Decoding Housing-Type Incentives

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Wednesday November 21, 2012

What was set to be a more technical solution to an existing land development regulation by the Planning Commission resulted in a discussion of policy issues that prompted major questions. Among them: what population does the city want to attract and what homes will attract that population?

Vice Chair Bill Stuono, like many of his fellow commissioners, took on an existing land development regulation and drafted an amendment to share and approve with the Commission before sending it off to the city’s attorney. “Requirements for mixes of housing types in the Southeast Quadrant” was originally intended to be amended to “housing styles” encouraging a variety of appearances (i.e. colonial, ranch, and Cape Cod) and not encourage a mix of types such as duplexes, multi-family homes, and mansions. Stuono’s amendment addressed the need for a mix of style, but it also included stricter provisions for what types should be allowed in the Southeast Quadrant.

“By saying they can only be single family or duplexes, this should have the effect of necessitating the smaller homes on smaller lots and preserving open space,” Stuono suggested.

Council Chair Rosanne Greco concurred with Stuono’s intention, stating that there will need to be provisions like this, “If we want to become a diverse community.”

This addition was first brought up at the November 1 meeting, and there was a 3-3 vote to have the sentence inserted. Encouraging mixed styles and restricting type appeared to be separate issues, according to commissioners Tracey Harrington (formally Tapley) and Sophie Quest. This time around, commissioners were receptive to Stuono’s idea, but noticed there were still intricacies that needed to be worked out.

One roadblock is that this amendment conflicts with the most recent version of the Comprehensive Plan, which continues to permit single family homes, duplexes, and multi-family units in the SEQ zoning district. Paul Conner, director of Planning and Zoning, said that the Commissioners will either need to align the amendment with the Comprehensive Plan or make an amendment to it.

Larry Michaels, chief operating officer at O’Brien Brother’s Agency, Inc., and member of the Affordable Housing Committee, added that single family units may not necessarily draw in the small-family crowd Stuono is expecting.

At the last Affordable Housing Committee meeting, Members of the Vermont Housing Financing Agency shared an economic analysis indicating that current populations may be attracted to the same housing type. With 40 percent of South Burlington being 55 years or older, this might be the crowd that’s coming in.

“Does the chicken come first or the egg?” he asked. “There are a lot of single family homes that are built, and there are a lot of single people living in them, or two [people], but it doesn’t always attract families just because you’re building single-family homes.”

“We need families, but our older population is getting older and people want to stay in their community,” he added.

Secretary Sue Alenick put down her pen for a moment to shed light on the same observation.

“I live in a neighborhood with all single family homes,” she said, “there’s not a single child in sight for three blocks.”

The only children she’s seen are in multi-family homes. According to Greco, the reasoning behind that example could be attributed to cost.

Commission Chair Jessica Louisos’ neighborhood has the opposite feel. Although she does not have children, her neighborhood of single family homes are full of them.

I think you have to look at where the neighborhood is in its lifecycle,” Commissioner Barbara Benton said.

The Commission voted 6-1 in favor of sending this Land Development Regulation to the Affordable Housing Committee, the Open Space Committee, and the Sustainable Agriculture/ Food Security Task Force Committee to review a conceptual explanation of Stuono’s proposal and to return their answer with expertise. Stuono abstained; he hopes the Land Development Regulation will not be forgotten.

What drew you to South Burlington? What type of home were you looking for when you arrived here? To involve yourself with the amendment process, share your answer with the Commission or the city.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent