By Monica Cahilly
Warren is struggling to provide affordable housing and attract workers to sustain local businesses and create a vibrant local community. I believe that affordable, obtainable, sustainable living requires a combination of: 1) affordable housing; 2) livable wages; and 3) zoning that allows for diverse and creative opportunities to generate income from home when wages are not "livable" -- or when residents have skill sets and interests that go beyond computer-based home businesses.
The Warren Planning Commission (PC) has been working to draft new Land Use and Development Regulations (LUDR). Much credit and appreciation go to the Warren PC -- and to contributing members of the Warren community who provided input -- for their efforts at what appears to have been a complex and challenging task, resulting in a 225-page draft LUDR (please refer to planning.warrenvt.org).
For those, like me, who may be coming to the conversation at the 11th hour, to summarize a few key points: The draft LUDR creates several new zoning districts in Warren, divided into the categories of Business Districts [Village Business (VB), General Business (GB)], Mixed Use Districts [Village Mixed Use (VMU), Resort Mixed Use (RMU)], Residential Districts [Village Residential (VR), Residential (RES), Resort Residential (RR)], Protected Districts [Resource Protection (RP), Forest Recreation (FR)] and finally, a Rural District [Rural (RL)].
In the new LUDR, different minimum lot sizes have been set for different districts. Each district allows different permitted and conditional uses, including a variety of living options in all districts (except protected districts) setting the stage to help Warren address the challenges of affordable and available housing. Existing lot sizes and permitted uses will be grandfathered.
Some zoning for uses that are currently available are being rescinded or severely restricted under the new LUDR in residential zones (VR, RES, RR), thus limiting potential home-based work in districts where affordable housing is intended to be increased via smaller minimum lot sizes. The residential districts to be affected include many properties on the following roads: Pricky Mountain Road, Plunkton Road / Alpine Village, Airport and Dump Roads, West Hill Road, Golf Course Road, German Flats, Sugarbush Access Road, and properties in Warren Village.
As currently written, home occupation and home business appear to be available as uses in the LUDR in all the new districts (except Protected Districts RP and FR), but not all uses that a person may need to run their at-home business are offered as specifically and clearly and consistently defined uses in the residential districts (VR, RES, RR). In Rural, Mixed Use, and Business districts, persons have available “home occupation,” “home business,” as well as other clearly-defined permitted and conditional uses -- which suggest persons in those districts would have many more options for home-based businesses.
For example, an artist may find affordable housing in residential districts VR, RES, or RR, but an “Artist Studio or Gallery” is only defined as a specific permitted or conditional use in the business, mixed use, and rural districts. This may force the artist to incur an additional rent payment for studio space in one of the districts that allows artist studios. Additional rent may price artists out of living in Warren.
If a person is hoping to earn or augment their income or launch a home business such as hosting cultural events in their barn (Event Facility Use), catering meals or baking goods for the local farmers market (Catering or Commercial Kitchen Use), making furniture / stone sculptures (Stone and Wood Manufacturing Uses), redesigning their garage to launch a beer- or gelato-making business (Food Manufacturing Uses), teaching yoga classes at a home studio (Specialty School Use) -- the limited uses in residential districts in the draft LUDR may prohibit them from doing so and may force many of these Warren residents into renting or buying space in a business or mixed use district or in the rural district.
The restricted opportunities may increase the probability that residents of VR, RES, and RR districts must travel for work or find computer-based home occupations or sufficiently high-paying local jobs or multiple local jobs. Although the ability to rent or buy a condo may be within reach through increased numbers of multi-family dwellings, the HOA rules in many condominium associations may restrict home-based businesses forcing condo residents in many Warren districts, including Mixed Use and Business districts, to earn insufficient income through one or more local jobs and/or computer-based home businesses.
The restricted use opportunities may force many individuals with varied skill sets and interests to leave Warren. This may put more pressure on local businesses struggling to find local workers and pay wages that offset the loss of these workers’ ability to generate other income from home-based businesses.
The pandemic increased opportunities globally for remote work. With the ‘Great Resignation,’ climate change refugees, and social justice refugees, we have an opportunity to preserve and promote diversity and creativity in Warren through zoning that allows persons with varied skill sets and interests to live an affordable, obtainable, and sustainable life in the districts meant to promote high density growth and vibrant, walkable neighborhoods.
I’d like the Warren PC to make all the conditional uses currently available in the Rural (RL) district (with the exception of the natural resource based conditional uses) available in each residential district (VR, RES, RR). As conditional uses, fellow community members and neighbors and the DRB would discuss impact and review plans prior to permitting.
Recently, the Warren PC acknowledged and promised to address lack of clarity in the draft LUDR that may create difficulties with interpretation and implementation of uses related to work-from-home opportunities. The Warren PC asked me to gather a petition to determine if other community members feel that the uses in the draft LUDR are too restrictive in the residential districts (VR, RES, RR).
To see more creative and diverse conditional uses available in Warren residential districts, sign the petition at https://chng.it/hkwMtdMPNV
Cahilly lives in Warren.