Arlington, Dorset win grant to study zoning


A proposed study of development regulations in Arlington, Dorset and more than a dozen other Bennington County towns and villages will receive a $13,500 state grant through the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development's Municipal Planning Grant program, Gov. Phil Scott

announced Tuesday.

Through the study, the Bennington County Regional Commission, which serves 17 towns and

villages, will explore how those regulations might impede housing construction in downtown areas suitable for further development — and what steps towns could take to address those issues.

Catherine Bryars, a senior planner with the BCRC, said last year before the grant application's submittal that eventual recommendations could include increasing allowable densities and reducing setback requirements and minimum lot sizes.

"The information collected should help

municipal planning commissions identify ways that they can revise their regulations to improve opportunities to enhance the quantity and quality of housing in their communities," Bryars wrote in an email last year.

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Towns will have the opportunity to comment on the study's recommendations before they are compiled as part of a non binding, final report. The region wide effort "should garner some good data points," said Dorset Town Manager Rob Gaiotti.

The participating localities will cover a required 10 percent local match to augment the state grant, bringing the total cost of the study to $15,000.

Both of the lead towns on the application — Arlington and Dorset — have seen significant public interest in housing-related issues in recent years. In Arlington, the Arlington Area Renewal Project has helped to promote development through a pilot renovation program supported by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and NeighborWorks of Western Vermont. The town of Dorset's acquisition of more than 300 acres off of Raptor Lane in 2018 has led to the establishment of a steering committee that is exploring future uses for the site, including potential housing construction.

The idea for the study arose from BCRC's work with multiple towns on zoning-bylaw rewrites, the commission's executive director Jim Sullivan said. Regulatory provisions pertaining to housing and mixed-use buildings tend to be "terribly out of date," he added.

This year, according to an annual report on the municipal planning grant program, the state received a total of 54 applications and selected 31 recipients. Other winning projects, which will receive funding amounts ranging from $4,900 to $31,000, include an assessment of childcare needs in the Randolph area, a study of the potential for St. Johnsbury and Waterford to share public services and a planning effort for downtown Poultney in the wake of Green Mountain College's closure.

The program has allocated $13 million to 235 Vermont municipalities since 1998, the report states.

"Reinforcing town and village centers is critical to growing our economy," Scott said in the release. "I'm pleased we can support their efforts through these grants."

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