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By Kara Herlihy
Clare Rock of the Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission (CVRPC) said that 80 percent of Vermonters are "anti-sprawl" during a community housing forum held at Harwood Union High School May 1.
Forum facilitator John Fairbanks of the Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) joked that "sprawl" is defined locally as "anything we don't like," while Rock defined it as simply "low density housing."
The forum, put on by the Central Vermont Community Land Trust (CVCLT) and the CVRPC, took workshop form as several area residents gathered to discuss and brainstorm current and future housing needs throughout the Mad River Valley.
TYPES OF HOUSING
Rock gave a presentation outlining population and household growth, types of housing, housing affordability, housing location and future housing demand. While single-family homes make up the majority of the housing stock (63 percent), Central Vermont's percentage of seasonal units (11 percent) far exceeds the national average of three percent.
Rock also spoke to the affordability of housing, stating, "This increasing gap between what families are forced to pay for housing costs and what their incomes afford has several negative side effects on quality of life and the local economy."
"According to the 2007 report <MI>Between a Rock and a Hard Place<D>, out of the 10 occupations employing the most people in Vermont, only two paid more than the housing wage for Central Vermont."
LOOK AT ZONING
Warren Planning Commission member Don LaHaye said that the town of Warren is hiring a consultant to look at zoning "to accommodate housing, especially affordable housing." LaHaye, along with Warren Select Board member Barry Simpson, pointed to the lack of options they have for development.
Warren residents and elected officials said that, given the contours of the land, various critical wildlife habitats, wetlands and steep slopes, 23,000 acres of the 25,000 is not ideal for development.
Waitsfield residents present at the forum spoke about the possibility of retrofitting old buildings for multi-unit housing and utilizing the space that has already been developed.
Fayston resident Susan Kuegel, whose application for a planned residential development was recently approved by the Fayston Development Review Board (DRB), said, "Fayston is very much behind the curve" in terms of growth and development. Kuegel's seven-lot PRD covers 37.4 acres on Randell Road.
LIMITED AMOUNT OF LAND
Fayston residents also spoke of the very limited amount of land available for development citing a lack of a town center, land slated for conservation and the increasing cost of building.
Rock said, "Most towns have a land use or housing goal that says something like, 'Preserve the town's historic settlement pattern, defined by compact villages surrounded by rural countryside,' yet most housing development continues to be low density and scattered."
Rock added, "New housing development is happening at lower densities than what exists in the historic neighborhoods. The not-in-my-backyard attitude has also been cited as a factor occasionally inhibiting denser new development."
She also added that the benefits of higher density housing include decreased land costs due to smaller lot sizes, decreased automotive dependency and increased viability of public transportation.
Following Rock's presentation, the forum closed as Fairbanks encouraged residents to attend the Regional Housing Summit on May 17 at National Life in Montpelier.