The development community and the affordable housing committee are vetting the newest inclusionary zoning proposal for the city ahead of a Dec. 10 public hearing. 

Inclusionary zoning is a tool used to include affordable units in market rate residential projects. It already exists in the City Center Form Based Code District, which requires that affordable housing be included in developments with 12 or more residential units.

The committee is recommending expanding inclusionary zoning to the Transit Overlay District (areas within a quarter mile of public transportation such as Shelburne Road, Williston Road, Kennedy Drive, Dorset Street and part of Technology Park) in order to ensure that development during interim zoning includes an affordable component.

Currently, the recommendation for home ownership inclusionary units is to have 10 percent of the units be perpetually affordable at a price point of 80 percent area median income, and eligible buyers can earn up to 100 percent area median income. For rental units, 15 percent of the homes must be priced and eligible to households at or below 80 percent area median income.

The recommended offset for developers is to provide one additional market rate unit for every one rental inclusionary unit, and two additional market rate units for every one home ownership inclusionary unit. 

Months of refining the details has drawn public feedback from developers, state and city representatives and members of the community.

For example, Trinka Kerr, a South Burlington resident of 35 years, recalled her own experience moving to Queen City Park as a renter in 1982. Working as a Vermont legal aid attorney, she needed an affordable place to live. Her landlord eventually sold the unit to her and her husband, but getting a mortgage was far from easy.

“Although I am comfortable now, I knew what it was like to struggle to find a decent place to live that I could afford,” she wrote in a letter to the committee.

“I am proud that South Burlington is working on expanding its stock of affordable housing,” she continued. “I also firmly believe that income diversity in a neighborhood generally improves people’s quality of life, so I am very supportive of the city’s approach as expressed in these regulations.”

Rep. Maida Townsend, District 7-4, also penned her support.

“I see it as promoting density rather than sprawl,” she wrote. “I see it as a step in remedying the difficulty vulnerable populations have in finding affordable housing in South Burlington,” 

She added that it will also remedy the affordable houses that were demolished in the Chamberlin neighborhood as a result of the airport’s land acquisition program.

Rep. John Killacky, District 7-3, shared similar thoughts at the Oct. 22 planning commission meeting. 

“The affordability crisis is not just here; it’s in the state,” he said. “In my time in the legislature, I’ve been trying to listen and learn from other communities. ... Your Montpelier team hopes that something like this can actually be brought forward.”

Although there is widespread support for inclusionary zoning, there are areas of improvement that have been identified. Last month, developer Chris Snyder spoke candidly regarding financial burden on private developers.  Having the city pay for public infrastructure could help offset the cost, he suggested.

“When we voted this out of committee, attached to that motion was an instruction to work on other offsets, including another look at the whole fee and impact fee structure, and that’s something we intend to do right away,” said John Simson, chair of the affordable housing committee. “If that were pursued by the city, it would be an incentive.”

Other developers have followed suit and hope their insights can contribute to a thoroughly fleshed-out inclusionary zoning proposal.

“I don’t think anyone in this community or state would say that we don’t need more affordable housing – capital ‘A’ or lowercase ‘a’. It’s been a good faith effort to make a potential plan work,” said Evan Langfeldt, CEO of O’Brien Brothers Agency. 

“The devil’s in the details here, and there’s work that needs to continue to see what those offsets look like,” he said, noting that O’Brien Brothers has plenty of experience. 

“We own and manage 122 units of Section 8 Housing. We know that population well, serve that population well and have for decades.” 

Patrick O’Brien of South Village LLC and SD Ireland assessed language around density bonuses. He urged the commission to properly warn the public that there are changes outside the Transit Overlay District related to density bonuses, which the commission said it would do.

The affordability conversation is far from over, and other items will be thoroughly fleshed out, such as how it will be handled administratively (internally as the city, outsourcing to entities like Champlain Housing Trust, etc.), exploring the need for a rental registry, and more offsets for developers, among other items.

In the meantime, the committee and developers will convene and provide a finished product to the commission for its warned public hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 10 at city hall at 7 p.m. 

“Our real goal here is to increase housing,” Simson said. 

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