC worked in the Legislature in 2007 to defeat a so-called “New Neighborhoods” initiative proposed by the Administration that would have undermined the Growth Center Law, create more sprawl and weaken Act 250. Instead VNRC and other groups such as the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and the Vermont Forum on Sprawl (VFOS) are working with affordable housing advocates and legislative leaders to craft a proposal that builds on the growth center concept to provide additional incentives for affordable housing in smart growth locations.
VNRC began working with communities who are interested in seeking growth center designation. In May 2007 the Town of Williston was the first to submit a growth center application. A working group, which included VNRC, CLF, VFOS, the Preservation Trust of Vermont, and other members of the Vermont Smart Growth Collaborative, contacted the town planner with concerns about the size of the growth center. The state has told the town it needs to do some more work for its application to be complete. We will continue to work with the town to reduce the scale of the growth center. In St. Albans VNRC is working with the Northwest Citizens for Responsible Growth in reviewing the proposal for a two-town (St. Albans-Swanton) growth center. As in the Williston proposal, VNRC is are concerned about the excessive size of the growth center. In late May, the Northwest Regional Planning Commission voted against the proposal. We will continue to work with these groups to help create an appropriately-sized growth center.
VNRC has worked with regional planning commissions to educate the commissions and their member towns about the Growth Center law. In fall 2006, VNRC conducted an educational seminar for the Rutland Regional Commission, which represents 27 communities.
- VNRC produced a summary of the Growth Center law for use by communities and regional planning commissions.
- VNRC featured growth center implementation activities in its publications and on its website.