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Town of Brattleboro

The proposed Neighborhood Development Area (NDA) in Brattleboro.

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Brattleboro to apply for neighborhood designation

State program provides incentives for new housing

BRATTLEBORO—The Town Planning Services department has started its application to a state program that offers incentives for new housing in downtown areas.

The state’s Neighborhood Development Area (NDA) designation provides permit and tax incentives to developers and communities that commit to building mixed-income housing in a downtown or village.

Planning Technician Andrew Graminski, who presented the program to the Selectboard during its Jan. 7 meeting, said that the department has recently received feedback on its initial draft application to the state. Staff anticipate presenting a completed application to the state in February.

According to the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD), which manages the program, since the 1970s, the state has promoted development that follows “Vermont’s historic development pattern of compact centers surrounded by rural landscape.”

Or, to put it another way, it advances policies to reduce sprawl and to preserve prime agricultural land.

Along with the NDA, the state offers four incentive-based designations: downtown, village center, new town centers, and growth centers. The town has received a downtown designation for the Main Street area and village center designation for West Brattleboro.

To qualify for the NDA program, a neighborhood must sit within a half mile of a designated downtown or within one quarter mile of a designated village center.

Graminski said that Brattleboro’s proposed neighborhood area will include a half-mile area surrounding downtown as well as the area extending along Canal Street to Exit 1.

This extension would encourage new housing near existing shops and services on Canal Street, he said.

Program benefits for qualified mixed-income development projects include:

• Exemption from Act 250 regulations. Those projects that don’t qualify for a full exemption receive a 50-percent discount on application fees.

• A cap of $50 of Agency of Natural Resources fees for wastewater review, for projects that have already received sewer allocation from an approved municipal system.

• Exemption from the state land gains tax.

• Priority consideration for state grants for municipalities.

• Local conditional-use decision that a housing project meets “the character of the area” criteria cannot be appealed.

According to a one-page report from ACCD, six Vermont municipalities have the NDA designation: Burlington, Essex Junction, Manchester, South Burlington, Westford, and Winooski.

Between 2015 and 2019, NDA benefits have helped support 586 housing units. The program saved an average of seven months in state permitting time and an average of $50,000 in state permitting fees.

Selectboard Vice-Chair Tim Wessel said he supports creating a dense downtown development and called the program “exciting.”

Graminski said the program offers multiple opportunities for a variety of housing. The program also allows Brattleboro to be proactive about growth and development, he said.

Selectboard member Elizabeth McLoughlin noted that the program supports the town’s own goals of in-fill development that’s anti-sprawl, creating a walkable community that is transit friendly, and promoting development on the east side of Interstate 91.

“They seem to know what a pain in the butt Act 250 is,” McLoughlin observed.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #544 (Wednesday, January 15, 2020). This story appeared on page A1.

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