Local elected and appointed officials can expect outreach from the Mad River Valley Planning District (MRVPD) in the coming weeks, seeking buy-in and input on the dire need for housing in the Mad River Valley.
The Mad River Valley Planning District steering committee held a special meeting on April 30 to discuss a comprehensive housing needs and market demand analysis that reveals that there is currently a present unmet need for housing in The Valley of some 370 units.
That number will rise to an unmet need of about 500 units in three years. Those unmet need figures are across all income levels, although the need is greater at and below the average median income in Washington County. The Washington County average median income is $63,000. The unmet need is for rentals and homeownership opportunities.
The housing and needs market demand results were presented by MRVPD executive director Joshua Schwartz and MRVPD community planner Kati Gallagher along with Mad River Valley Housing Coalition consultant Kaziah Haviland-Montgomery.
Haviland-Montgomery told members of the steering committee that the data is informing the housing coalition’s efforts which are two-pronged and include a near-term focus on accessory dwelling units and a longer-term (three-year) effort to get a larger, more centralized housing project underway.
“For a larger project you’re talking about a minimum of three years because you’re looking at infrastructure, fundraising, community support and financing. It’s next to impossible to do that without grant funding,” she said.
Haviland-Montgomery said that the housing coalition was hoping to use education and community outreach to work with homeowners on accessory dwelling units.
To incentivize and help people commit to building accessory dwellings for at least five years of year-round housing, the housing coalition is exploring the creation of a housing trust that would provide upfront funds for homeowners to defray the costs of construction to equalize the loss of rent due to year-round versus short-term renting. A housing trust may also be used to help first-time homebuyers with down payments or closing costs.
Haviland-Montgomery told the steering committee that the housing coalition had planned a series of community speakers and presentations before the COVID-19 pandemic. That series would have culminated in a housing summit or fair.
Steering committee members grappled with next steps after hearing from Haviland-Montgomery, leery of having still yet another housing report on a shelf. Steering committee chair and Warren Select Board member Bob Ackland asked how the planning district fits into moving forward.
He said that the select boards and planning commissions of Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston need to be brought on board and suggested that the planning district’s role should be working on planning, regulatory issues and the housing coalition.
Jon Jamieson, steering committee and Waitsfield Select Board member, reminded the group of what happened when the Waitsfield Planning Commission presented proposed hamlet zoning to the select board. That zoning would have dramatically increased the density for dwelling units in hopes of decreasing development and infrastructure costs of creating workforce and other housing.
“They were literally left standing out in the middle of a field with no support. A couple of select board members started ripping it apart. I think the planning district needed to show up at that point. I suggest putting solutions in place through zoning and then sell it to the community as ready to go,” Jamieson said.
He said that The Valley had been too successful in building zoning regulations in the 1980s that anticipated an onslaught of development that never arrived and is still hampering the development of housing today.
Ackland asked the group for thoughts on how the planning district should navigate with select boards and planning commissions to move forward.
Peter MacLaren, the Mad River Valley Chamber representative to the steering committee, said it was important that people pay attention to the need for a long-term plan and several larger, centralized, workforce housing developments. Hamlets and accessory dwellings will help, he said, but not for people without cars.
“I think that’s what we need to take leadership of and I think we need to do that by dialogue with decision-makers in all three towns,” MacLaren said.
Cadwell said that hamlet work, zoning changes and work-around accessory dwellings could move in tandem with efforts to create a larger housing development.
The group discussed how zoning has been changed to encourage housing in Warren Village, in particular, but to no avail, leading Jamieson to note that the market may not take care of this issue.
COMBINATION OF INCENTIVES
Jamieson said that a combination of incentives ranging from good zoning, potential property tax abatement, help with infrastructure and funding would be needed to attract developers.
Schwartz noted that a 2017 housing analysis identified potential town-owned parcels that might be suitable for housing, given that the cost of land is often an impediment. Waitsfield is also about to use grant funding to conduct an inventory of potential sites in its village and in Irasville.
Jamieson reminded the committee that the ways people live are changing and not just due to COVID-19. He said he knows several couples who have only one car and more people who were working from home before the pandemic. He suggested that efforts to attract people to places like Warren Village need to consider that efforts like Free Wheelin’, the local transportation service, may suffice for people like that, rather than running empty buses on the roads.
“We have to think not just about the current reality but about where people are going,” he said.
Schwartz and Gallagher will begin creating a presentation to be taken to local select boards and planning commissions.