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VNRC Policy Position: H.68 & Senate Omnibus Housing Bill


  • Increasing housing choice and affordability in Vermont’s downtowns and village centers is a critical climate solution.
  • In many towns across Vermont, local zoning regulations have had exclusionary impacts, including mandating sprawl development.   
  • Without reform, our current land use laws and resulting development patterns will lead to a worsening of our affordability crisis, farm and forest fragmentation, carbon emissions, and economic displacement of Vermonters – undermining the resilience of Vermont in the face of increasing natural disasters and other 21st century challenges.
  • Large developments in areas with no or weak zoning regulations should still benefit from Act 250 review and a fair process for local appeals.


“Development must be actively guided to the places where we already have or want to construct the necessary infrastructure for transportation, energy, communications, and human services, and away from the open spaces so critical to both our ecological and economic health.” – Vermont Climate Action Plan

VNRC has long advocated for a smart growth approach to planning and development that creates compact, walkable, transit-accessible communities with a range of affordable housing opportunities and choices. In Vermont, this approach builds on and maintains the state’s settlement pattern of higher-density downtown and village centers surrounded by farm, forest, and natural areas. 

However, smart growth can be hindered by local zoning regulations; in fact, zoning has often had the impact of enforcing sprawl by mandating large lot sizes, restricting residential development to single family homes, and requiring excessive parking. These land use laws raise home prices, force development to consume unnecessarily more land, and push homes further away from town centers – requiring Vermonters to drive longer distances to get to where they need to go. 

Due to limited land and housing supply, prices for both have continued to rise – resulting in unaffordability for many current and would-be Vermonters, and exacerbating existing inequities. At the same time, those who can afford to build often do so outside of town centers. To reduce sprawl and development pressure on forests and farmland, local zoning must be modernized to allow for smart growth housing where infrastructure already exists. 


By enabling development in smart growth areas, H.68 and the Senate Omnibus Housing Bill aim to reduce zoning-enforced sprawl and related environmental pressures.(1) VNRC supports the following provisions:

  • Enables dense, mixed-use, Vermont-scale community centers
    • Density standards (e.g. allowing no more than 1 dwelling unit per acre) results in sprawl and prevents the development of affordable multi-family homes and walkable neighborhoods.
    • Loosening density standards can alleviate our state’s housing shortage and affordability crisis by allowing compact housing development and infill.
    • This policy proposes allowing 5+ homes per acre in areas with water/sewer service and closes loopholes that reduce density through other inconsistent dimensional standards.
  • Minimizes excessive parking mandates
    • Parking minimums (e.g. requiring 2 parking spaces per bedroom or dwelling unit) perpetuates sprawl and promotes auto-oriented (and emission-heavy) patterns of mobility.
    • Capping or eliminating parking mandates can free up valuable downtown property, provide developers flexibility to add units, greenspace, or other needs, and reduce stormwater runoff and other environmental impacts of pavement.
    • This policy proposes limiting requirements to no more than one parking space per dwelling unit or accessory dwelling unit.
  • Removes limits on allowable uses
    • Permitted uses for residential development are often restricted to single-family homes, which has the impact of unnecessary land consumption, racial and socio-economic segregation, and exclusion of a diversity of home types that can meet the needs of all income levels and needs.
    • Increasing the flexibility of what can be built will enable creative housing solutions and historically common “missing middle” housing.     
    • This policy proposes to allow duplexes where single family homes are allowed, and fourplexes in areas with water/sewer service.  

There are many multifaceted challenges related to our current lack of housing supply. Last year, the legislature asked for two critical studies that will help to more effectively guide the state’s development patterns and target more systemic changes to our land use laws: the first will assess the State Designation Programs that support Vermont’s compact settlement areas, and the second will explore options to make necessary administrative and jurisdictional updates to the Act 250 program. Together, these studies will provide an important opportunity to improve planning for and strategic investments in smart growth housing. VNRC recommends the legislature wait until the 2024 session to make jurisdictional changes to Act 250 and the designation program, when they will have more complete data and input from the Agency of Commerce & Community Development (ACCD) and the Natural Resources Board (NRB).

Unfortunately, several provisions included in the current draft would have adverse consequences on sustainable development and our environment. 

While VNRC would prefer that Act 250 changes be made comprehensively next year after the legislatively commissioned studies are complete, we have provided the following recommendations to minimize harm:

  • Further define districts that are “served by municipal sewer and water service.”
    • Current draft: Provides municipalities authority to define water/sewer service areas that will be required to allow for certain housing development 
    • Why is this a problem? Without relevant exceptions, requiring towns to allow for housing simply by water/sewer service areas may result in sprawl, inappropriate development in critical natural resource areas, or straining of limited system capacity.
    • Recommendation: Add language that provides flexibility for municipalities to define water/sewer areas as appropriate for their community. 
  • Retain ability of 10+ residents to appeal decisions of administrative officers.
    • Current draft: Removes the ability of any 10 residents to appeal local decisions; 
    • Why is this a problem? While the intent is to limit the ability of residents to unduly delay, diminish or stop the development of housing, this right has provided a mechanism for residents to appeal development decisions that would harm significant natural resources, adversely impact local residents, or contradict municipal bylaws.
    • Recommendation: The 10-person appeal could be replaced with a higher standard that still allows affected persons to address impacts, such as those “who allege an injury to a particularized interest,” which is a common legal standard. 
  • Retain current housing unit trigger for Act 250 outside of designated areas.
    • Current draft: Increases the trigger for Act 250 from a person who develops 10 housing units within a 5 mile radius in a 5 year period to 25 housing units within a 5 mile radius in a 5 year period.  
    • Why is this a problem? This change is not limited to designated growth areas, including in smaller towns that do not have the capacity to administer land use and planning programs and may not have zoning and/or subdivision bylaws.  
    • Recommendation: Limit the proposed change to increasing the trigger in only Designated Downtowns and Neighborhood Development Areas (NDAs) to ensure that municipalities have adequate bylaws and the capacity to administer them.
  • Retain current Priority Housing Project (PHP) locations to designated areas with strong zoning bylaws.
    • Current draft: Removes existing size limits for Priority Housing Projects (a mixed-use or mixed-income development eligible for Act 250 exemption) in towns with less than 10k, and expands to designated Village Centers with zoning and subdivision bylaws.
    • Why is this a problem? Smaller towns and villages have the least capacity to administer and adopt bylaws sufficient to address the issues covered by Act 250.  Accordingly, even if a designated Village Center has zoning and subdivision bylaws, no evaluation has been done to ensure that they address the issues covered by Act 250 and whether the Village Center has the resources to properly administer the bylaws; further, the Village Center designation is not intended for housing growth.
    • Recommendation: The expansion of PHPs to Village Centers should be eliminated so we can see how the ACCD report recommends improving the designation programs to provide assurance that Act 250 jurisdiction can be lifted in municipalities with sufficient zoning bylaws and capacity for review. 
  • Retain current requirements for Act 250 permit amendments.
    • Current draft: Removes the requirement for Act 250 permit amendments for <24 units of housing.
    • Why is this a problem? This proposal would apply everywhere regardless of whether a town has a designated center or zoning & subdivision bylaws, or what the Act 250 permit is for. This means that a development of up to 24 units could be built anywhere (in a town without zoning) with no local or state review or environmental restrictions.
    • Recommendation: We recommend striking this proposal as it is not limited to smart growth housing and the environmental risks are significant.

See More:

Jon Groveman: Testimony to SNRE

Kati Gallagher: Presentation to SNRE

Brian Shupe: Proposed Language Changes for SNRE

  1. Other notable provisions: funds rental rehabs, “missing middle” housing, mobile homes and parks, new housing resource navigator positions, bylaw modernization grants, and HomeShare Vermont; establishes project-based tax increment financing; limits how towns can regulate emergency shelters; improves enforcement of the Fair Housing & Public Accommodations Act; and, requires the Division of Fire Safety to report back on ways to reduce the cost of housing development.