Small Grants for Smart Growth


Do you want to survey your community about future development in town? Do you want to engage your neighbors on improving local housing options? Do you need to run an ad to demonstrate community support for a project?

Small Grants for Smart Growth, launched in 2018, provide seed money for community-based initiatives related to smart growth.

What is smart growth?

Where and how we develop affects our quality of life, how we get around, our natural resources, and how inclusive and affordable our communities are. Smart growth is an approach to development that can make our communities more livable in all of these areas, by investing in our unique villages and downtowns and fighting sprawl, which makes Vermont feel less like Vermont.

Smart growth allows for a variety of housing for people of all ages, transportation choices, unique places for everybody to enjoy, and healthy farms, forests, and natural areas. It prioritizes public participation in making decisions about what the future looks like, so that our land use decisions are inclusive, not exclusive.

What kinds of projects do Small Grants for Smart Growth support?

Projects might involve advocacy for better land use, by getting involved in the “nuts and bolts” work of municipal planning, regulations, or a permitting process. A project could also be a town or local group effort to promote downtown or village center revitalization and historic preservation; to develop a plan for better sidewalks or paths; to identify ways to support housing choice and affordability; or to plan on conserving land for agriculture or forestry. See below for a list of past awardees.

These grants acknowledge that community leadership and small steps are essential for catalyzing change. Think creatively about how you can advance smart growth in your town!

How big are the grants?

Grants are typically $500 to $1,500 per project, and a second year of funding may be an option.

How do I know if my project is eligible?

Please view the dropdown menus below for further detail on eligibility and how to apply. With any remaining questions, please contact Kate McCarthy at kmccarthy@vnrc.org.

  • What is eligible?

    Eligible applicants

    Local or multi-town entities, such as a municipality, municipal commission or committee; non-profit organization; or citizens group that is either working with a non-profit or seeking 501(c)(3) status. Applicants must be within the State of Vermont.

    Eligible activities

    See the table below for some examples of eligible projects based on type, and find more detail below the table. Note: Projects that integrate several smart growth objectives, such as housing, transportation, and land use, are especially encouraged, as are projects that get a wide range of community members meaningfully involved in the process.

    Type of ActivityFor Example…
    Advocacy for better land use–Getting a group of residents interested in smart growth involved in a town plan or bylaw update 
    –Intervening in a permitting process to fight a sprawl project
    Advancing transportation choice–Hiring a designer to help improve walking and biking amenities
    –Organizing a diverse group of stakeholders to facilitate their engagement in a transportation planning process 
    –Convening landowners for discussions about connecting trail networks.
    Supporting housing choice and affordability–Funding a mini-campaign to encourage people to speak at hearings and run ads in support of new housing development
    Promoting downtown or village center revitalization–Downtown or village pop up projects that test out new transportation designs, parklets, or ways to fill storefronts
    –Making a plan and bringing people together to discuss reusing a historic building in a village
    Conservation and natural resources–Fund a natural resource inventory to identify areas for conservation or zoning changes that better protect resources
    Public outreach and engagement (many of these ideas would be used to advance the objectives above)–Paying for food, child care, and transportation costs to help enable people to attend public meetings
    Design charrettes 
    –Printing and mailing costs for surveys, meeting announcements, etc.
    –Translation services
    wi-fi hot spot, subscription to online meeting software, or similar – if it is connected to a specific smart growth effort 

    Smart growth projects that address the following are eligible:

    • Advocacy for better land use through municipal planning, regulations, or advocacy in the permit process
      • This includes projects that involve advocacy for better land use by getting involved in the “nuts and bolts” work of municipal planning, regulations, or a permitting process. A project could also be a town or local group effort to promote downtown or village center revitalization and historic preservation; to develop a plan for better sidewalks or paths; to identify ways to support more housing choices; or to plan on conserving land for agriculture or forestry.
    • Transportation (transportation choices, active transportation, improving access, etc.)
    • Housing (variety, affordability)
    • Conservation, including agriculture, forestry, and historic preservation
    • Downtown and/or village center development or revitalization
      • Demonstration projects – such as downtown or village pop up projects that test out new road designs, parklets, or ways to fill storefronts – are also eligible activities, since placemaking is an important part of smart growth.
    • Public Engagement
      • Public engagement is a key element of smart growth, and something this grant can support – even in these socially-distanced times – so be creative! Funding could support activities like publicity, food, or child care at a community forum; a meeting facilitator; a translator to help at a meeting or door-to-door outreach, a field trip to help people understand smart growth or conservation; technical or consulting assistance (for example, someone to conduct a study or draft sketches for redevelopment possibilities); or even a facilitated meeting that fosters dialogue between opposing groups.
      • Projects such as a wi-fi hot spot, subscription to online meeting software, or similar – if it is connected to a specific smart growth effort – will also be considered. (Small Grants cannot be used to support basic (w/c) municipal infrastructure).

    Eligibility hints

    Promoting smart growth

    Media buys and public forums to support a smart growth neighborhood plan would be eligible, but similar actions to stop smart growth development within an existing neighborhood would not.

    Transportation

    Public engagement on a public trails system for the community or design and integration of a commuter lot into a town center would be eligible, but advocating for the Circ Highway or equivalent bypass/new highway construction would not.

    Housing

    Developing a strategy to incorporate additional housing, such as accessory units, into existing neighborhoods would be eligible as would the development of options for inclusionary zoning, but developing a plan for a suburban subdivision not compliant with Smart Growth policies would not.

    Events

    Bringing in an expert for analysis or a charrette (a hands-on planning exercise) as part of a community event or conference would be eligible, but general funding support for conferences would not.

    • What is not eligible?
      The following activities are ineligible for grant funding:
      • Lobbying or partisan activities
      • Land or building acquisition
      • Capital improvements (signs, way-finding, construction projects, bike racks)
      • Equipment (e.g. computers, printers, vehicles). 
        Note: While wifi and software costs connected to specific smart growth projects may be eligible, Small Grants cannot be used to support baseline municipal infrastructure
      • Evaluation criteria
        The project or activities being proposed must:
        • Meet multiple smart growth principles
        • Be inclusive in the engagement of the public, with focused efforts that enable access to a cross-section of community members, especially those who historically have not had access to public processes
        • Promote a healthy, just, safe, and sustainable community
        • Work towards a lasting solution to an identified problem or opportunity
        • Be able to be completed within a one-year time frame, and
        • Have a clear focus and concrete outcomes
      • How to apply
        Deadline

        Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Applicants will typically receive a response from VNRC within 30 days of the day we receive the application.

        Please submit a two page (maximum) statement that includes all of the following:
        • Name and contact information for the applicant
        • Amount requested
        • Overall project timeline.
        • If this funding will be used for a portion of a larger project, clearly identify the portion of the project it will fund.
        • Project description. The project description should include the following:
          • The problem or opportunity that the project is attempting to address
          • The outcomes that will result from your project
          • A brief description of how this funding will catalyze your project
          • How the project complies with the “eligible activities” listed above
          • How the project addresses the six evaluation criteria, including how the project advances smart growth principles

        VNRC determines when the application is complete. As a condition of any grant, all activities are to be completed within the timeline given.  In addition, grant recipients agree to give VNRC permission to feature the project in its printed and electronic materials.  Where appropriate, grantees agree to note that the project is “Paid for with the assistance of the Small Grants for Smart Growth Fund of the Vermont Natural Resources Council.” Upon completion, a paragraph on the accomplishments, with illustrations if available, is to be submitted to VNRC who then forwards this on to the funder.

        Please send materials to:

        Kate McCarthy, Sustainable Communities Program Director, at kmccarthy@vnrc.org.


      The Small Grants for Smart Growth Program is made possible with assistance from Beth Humstone, co-founder of the Vermont Forum on Sprawl and former VNRC board chair, and her son, Chris Gignoux.

Small Grant Winners

Town of Hinesburg

Learn more about the Town of Hinesburg at https://www.hinesburg.org/. Year/s awarded 2020 Project details The…

Old Spokes Home

The Old Spokes Home is located in Burlington, Vermont. Learn more at https://www.oldspokeshome.com/. Year/s awarded…

Town of Hyde Park

Learn more about the Town of Hyde Park at https://hydeparkvt.com/. Year/s awarded 2018 Project details…

Rich Earth Institute

The Rich Earth Institute is located in Brattleboro, Vermont. Learn more at http://richearthinstitute.org/. Year/s awarded…