By Dave Fidlin | The Center Square
Parking accommodations and density requirements were among some of the granular details a Vermont legislative panel reviewed on Tuesday as a draft bill aimed at increasing affordable housing options across the state went back under the microscope.
The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs began looking at a marked-up copy of an omnibus housing bill, with further deliberations slated for later this week.
State Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden, who chairs the committee, introduced the bill.
During Tuesday’s comb-through, the five-person committee gave the bill a name: “An act relating to housing opportunities made for everyone.”
Ram Hinsdale’s statement of purpose for the legislation includes a three-prong set of conceptual goals: increasing the supply of affordable housing, promoting home ownership, and broadening housing opportunities.
The bill, if adopted as drafted, would place new requirements on established municipalities and districts across Vermont.
Any taxing entity with municipal water and sewer infrastructure in place that allows for residential development could be required to establish within local ordinances lot and building dimensional standards that allow at least five dwelling units per acre.
At a minimum, the municipalities and districts meeting such criteria would have to make accommodations through zoning for two- and four-unit developments within a specified area of the community.
“You can’t zone out two- or four-unit developments because you don’t like them,” Ram Hinsdale said.
Ellen Czajkowski with the Vermont Office of Legislative Counsel reviewed the tweaks to previous versions of the bill at Tuesday’s meeting. She said the bill does give municipalities and districts a degree of local control.
“They can set density standards if they don’t want more than five units per acre,” Czajkowski said, pointing to one example.
The bipartisan committee wrangled over a number of provisions within the bill during Tuesday’s deliberations, including potential language for permissible parking spaces. There was discussion of setting the limit at 1-1.5 parking spaces per unit.
State Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, said such a stipulation could lead to challenges for people moving into the state and seeking affordable housing options.
“I’m very concerned about micromanaging everything,” Brock said. “You have so many people who are couples — they’re two-car couples.”
State Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Montpelier, however, said language on parking thresholds could ultimately benefit communities.
“The towns are left with: ‘What do you do with the cars?’” Cummings said. “You can’t plow the streets.”
The two- and four-unit housing requirements also sparked a discussion about density and its value and challenges.
Cummings said she believed the Legislature should be thoughtful about the requirements for the betterment of all residents.
“I believe in learning from mistakes of the past,” Cummings said, referencing large housing developments across the U.S. “There’s a point where too much density is not a good thing.”