April 2021 Issue
FOCUS ON HOUSING IN NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND
Bennington, VT’s Putnam Redevelopment Phase I Brings 31 Housing Units Downtown.
Zoning update invites more.Cat Bryars, Bennington County Regional Commission, Senior Planner
Since December 2020, residents have moved into 31 new residential units in downtown Bennington, southwestern Vermont, thanks to a massive, $56 million redevelopment and historic preservation project to restore the iconic Putnam Hotel and two neighboring buildings for mixed uses. In the works since 2015, and building on planning foundations laid by the Bennington Downtown Area Wide Plan, the complex project has relied on 21 funding sources and long-term investments from the community’s major institutions and employers, including the regional hospital, Bennington College, the Bank of Bennington, and a local IT firm, among others. The project has been facilitated by Bennington County Regional Commission’s Assistant Director and Community Development Program Coordinator, Bill Colvin, who has focused on rehabilitation of the downtown buildings since the late 1990s. Below the new apartments, retail shops and restaurants will open their doors by this summer. Additional development phases hope to add a downtown grocery store, additional housing units, and medical clinic and office spaces to the block.
Anticipating an acceleration of development alongside the Putnam Block project, Bennington’s Planning Commission undertook a zoning update starting in 2019 to simplify and streamline downtown regulations and integrate more form-based standards with a particular focus on encouraging housing infill. The proposed regulations eliminate and reduce parking minimums in the downtown, consolidate zoning districts and regulated uses, establish public realm standards, loosen restrictions on accessory apartments, eliminate or raise caps on residential unit density, and update dimensional standards to better reflect existing and historic development patterns. The bylaws aim to be more user-friendly with high-quality illustrations of standards and desired building form. The revised regulations are projected to be adopted in April 2021 and will facilitate further revitalization in downtown Bennington for years to come. The zoning update was completed with assistance from Bennington County Regional Commission’s Senior Planner, Cat Bryars, and Executive Director, Jim Sullivan.
Putnam Hotel in Bennington, VT restored with apartments and shops
Maine Legislature Looks at Housing Policy
There are a number of pieces of proposed legislation before the Maine Legislature this session. These include two bills that would look at zoning barriers to housing choice (LD 609; LD 1240); a bill to connect revenue sharing to multifamily and inclusionary zoning (LD 1257) and a bill to propose a Maine Redevelopment Authority and to establish a state Land Bank.
There is also a bill that would provide funding for below-market affordable housing via fees on short term rentals. The Press Herald wrote of that last bill:
'The bill, L.D. 1337, is generating opposition from real estate agents and tourism officials, who acknowledge Maine’s affordable housing crisis but say a new fee is not the answer. They say the proposed fee would infringe on private property rights and could discourage summer residents who help support the local economy. ...
Maine already has the highest percentage of vacation homes in the country, according to one analysis of U.S. Census data. And the bill may bring to the surface long-standing tensions between full-time Mainers and summer residents.
If only a third to a half of Maine’s estimated 140,000 vacant residences were subject to the fee, tens of millions of dollars could be raised to help build housing for thousands of families on waiting lists for affordable housing and vouchers, Kessler said.
Half of the revenue generated is intended for the state’s Housing Opportunities for Maine, or HOME, program, which funds things such as affordable housing and homeless services. And the rest would go into a state fund for the state’s homestead tax exemption program. ...
Rep. Traci Gere, a Democrat who represents Kennebunkport and coastal Biddeford and Kennebunk, is one of eight co-sponsors of the bill. She said a 2018 town study determined that 47 percent of the homes in Kennebunkport were seasonal or vacant. Such a high percentage of vacation homes threatens the year-round viability of the community and its businesses – something she said draws summer residents and visitors.
“The impacts are dire,” Gere said. “Entire neighborhoods are going dark for much of the year, young families can’t afford to purchase homes, seniors must move away when they want to downsize, and local workers must commute increasingly long distances. These trends tear at the fabric of a year-round community – the relationships between people that make a town what it is.”
Tourism officials worry that the proposal could have a negative economic impact.'
How Dover NH works to address having affordable housing options
Having diverse and affordable housing options is a timeless need. Affordability can mean the cost to buy a home/unit or rent one. It has a lot of implications and there is a need to constantly be aware of what the market is like and how times are changing.
Housing costs are tied, in
part to the 5 L’s: Land, Lumber, Labor, Lending and
Legislation. Land is the base. Without land you don’t have a place to build. In
Dover, a housing lot ranges in cost from $120,000 to $160,000. Lumber stands
for all materials needed to build a unit. In the past few years material costs
have escalated for a variety of reasons. The next L is labor. If you haven’t
tried to find a trades person recently you are lucky. The trades have suffered
from a lack of employees over the past decade, and rates have increased, as
availability has shrunk. Together, lumber and labor create a cost to build a
home is about $184-$190 a square foot. Lending is the portion of providing
financing to both builders and paying for a home. Finally, Legislation is looks
at zoning and other regulations that govern residential construction.
Legislation is the only area
the City has control over.
Hampshire is seeing an increase in population. Home construction is down, and
has been since 2008. In the ten year period from 2010 to 2019, the state added
approximately 32,000 units. The 13 cities in the State provided almost 12,000
of those units. Dover added the third most units in that period, 1,234. The
average for the state was 140. Interestingly, for Dover there were 300 more
units created in the previous 10 years. Out of the past 5 decades, 2010 – 2019
was the fourth lowest level of construction (1990-1999 was lower).
As noted above the City really
can impact on legislation. To that end Dover has focused on density, keeping an
eye on supply and demand. The City of Dover allows:
- multi-family housing is over half of the area of Dover
- manufactured housing in most residential areas
- A variety of natural density throughout the City
- In more urban areas we allow 1 unit per 2K square feet of lot size, to 1 unit per 40K in the more rural areas.
- Rooming houses in certain zones.
Housing diversity in Dover is nothing new. Since 2010, Dover has increased density the following ways:
- Removed density calculation required downtown
- The Gateway district now offers range of density (2K – 4K sf per unit vs 5K)
- As noted above, no density limit is in place if you rent restrict to HUD limits
- Also in 2020, the ordinance was amended to allow bonus density to be created (1 unit/2000 sf of commercial built) in industrial zones to incentivize commercial growth with proximate employee housing.
Dover has allowed Accessory Dwelling Units or ADUs since 2010. These are “in-law” apartments or units and was put in place before the State model was created, in fact the State’s model was informed by Dover’s ordinance. Dover has allowed Customary Home Occupations, which in many cases and increases options for live/work. Finally, Dover does not have a “family” requirement for Single Family homes, nor do we prevent private leases between parties for rooms. As long as life safety code is met, you may have multiple people sharing a home.
How Dover is looking to remove
barriers to affordable housing:
In February, the Planning Board posted Zoning Amendments to further reduce barriers to housing availability. These changes include allowing smaller homes to be built, without zoning relief, on non-conforming lots, allowing more than one ADU, if the additional ADU is rent restricted, and allowing two family homes by right in all single family zones, if the home looks and operates like a two family home. This will allow for increased density and opportunity to create housing options for people, while still having the look and feel of an established neighborhood. Finally, in the urban multifamily district, we already allow the conversion of a two family home into a 3 or 4 family by special exception. An amendment removes dimensional requirements if the owner agrees the new units follow HUD rent restrictions.
The City is also reviewing implementing the following policy changes, which will require City Council support:
- Identify public land to make available to a developer with intent for affordable housing to be constructed
- Identify that if the City has parcels, which it takes for tax deed, when it sells the parcel, that the units go to low/mod buyers/users
- Provide CDBG Grants to landlords who have not updated property with the requirement that they keep rents level for a period after the improvements are made
The Biggest Little Zoning Amendment:
How Brattleboro, Vermont Unlocked New Homes During COVID-19
Grace Ecklund and Jacob Hemmerick, Vermont Department of
Housing & Community Development (also published in the VCLT newsletter)
Vermont’s shortage of affordable and desirable housing is not a new topic. Leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Vermont municipalities were already discussing why and how to meet increased demand. When the pandemic hit, the urgency for more housing spiked. The Town of Brattleboro adapted by passing temporary bylaws and utilizing funding provided by the CARES Act. The result was unprecedented speed in approving the construction of 22 new units scattered throughout the town of Brattleboro, proving that incremental development in existing buildings and neighborhoods is possible with leadership and the right rules.
Brattleboro was well aware of housing shortage before the pandemic, and out-of-state migration into the refuge of western- and southern-most Vermont towns, made the pinch even worse. Fortunately, aid came in late summer when Vermont’s Home Ownership Centers (HOC’s) received money from the CARES Act to address the low supply of rentals and increasingly high demand, or what Brattleboro’s Planning Services calls the local “housing crunch”. And although Brattleboro landlords were eager to use the CARES Act funding from the Windham and Windsor Housing Trust (WWHT) to enlarge the supply of rental housing, local zoning regulations prevented the construction of new dwelling units.
The zoning regulations’ density caps limited the number of dwelling units that could be built on a tract of land. George Perides, a Brattleboro landlord, found himself with multi-bedroom apartments and unrenovated space that he wanted to convert into smaller apartments, in high demand among Vermont’s shrinking households. This kind of revitalization was exactly what the CARES Act funding was designed to support, but the density caps limited opportunities and often reflect mid-century zoning values when households were larger, infrastructure funding more available, and land and construction costs lower. Brattleboro’s regulations also required extra conditional use review on three-, four-, and five-unit developments, an extra process that added review time, expense and made it more difficult to adapt buildings into one-bedroom apartments. It could take over four months to get the permits.
Brattleboro’s Planning Commission drafted interim zoning bylaws that nullified density caps for dwelling units and conditional use review for modifications that met desirable housing types, which were quickly passed by the Selectboard. This solution was inspired by a 2019 initiative called “Zoning for Great Neighborhoods” (Z4GN). Z4GN was a joint project with the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), as well as several partners, that focused on ways zoning bylaw reform reinvigorate cities and towns and expand opportunity and choice for the homes we need. Brattleboro participated in a workshop with CNU on their specific zoning challenges and possibilities to make the biggest little change: small changes that make a big difference.
Almost as soon as the interim bylaws were passed on September 1st, 2020, landlords started applying for permits to add units to existing buildings. Brian Bannon, Zoning Administrator, says that in the first six months, 22 new units have been permitted, and six of them are currently occupied. As soon as these six units were finished, they were rented immediately, speaking to the town’s high demand. George Perides, one of the landlords who created new apartments, said that since WWHT took advantage of the CARES Act funds, his two new apartments are occupied by participants in the Continuum of Care program, Vermont’s multi-faceted initiative to address the causes of housing insecurity. The biggest challenge to meeting demand now is that construction companies are currently flooded with requests, and supplies are harder to access.
Planning Director Sue Fillion and Planning Technician Andrew Graminski said the Planning Commission and the Selectboard hearings were smooth and the interim bylaws received a resolute show of support by local leaders. The speed at which the bylaws were passed can be attributed to the pressure created by Brattleboro’s housing crunch, the availability of CARES Act funding through WWHT, and Brattleboro’s previous experience as a “test-town” in Z4GN. This combination of factors begs the question: what else can communities be doing to act with boldness and urgency as New England works to recover from the pandemic? In Brattleboro, the answer to that question will likely be answered by the Planning Commission’s newly adopted values and the Town’s Housing Assessment and Plan, a project now underway and funded by the DHCD’s annual Municipal Planning Grant Program.
Affordability in Burlington, VT, Highlighted in VTDigger Magazine"Burlington and the Chittenden County region are in the midst of a real estate market boom, largely brought on by the pandemic. Real estate agents say they’ve never seen such competitiveness in Burlington before — reasonably priced homes are selling within days, sometimes before they’re even formally listed.
But other people are expressing concern that the market has become so competitive that it’s driving up prices and squeezing out middle- and lower-income families who can’t afford to live in the city. That has been a perennial problem for the Queen City and is only becoming worse. ...
The average selling price for homes sold this year through Davis’ firm was 19.4% higher than 2019 sales. For 2020, Four Seasons said its average Burlington home price peaked at $525,000 in August. As of February, the average rested at almost $400,000.
These trends reflect what’s happening nationally. Housing supply has been decreasing, but demand is up, causing home prices to rise as mortgage rates hit record lows in 2020. The New York Times reported that the national median home price rose 14% this year, and 35% of homes sold for more than the asking price.
The demand in Burlington’s market is partially being driven by people
migrating from big cities and other densely populated areas, as working
from home becomes more ubiquitous, and families are yearning for more
space. Davis said his firm still primarily serves locals, but it has
seen an uptick in out-of-staters."
Full article here
NEW RESOURCES FOR PLACEMAKING IN VERMONT & BEYOND
Placemaking is taking off in Vermont towns, from public art to outdoor seating, pop-up projects to activities and recreation. AARP Vermont and Community Workshop have teamed up to offer two new resources to support placemaking and share doable ideas in Vermont and beyond.
Monthly Placemaking Meet-ups
A new series of monthly meet-ups is offering placemakers a chance to get connected, get inspired, and get ideas. These informal sessions are typically held on the 4th Friday of the month, and each feature a placemaking theme such as activities, gardens, light & warmth, color & beauty). Meet-ups include a short overview presentation with context and ideas from around the world, quick talks by two featured Vermont placemaking projects, and time for breakouts and networking. Meet-ups are free and open to anyone interested in placemaking in VT (or our northern New England neighbors), from planners and local officials to artists and grassroots organizers. Find resources and recordings from past calls at Community Workshop’s website, along with registration for upcoming calls. https://www.communityworkshopllc.com/vt-placemaking-meetups
DIY Community Cookbook: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Making Your Community a More Livable Place
The smallest of projects can create a big spark in neighborhoods and communities. This free digital “cookbook” aims to make it easy for community leaders to get started creating “lighter, quicker, cheaper" livability projects in their communities, from pop-up parks to wayfinding, street stencils to giant checkers. The Cookbook offers step-by-step instructions for designing and completing small projects and examples from around Vermont. It also includes guidance on general project planning, including fundraising, working with volunteers, and making projects accessible. Read online or download for free at DIYCommunityCookbook.com. Contact Community Workshop if you’re interested in bringing a DIY Community workshop or talk to your town.
- Rebecca Sanborn Stone, Principal at Community Workshop LLC (firstname.lastname@example.org, 802-379-4474)
- Kelly Stoddard-Poor, Associate State Director at AARP Vermont (email@example.com, 802-951-1313)
Kennebec Valley Council of Governments (ME) Receives Working Communities Challenge
The Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, a partner in the Southern Kennebec County Team, has been awarded a $25,000 design phase grant from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston as part of the Working Communities Challenge Program.
The six-month grant will allow the team to continue the essential work of ensuring safe and affordable housing to everyone in the community, while building up its infrastructure and partnerships in the hopes of continuing on to the implementation phase of the Working Communities Challenge with the support of the Boston Fed.
The Working Communities Challenge began in Maine last October with a focus on improving life in smaller areas by uniting people from various community sectors around a common vision for change. Through the application process, communities were encouraged to work together and were required to include at least one priority community. Priority communities are defined by the Boston Fed as those with “high economic need and a high opportunity to change policies and practices that are perpetuating the challenges they face. ...
This six-month design phase will allow the Southern Kennebec County Team to learn more about the Working Communities Challenge model, continue to build on its internal structures — including partnerships with stakeholders and the community — and further define its strategies for accomplishing its mission.
The team will work diligently during this phase to ensure it creates a robust and achievable plan, in the hopes to be among the five projects chosen to move forward in the WCC process, and awarded with a three-year implementation grant of $375,000 from the Boston Fed.KVCOG’s office, located in Fairfield, serves Kennebec, Somerset and western Waldo counties. It also is serving as the fiscal agent for this grant. (3/12/21 Centralmaine.com)
Lessons in New Ruralism
NNECAPA's work on the New Ruralism received notice in the December 2020 edition of Planning Magazine:
'These rural communities have also embraced some ideals set out in Lessons in New Ruralism. The fall 2020 report is an initiative of APA's Northern New England Chapter and APA's Small Town and Rural Planning Division. It highlights a "blossoming renaissance" of rural planning, with towns welcoming new ideas to "invest in social sustainability" along with "fostering community" and "strengthening their safety net," among other things — all crucial to creating communities that work for everybody.'
The article also profiled Sullivan, Maine:
'Sullivan, Maine: Bring people together
Maine has the nation's oldest population, ranking first nationally in residents' median age, at 45 years old. It also ranks first in the percentage of residents aged 65 and older, at 21 percent, according to census data. So it's not surprising that Maine has the most localities (71) in AARP's age-friendly network.
"We're an older demographic, and this is home, this is where we want to be," says Jane Lafleur, a planning consultant who directs the Community Heart & Soul program for the Orton Family Foundations and serves on the board of the Maine Association of Planners. "People get motivated to take charge of their own future and make their communities a better place."
A community garden is one of the new gathering spots created for seniors. See the Age-Friendly Sullivan Action Plan.
That's certainly the case in Sullivan along the state's southern coast. Candy Eaton's initial effort to gather a group of friends to brainstorm how to make their town more livable for seniors has resulted in an age-friendly action plan, released earlier this year. Many of the actions are aimed at lessening the homebound isolation of older adults and bringing them together more often.
New gathering spots have been created for seniors, including a community garden on town-donated land; the renovation of a room at the library for card games, knitting groups, and the like; and the launching of a "Bone Builders" class for strength and balance training. Plus, seniors have been encouraged to get more involved in the community, leading to several older adults winning election to the school and library boards and others volunteering for a committee advising a new town comprehensive plan.
"I think people feel more connected with each other today," Eaton says.'
A Self-Sustainable Home in Vermont
I am a planner and my husband is a high school mathematics teacher. We moved to Vermont in June 2020 as part of our 5-year plan to relocate to this beautiful state and build our dream home, a self-sustainable home called an Earthship. This summer we are building an Encounter Model Earthship in Johnson, VT with the help of local builders and local community partnerships.
An earthship is primarily composed of recycled ‘garbage’ such as tires for its eastern, western, and northern walls and bottles and aluminum cans for its interior walls. Its tire walls are buried or earth-beamed on all three sides and its south side is primarily comprised of glass, forming a greenhouse in the front of the house that holds a planter cell for growing food.
The buried tire walls have significant thermal mass and store the energy of the sun, releasing this warmth during the evening as the temperature drops. The greenhouse uses transoms that rely on convection from cooling tools buried in the tire walls to pull cool air through the house, a natural air conditioner using basic physics principles. Because of these natural heating and cooling, an Earthship does not require a conventional HVAC system and does not need significant energy capacity to meet its energy needs. My husband and I plan to get a 3.84kwh solar system for our needs.
We have many additional ideas that use a natural approach for our needs. For example, we are building a partnership with the local organization Yestermorrow to offer summer workshops on natural plastering for our tadelakt bathroom. Tadelakt is an 11th century traditional Moroccan wall surfacing technique composed of lime plaster and black soap made from olives which creates a waterproof plaster surface.
If you’d like to learn more about our plans or follow our build, you can visit: www.taboriearthship.com
We are excited to announce the theme for the 2021 Northern New England Planning Conference, in-person Oct 13-15 in Burlington. Submit your ideas for a session by Apr. 23!
NNECAPA 2021: Virtual | Reality
Envisioning a New Normal
Burlington, VT | Oct. 13-15, 2021
“Virtual Reality is a simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world.” - Wikipedia
While VR is often about tech, this year’s theme is more about how we see the world and our communities: in reality, as we imagine them, and ultimately in how the two views intersect.
Events of the past several months have shone a bright light on many complex challenges that have persisted in our communities, but have largely gone unrecognized or unresolved. Join us in Burlington to explore the ideas and events that have guided and challenged our perceptions of what is both real and possible, and consider how we can respond to post-pandemic opportunities while shaping a better future than we could have imagined before.
The Conference Committee is seeking your ideas for presentations that will provide our conference attendees with an inspirational, interactive, and informative program! We hope to benefit from a real, face-to-face gathering this fall in Burlington, and reflect on the gains and losses from our extended period of virtual work.
We’re looking for ideas for a range of conference session types covering the following issues:
- How has life during the COVID-19 pandemic affected us and what new normal will emerge? Let’s explore some of the trends that we have seen over the past year related to land use, demographics, tourism, economy, equity and more, and explore what may be lasting vs. fleeting.
- How can we overcome often entrenched and sometimes hidden barriers to achieving meaningful equity and social justice across the entire community?
- How do we communicate ideas and inspire change; collect, use and share data; and consume information, especially when confronted with widespread misinformation and entrenched perceptions?
- What new (or not so new) ways have we learned to engage the public as a result of COVID, including access to and meaningful forms of engagement?
Submissions can cover any and all planning issues that are relevant to the range of New England communities, from urban to rural. We highly encourage collaboration--including other communities from across our region with similar challenges, opportunities, and solutions.
See the website for more details about what we’re seeking for this year’s program, and send your ideas to the Conference Committee by April 23, 2021 using the link below. These don’t have to be fully formed session proposals (but they can be!). The Conference Committee will review the ideas and develop a program that best reflects the conference theme and incorporates feedback from previous conference surveys.
Nominate your favorite plans, projects and planners!
Award nominations are now open. Click here to start a nomination!
Thanks to our sponsors!
Become a sponsor today. Join your colleagues in welcoming us all to a live event. . We have 4 different sponsor levels which are very affordable and will provide you exposure and one on one conversation with all
the attendees. We will have specific vendor time as well as the all-important
- Andrew Graminski left his position with the Town of Brattleboro (VT) to take a new position as a Planner with the City of Somerville within the Planning and Zoning Division of the Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development. Andrew was actively involved in NNECAPA Conference Committee Planning. We thank him and wish him well!
- The Hancock County Planning Commission (ME) hired Jarod
Farn-Guillette as Executive Director.
- The City of Ellsworth (ME) hired Elena Piecut to be their City Planner in February. Elena worked for Ellsworth as Assistant Planner from 2012 to 2015.
- The Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments (ME) hired Ronald Landis as a Transportation Planner. Landis, who started on February 16th, moved to Maine from the Philadelphia, PA area. He has a Bachelor’s in Community Development and Master’s in City/Regional Planning from Temple University and internship experience with MPOs and Regional Planning Commissions. Ron will be working with the ATRC MPO.
Thanks to our sustaining partners!
Join today as a Sustaining Partner:
NNECAPA is reaching out to potential partners who are leaders in the industry to become a Sustaining Partner. We hope to create a beneficial and lasting relationship. Your involvement would be an opportunity for your business to receive exposure and to join others in our industry to assist NNECAPA in maintaining awareness and stability and to be able to service the planners from Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, and the rest of New England and the Canadian Maritimes. View the levels and benefits.For your convenience you can also register online.