DORSET >> "Nothing is permanent, and in order to thrive, we need to adapt and change," Julie Campoli said to about 100 people at the Dorset Playhouse on Wednesday night.
The presentation was a result of zoning consultations between Campoli and community entities in Dorset and East Dorset. At the end of May, she spoke with Rob Gaiotti and Tyler Yandow to look at East Dorset maps, then later visited the Dorset Historical Society and walked around the town to take pictures for the presentation. She examined historical material, maps, the town plan, zoning regulations, town newsletters and other information. After a zoning bylaw dispute, Nancy Faesy, Bennington County Regional Commission (BCRC) representative, thought it would be a good idea for Campoli to educate the community and ignite conversations. BCRC and Town of Dorset sponsored the talk.
Campoli looked at the state's history and how Vermont life was represented decades ago and today. She elaborated on land use patterns, the issue of excess commuting and an increase in public transportation, the burden of homeownership amongst millennials and the 2 percent decrease in Dorset's population.
"There's a lot of commuting going on. More people work here than live here," she said. "There are two ways to address this imbalance: One is to create more jobs, which is a very excellent idea, and the other is to try to fill the gap in the housing stock by adding more housing units under $200,000."
The median average income for Dorset is $63,000 and the average home costs $159,000. Fourteen percent of the houses are under $50,000, while zero lay between $50,000 and $150,000.
Campoli said the town is losing younger people to urban areas and that cities are much different than in the 1900s. Crime-ridden streets were deemed unsafe, but now, cities offer more opportunity, socialization, fun and environmentally-sound alternatives such as public transportation to avoid increasing carbon emissions from motor vehicles.
The age of Vermont's population is rising and will double by 2030 while the number of those between the ages of 20 and 39 is waning. Campoli said retirees want low maintenance homes and transportation while 75 percent of the population wants to live in compact, urban areas.
"In the last 20 years, our population has ticked upward but population of 20 to 39 has gone down," she said. "Nobody really sees a clear path to getting them back except creating a lifestyle that makes sense to them. That's what we need to talk about."
She suggested building more single-family homes closer together in walkable areas. She said that, rather than having a village and various walkable islands further out, the town should develop residential units above offices and retail spaces. This will cater to the idea that young people aren't buying cars, but would rather bike or walk places. It also encourages socialization between close knit properties. She added that homeowners with rooms above a garage or a second small home can rent out the space, granting more income.
"You've got Dorset village and East Dorset village. These are islands of walkability and islands of traditional Vermont village pattern, set within a sea of extremely pretty sprawl. It would serve you well to add a lot more homes and a lot more services in and adjacent to these centers," she said. "Do it in a pattern that makes them beautiful by embracing that same sense of density and scale and orientation that characterizes the early settlement."
Dorset doesn't allow multi-family housing to be built without a variance. Duplexes are allowed, but aren't built, Campoli said. She focused on a central part of Dorset village with "beautiful density." The houses sit 15 feet from the road and about double that from the next property. As you get further away from the center of town, the distance from the road and adjacent properties grows.
Linda Drunsic, from Manchester, attended the presentation because her husband is developing multi-purpose units in their town. She went because a friend asked her to and she thought it sounded interesting. Manchester is also in the process of analyzing better zoning techniques with community input.
"I liked the thought that you can have buildings with multi purposes and have them close to the road with a nice design, even if there's lack of space."
Campoli stressed design and compared a doctor's office with a proposed, better-looking office that is close to the road, has external, bright colors and is perceived as more welcoming.
"It's not the density, it's the design of the buildings that make all the difference," she said. "Walkability is not about the sidewalks. It's all the other elements around that sidewalk. It's the destinations, the pattern of buildings."
Westford has had similar challenges, but strategically and carefully grew the town of only 2,000 by working with community members and developing a plan. Its media income is $82,000 and is exclusively single families.
"We feel the pain of a loss much more intensely than the pleasure of a gain. We vest a lot more importance in something that already exists rather than something that might exist," Campoli said. "Things are gonna change. That's part of what life is. We don't want that kind of static permanence. It's okay to be skeptical about growth. It's possible to shape it into something you want."
Campoli develops graphic techniques to help people understand the connection between concepts and actual urban environments, according to her site. Her most recent book is called "Made for Walking," and she has a practice based in Burlington called Terra Firma Urban Design.
— Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.