Many historical structures that contribute to Vermont’s scenic landscape and cultural heritage were designed for a specialized use, such as dairy farming or furniture manufacturing, may no longer be economically viable on properties where those buildings are located. In some instances, zoning regulations intended to limit the spread of commercial activities into rural areas, or ensure that certain uses do not adversely affect neighboring properties, have limited the ability of those buildings to be converted to new uses. Consequently, there may be little incentive for owners of these buildings to maintain them. Adaptive re-use provisions are used to allow – or to encourage – owners of historic buildings to maintain and reuse those buildings.
The reuse of buildings is not a new concept in Vermont. Before it was recognized as an effective historic preservation tool, it was considered a cost-effective way to make use of an existing resource. Restoring historic buildings also implements smart growth principles as these buildings are often where public infrastructure already exists; are in neighborhoods with a mix of uses in close proximity, are designed to pedestrian rather than vehicular orientation and do not involve the development of ”new” land in their restoration. Breathing new life into historic buildings can also generate additional tax revenue and create new local jobs.
Adaptive re-use provisions, which are included in zoning bylaws, treat historic buildings differently than other properties in a zoning district by allowing them to be used for a broader range of land uses than is otherwise allowed. Through an adaptive re-use provision, a community can encourage the restoration and re-use of obsolete structures, such as old industrial facilities, carriage barns or schools, in village centers and downtowns. Typically these buildings do not meet dimensional standards and, due to high building coverage, can not meet on-site parking requirements. Such incentives as residential density bonuses, a reduction in on-site parking and other facility requirements, or waiving limitations on nonconforming structures can make the difference between a successful redevelopment project and an abandoned building.
Adaptive re-use provisions may also allow historic buildings to be occupied by uses not otherwise allowed in the district. Historic barns that are no longer in agricultural use, and which may have been subdivided away from viable farmland, are frequently allowed additional uses, such as a commercial business, to provide an economic incentive for a landowner to maintain a large structure that may otherwise fall into disrepair. Allowing additional uses to a historic barn may also be allowed in conjunction with other incentives, or a community may require that in order to qualify for this incentive all other dimensional and site design requirements are met.
Incentives granted by an adaptive re-use provision may be coupled with historic preservation standards to ensure that buildings subject to adaptive re-use are restored in a manner that maintains their historic character. Because most incentives involve granting rights or opportunities that have been deemed to be inappropriate for new buildings within a district, it may be appropriate to require that owners of historic buildings undergo some type of review process to avoid or mitigate potential impacts on neighboring properties or the community.
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