This commentary is by Helen Riehle, chair of the South Burlington City Council.
South Burlington is very concerned that a Senate bill, S.100, could undermine the careful balance our city has achieved in promoting smart growth and equity housing goals while protecting natural resources and being fiscally responsible, as well as hinder adoption of further regulations that we believe are necessary for us to meet our obligations in our adopted Climate Action Plan.
So, contrary to public assertions by Sen. Ram Hinsdale, South Burlington is not in “agreement” with housing bill S.100 as proposed.
The city is committed to upholding smart growth and housing equity principles and has been actively working to meet the housing and service needs of its growing community. We are pleased that voters just approved a 5.75% tax rate increase, which will allow us to grow our police and fire/emergency services, and a $34 million bond on needed wastewater infrastructure upgrades.
On the municipal level, well-managed growth means sustainable growth, growth that taxpayers can and will financially support. The results of Town Meeting Day show that voters supported tax increases and we are gratified for their trust in municipal leaders. Local government is where everyday people have the strongest voice in policy decisions, and for this primary reason local control is a cherished American birthright.
In South Burlington, where the average market-rate home sells for $425,000, we are also fully cognizant of the economic and social benefits of providing entry-level housing and perpetually affordable housing. South Burlington adds, on average, over 150 homes per year, a number that is on the rise. We currently have 1,000 perpetually affordable homes in our city (out of more than 9,000 homes).
At the same time, we still have rural areas that are far from sewer and water infrastructure. To protect the natural resources in these rural areas, South Burlington has two existing programs empowered by state laws governing planned unit developments (24 V.S.A. §4417) and transfer of development rights (24 V.S.A. §4423), both of which are designed to redistribute development within a parcel or the community.
These laws allow communities to develop in a high-density, compact manner and support land conservation in priority areas. These programs go beyond the bill’s affordable housing bonuses to promote smart growth and equity housing goals. South Burlington has also adopted zoning to protect areas for habitat and wildlife movement.
With regard to the state’s energy code and accompanying climate goals, the South Burlington City Council recently passed an ordinance that regulates fuel sources, with an exception for affordability, and will be exploring other regulations.
As currently proposed, we are concerned that S.100 could undermine all of these initiatives. In a letter to the chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources & Energy, our city planner identified the particular provisions that concern the city and outlined proposed modifications that would address those concerns.
These modifications include explicitly stating that municipalities retain the authority to define current and planned water and sewer service areas, allowing pre-existing homes in areas that do not otherwise allow new development to connect to water/sewer, clarifying that a program that redistributes development within a parcel or within the community be allowed to exist, so long as conservation/sending land prohibit future residential development, providing a clear expectation that affordable housing bonuses be provided but not specify a precise method that each municipality must adopt and clarifying that municipalities can establish ordinances and regulations that are not specifically regulated by the CBES or RBES.
South Burlington hopes that if the legislation continues to move forward, these modifications will be adopted.