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Governor Phil Scott’s weekly briefing focuses on housing needs and permit reforms

Vermont Governor Phil Scott attends an event in May 2021
Pat Bradley
Vermont Governor Phil Scott (file)

Vermont Governor Phil Scott focused on the state’s housing needs during his weekly briefing Tuesday afternoon. The Republican is taking issue with portions of a bill being considered in the Legislature that he claims would make it harder to build new homes across Vermont.

Scott was joined by Burlington’s Democratic mayor and the head of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to discuss the need for permit reform to allow more residential units to be built in Vermont.

Act 250 is Vermont’s 50-year-old land use regulation law and the state legislature is working on S.234 to amend and update provisions of Act 250.

Governor Scott pointed to the statewide housing crisis and said while funding has been a focus, it must be paired with permit reform.

“I proposed exempting downtown and village centers, the places where we want growth to happen, from Act 250. That proposal isn’t in the current Act 250 bill. Not only does this legislation not include the necessary policies to make Act 250 more efficient, the bill includes governance changes which will likely slow the permitting process. Meaning it moves us in the wrong direction. Again to be clear the current Act 250 bill would actually make it much more difficult to build homes at a time when we need it most.”

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, who before taking office developed affordable housing, says the state is in a housing supply crisis and there is a fundamental reason there aren’t enough homes being built despite high demand.

"Our local and state land use laws have made it way too hard to build new homes here. And unfortunately the Act 250 reform bill that has passed the House and that seems to be on the verge of passing through the Senate it would actually undo one the most important pro-housing land use reforms of the last twenty years which was the reform in 2004 that allowed builders to consolidate appeals from the local permitting and the state permitting, since they need to go through it both in most situations, allowed those appeals to be consolidated in the Environmental Court.”

Housing and Community Development Commissioner Josh Hanford reported that a number of studies indicate that the state is far behind demand.

“We are over 5,000 units behind in our housing stock, just for the existing need. And that doesn’t count the influx of folks that are maybe looking to move to Vermont. And just wanted to add another point to the discussion on Act 250 and S.234 and the Priority Housing Project exemption that exists. Because we’ve given an easier path to build more densely in Smart Growth locations we know where these units are being built. We see the benefits. But the Priority Housing Project doesn’t solve all the housing needs and that’s why a cleaner exemption is needed.”

The Vermont Natural Resources Council supports the Legislature’s changes to Act 250. The organization issued a press release just prior to the governor’s briefing saying there has been substantial progress on key Act 250 issues. The group says Mayor Weinberger has opposed “governance changes to the bill based on inaccurate characterizations of how those changes would alter the review process.”

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