The question of whether reducing minimum lot sizes and increasing housing development density in Waitsfield agricultural/residential areas would lead to sprawl and or unsightly development was discussed by the Waitsfield Select Board recently when board members met with members of the town’s planning commission.
The planning commission has spent a year developing zoning amendments aimed at making it easier for developers to create smaller houses on smaller lots in hopes of easing the housing problem in the town. The lack of workforce housing is considered a major impediment to young people and young families moving to The Valley.
The select board, at its December 9 meeting, met with planning commissioner chair Duncan Brines, vice chair Jordan Gonda and planning commissioners Alice Peal and Bob Cook. The proposed regulations were approved by the planning commission earlier this year and presented to the select board this fall.
Over the course of several meetings the select board discussed the proposed amendments and received some public comment critical of increasing density in the ag/residential district and questioning whether that adhered to the Town Plan. Some select board members also voiced concerns about increasing density.
Town administrator Trevor Lashua distilled the concerns and questions and provided the select board and planning commissioners with that distillation for the discussion on December 9.
The proposed Planned Hamlet Development (PHD) zoning would reduce minimum lot sizes to as low as 8,000 square feet for homes at or under 1,000 square feet as long as other conditions are met. For example, a Planned Hamlet Development of homes at or under 1,000 square feet would require 50 percent open space on a 6-acre lot, leaving 3 developable acres for a total build out of 16.2 units.
REDUCE MINIMUM LOT SIZE
The current requirement for single-family housing in the ag/res district is 1 acre. The proposed amendments would reduce the minimum lot size for homes between zero to 1,000 square feet to ¼ acre.
Waitsfield’s zoning currently allows for multiple housing units as a Planned Residential Development (PRD), but the new PHD regs allow for greater density. Using an 8-acre parcel as an example, the maximum units allowed for a PRD with clustered housing is 10 units and for a PRD with affordable housing the maximum is 12 units.
With a PHD, the maximum allowable units for single-family homes would be 16, assuming open space and other requirements are met.
Such projects will have to meet other basic land use guidelines in the town in terms of elevation, steep slopes, wetlands, flood hazard areas and inclusion in the Vermont Protected Lands database.
At the December 9 meeting, the select board discussed the impact of short-term vacation rentals on the available housing stock in The Valley as well as the need for water and wastewater in order to develop any Planned Hamlet Developments. Further, the board asked Brines et al. about the specifics of where in the town PHDs might be built. Brines provided a map showing locations that met the conditions in terms of slopes, flood hazards and other criteria.
“A lot of this can’t come about if there’s not septic available,” board chair Paul Hartshorn said.
“That’s going to limit some of the applications for PHDs. There’s definitely going to be a limited number of locations that are appropriate for this. There’s not going to be a stampede to build a lot of PHDs, based on looking at the number of applications for PRDs in the last 10 years,” Brines said.
While there are places in the town’s ag/res district that are appropriate, Brines said that most land in that district is not appropriate. He said the amendments were written with the understanding that the hamlets would have shared water or wastewater; otherwise, there would be no economies of scale.
In response to questioning, Brines said that the requirement that 50 percent of a parcel remain open would allow some of that open land to be part of the wastewater system.
The group discussed whether the need to have architects and land use planners help prepare PHD applications would increase the cost of the housing to the point where it was more expensive than intended.
Cook pointed out that the planning commission had been trying to create a vision for the town and then create a regulation that speaks to the ability to do it.
Board member Sal Spinosa asked the commissioners about what their biggest concern had been.
Brines said a lot of conversation went into minimum and maximum sizes as well as requiring houses to be on slabs or foundations versus tiny houses on wheels.
Gonda said that the proposal was written to address an existing problem. She asked about the impact of looking at large 2,000-square-foot homes on 1- and 2-acre lots and asked if that might be considered sprawl, compared to clustered development envisioned for PHDs.
“There’s models for this type of development all over the country, especially in large ski towns. The commission has tried to ensure they are aesthetically pleasing. This proposal does not define affordable. That’s a challenge here. We didn’t use federal definition; we tried to decrease costs associated with home building – one being acreage,” Gonda said.
“This is not the only thing the planning commission intends to do in terms of affordable housing. We’ll look at other districts in the town and come up with new allowances and other regulatory mechanisms that are appropriate. This was our approach to the ag/res,” she continued.
Spinosa again asked if anything might happen that would cause the commission to be concerned, once one or three of these PHDs had been built.
Brines said, “Not really, no.”
“When I think of what can happen on a 1-acre lot with a single-family dwelling and accessory dwelling and the number of curb cuts you can get with those 1-acre lots and then I start thinking about a PHD or PRD and I think this is going to be much better. There’s going to be open land around it and it’s going to fit into the scenery much better with open land,” Brines said.
“My biggest fear is we’ll come back in nine years and have zero of these,” Brines said.