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New laws encourage development in Vt. downtowns - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

New laws encourage development in Vt. downtowns

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ST. ALBANS CITY, Vt. -

A trio of new laws is designed to beef up downtowns while maintaining Vermont's community feel.

The measures will tweak Vermont's most prominent land-use law, Act 250, and encourage development downtown and restricting suburban sprawl.

Advocates say it will all add up to a more livable and economically vibrant Vermont of the future.

St. Albans House is one of the oldest buildings in its namesake city, and it shows.

It's the former community gathering spot, but will house office, retail and residential space after a rehabilitation project is completed.

"This is an example of why it's so important to get this legislation right," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont.

The governor hopes lending his signature to new legislation will make more rehab projects possible and reinvigorate downtowns.

Together, the trio of laws will give communities additional cash to refurbish historic buildings and streamline Act 250 review downtown while more evenly spreading the cost of transportation infrastructure upgrades and discouraging sprawl outside city and village centers.

"Our downtowns are the place where commerce, community and culture intersect, they make us special and unique, they make us who we are," said Mayor Liz Gamache, D-St. Albans City.

Earlier in the day, Shumlin cut the ribbon on a new 80,000-square-foot complex in Barre. The facility houses state workers and a handful of private sector businesses.

"And we all know that having 165 dedicated state employees downtown makes a huge difference to commerce and the vitality of a community and were going to be bringing on more," said Shumlin.

Shumlin and legislators hope the laws will help spur more multi-use development like City Place creating jobs, making areas more walkable and public transportation friendly.

Administrators say areas given the downtown designation five years ago, report 50 percent growth rates in that time.

They hope these changes will spur even larger returns as more areas sign onto the idea.

The Act 250 streamlining eliminates state review for housing projects creating less than 275 units in areas with a population more than 15,000.

The mark is on a sliding scale, and falls as low as 25 for communities with populations of less than 3,000. Projects would still need to pass local scrutiny and zoning though.

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