OPINION: Zoning Ordinance Changes Happening Now

Let Your Voice Be Heard

by Michael and Nancy Read, Montpelier

The Montpelier Planning Commission has submitted parts of its plan to the City Council for approval.

It is my observation that very few Montpelier residents are aware of the extent of the proposed rezoning and the fact that it could dramatically alter their neighborhoods. There are many parts of the plan, and I strongly urge everyone to review it (http://www.montpelier-vt.org/DocumentCenter/View/3415).

I am particularly concerned about the rezoning for low density residential (LDR) neighborhoods.  These are in areas away from city center, and contain almost exclusively single family houses in suburban environments. Some, like my own in the Towne Hill area, have very little street traffic, no sidewalks and few street lights.  These neighborhoods are now zoned for either 1 or 2 acres per residence, giving them a semi-rural feel with significant (and to most of us, very pleasing) open space.  The planning commission is proposing that the minimum lot size for those neighborhoods with 1 acre zoning be changed to 9,000 square feet (1/5 acre.) That could allow a five-fold increase in density, potentially changing the neighborhoods to much more urban environments. (Even including frontage requirements, the seven houses on my street could be replaced by 28.)  This is in direct contradiction to the planning commission’s own goal of preserving the character of neighborhoods.  It is also of note that the minimum lot size proposed for “low density” is smaller than the 10,000 square feet that is mandated by current zoning for “medium density” neighborhoods.

Montpelier needs more housing, but this draconian rezoning to make all areas relatively high density will destroy the diversity that helps makes the city economically viable.  A vibrant city needs a variety of neighborhoods to provide different options to people who want to live here.  The city should focus development of housing around its core, where the commercial district is within easy walking distance.  A gradual decrease in density away from the core will allow those wishing to trade off accessibility for space to continue to live in the city.  My own neighborhood is more than 1½ miles and up 300 feet from the city center — too far for most people to walk on a regular basis.  But, it still requires minimal driving to reach services (an all-electric car would work well) while giving those so inclined to be a little bit “away from it all.”  This is much better than forcing those wishing that kind of environment to move out into the country, using up farmland or forest areas and producing real “urban sprawl.”

The planning commission has argued that low density housing makes less efficient use of utilities such as sewer and water.  This may be true, but wholesale rezoning is a drastic means of addressing the problem.  And, low density housing, while paying higher taxes for additional land, requires fewer services– such as fire, police, ambulance and schools — “per acre.”  The net cost savings may not be what the commission envisions.

There are many other aspects of the rezoning that could have profound changes on neighborhoods.  Mixed (commercial and residential) use is proposed for some areas which are now exclusively devoted to housing.  In some cases, this is despite the fact that it would reduce housing in neighborhoods where access to existing shopping, is literally a few blocks away. 

Again, I urge everyone to review the plan.  If you object to any aspects, let your council representative and the mayor know.  You can do so in person at a council meeting.  The issue was discussed on May 25 and June 15, but it is expected that the discussion will continue in subsequent meetings.  You should check with the council for the schedule. Alternatively, you can communicate by email or phone.  Contact information is available at http://www.montpelier-vt.org/258/City-Council-Mayor.  But, in any case, make your objections known quickly. Decisions are being made.

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