Keelan: H.68 is a Trojan horse to take over local zoning

By Don Keelan

Several weeks ago, Representative Seth Bongartz (D-Manchester/Arlington) introduced H.68, a 28-page act “removing State and municipal regulatory barriers for fair zoning and housing affordability.” The good news: Montpelier recognizes that Vermont has a housing crisis. The bad news is that Vermont towns and villages may be letting in a Trojan horse.

Never lose sight that those in the Statehouse fully subscribe to the “never let a crisis go to waste” mantra of Rahm Emanuel, the former Chicago Mayor and now U.S. Ambassador to Japan. In this case, Vermont’s housing crisis.

Don Keelan

According to writer Emerson Lynn, the Vermont Finance and Housing Agency (one of Vermont’s largest non-profits since 1974) recently noted that Vermont needs to build 40,000 new housing units by 2030, only seven years away. Lynn notes that the bill will ban towns and villages from continuing the intent of single-family housing zoning.

Some of us have been in the trenches regarding the development, construction, and selling of housing units. In my 50-year career, I brought online over 3,000 units in Vermont and points south.

From my perspective, the crises in Vermont housing are attributed to not only zoning but a host of issues: a lack of buyer funds for a down payment, insufficient annual income to qualify for a 30-year 90% mortgage with a 6% interest rate (an income of $110,000 is required for a $270,000 mortgage), no municipal wastewater/portable water, lengthy time to gain approvals, and shortage of trades (and if they are available, hourly rates for electricians/plumbers now reaching $100 per hour).

If more than the above is needed to understand why new housing is so rare, then delivering over 5,000 units yearly is a pipe dream. There are other impediments to consider. Navigating floodplain rules and wetlands regulations is a career in itself. Moreover, it is near impossible to obtain price lock-ins longer than 30 days from concrete, lumber, and other building suppliers. Don’t forget the neighbor, who, acting per se, can hold up a job through litigation for years for fewer than $100.

See why a 1,000-square-foot house can cost $300,000 or $300 per square foot.

We don’t need the State to step in under the guise of a housing shortage and control local zoning. The State already did this with education when there was a funding crisis; welcome ACT 60/48. Also, the Climate Crisis has justified the State to take over our fossil fuel usage.

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If the Legislature wishes to step in and help alleviate a significant aspect of the housing crisis, they should give more incentives to towns and villages to amend their zoning. The State could also provide loans so towns could administer buyer lines of credit for down payments and second mortgages.

If one wishes to go to our State schools (or even better, establish an apprentice school) to learn the construction trade, the tuition could be free with a commitment to work in Vermont for five years after graduation.

The Legislature can make it possible for a neighbor, who brings litigation and is denied, to be responsible for all litigation costs, the cost of delay, and, if determinable, imputed loss of income by the developer. The uncertainty factor for the housing developer in gaining approvals would significantly diminish.

In years past, the State has taken over our education and mental and health care systems and moved into our homes and businesses under the disguise of a climate crisis. We know too well how our education and mental health care systems are performing.

We are indeed in another crisis. Hopefully, we can work through it without Montpelier wheeling in its Trojan horse to take over local zoning by way of H.68.

Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.

Image courtesy of Public domain

7 thoughts on “Keelan: H.68 is a Trojan horse to take over local zoning

  1. YES! The unrestrained impulse to use the State to fix any problem we face is to defining cultural ethos. Maybe we can dream that the whispers of “leave us alone, we’ll help each other” can become a crescendo ringing through these hills.

  2. I have had conversations with various homeless people in different areas of this state. I have also read news articles on some individuals that were fortunate enough to be given a rental subsidy apartment, condo or townhouse. There is one overall theme that I have gleaned from some of their stories. Over fifty percent of the homeless people are not Vermonters, they are people that came here without jobs, or housing in mind. Vermont has excellent welfare subsidy programs and many of these out-of-staters are very aware of this. Why should we long term Vermonters bear the burden of supporting these people? My question is, “why doesn’t this state require residency registration and mandate a history of where a lot of these people came from and why and when did they come to Vermont, what is their work history, do they have family elsewhere that could support and or help them? We should require a one year residency minimum. I for one am sick of what I call “the handouts” enough is enough.

  3. Letting the ijits in montpeculiar run the local zoning will work out as well as the potato head ruining the country has. The town has to pay the bill for new building so the town should have total say after it’s passed act 250 which is all the intrusion the state flunkies should have.

  4. The regional planners are in on all this. This is “just” agenda 21. The want us all living in subsidized housing. They don’t want home ownership, they want complete housing control, rented to you by the state or crony state players, ngo’s and non profits.

    Bringing. In dormitory migrant housing to sugarbush! Calling it workforce housing.

    Yet all the workers are on visa’s and shipped back home after the ski season. Call it what you want, doesn’t seem like home ownership for working VERMONTERS to me.

    If we were free, or even if they wanted it, we’d have it within a year, just like solar panels. See they don’t want it. Doesn’t fit in with Build Back Better, you will own nothing and be happy!

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