Vt. Senate approves sweeping housing bill

Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 6:03 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - The future of housing in Vermont was up for debate Friday as the Homes Act hit the Senate floor for a final reading. The sweeping bill is arguably one of the most complex and consequential pieces bills this session, aiming to reform local and statewide zoning rules to bolster housing. but some say it might hurt instead.

“I’ve been through civil unions, Act 60, 64 --the school merger-- and I will say this is the most difficult bill I’ve been through,” said Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Washington County.

The Homes Act addresses local zoning rules -- and Act 250, which is seen by many developers as a hurdle for development. But others credit the signature land use law for protecting the Green Mountain state and keeping runaway development at bay.

Sen. Tom Chittenden, D-Chittenden County, offered an amendment to allow for more building without triggering Act 250 reviews, permitting 25 units in a five-mile radius to be built over a five-year period. “Our climate, workforce, and affordability problems in this state lead to the need for more housing,” he said.

“The house is on fire -- at least it would if it were built,” said Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin County, who says the status quo stifles economic opportunities in rural towns, increasing gaps of inequality.

Others argue Act 250 isn’t the hurdle to responsible development and that rural towns without zoning regulations depend on the law to prevent the kind of sprawl seen in some states.

“The change being proposed is a fundamental building block of Act 250 that would be altered,” said Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison County.

Chittenden’s amendment was eventually withdrawn, and in rural areas without zoning, Act 250 will essentially remain intact. But in other areas, it makes big changes by replacing local zoning banning single-family zoning and opening the door for duplexes. It also carves out more subsidies for housing projects and renovating old homes.

But some lawmakers, including Sen. Russ Ingalls, R-Essex-Orleans Counties say it’s still not enough. “All it really ended up to me is that Act 250 won again and restricted responsible growth and did not solve the problem,” he said.

The Homes Act passed by a vote of 27 to 2. The bill now moves on to the House, where it is likely to undergo more changes.

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