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VT Senate Passes Key Smart Growth Housing, Healthy Forests, and Climate Resilience Bill

Montpelier – Today, the Vermont Senate passed an important bill (S.234) that includes key Act 250 policies to promote smart growth development to encourage housing, and protect intact and working forests.

Kati Gallagher, Sustainable Communities Program Director from the Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) stated, “We must address the current housing crisis and other pressing state needs with smart growth development that simultaneously protects our invaluable rural forests and working lands. The pairing of these priorities is becoming increasingly important as Vermont’s housing shortage is exacerbated due to in-migration since COVID, not to mention the certainty of increased migration to Vermont due to climate change.”

These policies build on years of work to update and modernize Act 250, including the priorities identified by the Commission on the Future of Act 250. Similar policies have passed the Legislature in previous years. Further, many of these policies were identified as priority recommendations in the state’s recently-adopted Climate Action Plan. 

Jamey Fidel, Forest and Wildlife Program Director from VNRC added, “In addition to thoughtfully addressing the housing crisis, this bill recognizes that Vermont continues to lose forestland every year to development (over 14,000 acres annually). Vermont needs policies that both support smart growth development, and maintain the integrity of our forests.”

Key provisions of S.234 include:

  • Supporting smart growth housing development by making state incentives more accessible, particularly for smaller towns;
  • Adding criteria and jurisdictional improvement to promote smart growth and forest conservation in intact forest blocks, working forests, and habitat connectivity areas;
  • Adding provisions to support wood products manufacturing, including more flexibility for hours of operation and the delivery of wood products and wood heat fuel; 
  • Clarifying how Act 250 applies to commercial development in one-acre towns (municipalities without permanent zoning and subdivision regulations) so that jurisdiction is consistent with the recent Snowstone Vermont Supreme Court ruling; and
  • A report on how Act 250 should be applied to agricultural businesses, including examining different levels of review for accessory on-farm businesses. 

“We’re grateful to the Senate for passing S.234 today because it takes a thoughtful approach to promoting smart growth housing development, maintaining our rural forests and working lands, and fostering climate resilience,” added Fidel.