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City zoning tweaks prompt another public hearing

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By ANDY KIRKALDY

VERGENNES — After making a few last tweaks to new zoning laws and rejecting another suggested change, Vergennes aldermen last week set another public hearing that could bring the five-year process of writing new zoning close to an end.

Residents may learn about and comment on the latest council zoning draft at a Tuesday, June 13, hearing that will be held at the city’s Green Street fire station and get under way at 7 p.m.

Aldermen will hold at least one more hearing after that, and could call for more public meetings if they make more changes based testimony given on June 13.

For example, after hearing from Monkton Road area residents and officials of American Legion Post 14 at their previous public hearing, aldermen went back and changed provisions in the city’s medium density residential (MDR) zone. Aldermen earlier this month changed a provision offering a density bonus to developers of elderly and affordable housing to limit it to elderly housing only.

City Manager Renny Perry said aldermen would listen again to residents on June 13.

“They wanted to get this draft out for the public hearing,” Perry said. “That doesn’t mean there won’t be other changes.”

On May 23 aldermen decided to increase the minimum lot size in an overlay district on West Main Street that consists of a large vacant parcel within the city’s agricultural zone.

That parcel, of roughly 110 acres, has been the subject of much debate on the appropriate minimum lot size for the area, a decision that affects the number of homes allowed there, and of much development speculation.

Perry said the change aldermen made on May 23 was to increase the minimum housing lot size allowed in a planned unit development (PUD) in the overlay district to 20,000 square feet, which is just a little less than a half-acre. Regulations previously on the table required at least 125 feet of lot frontage and depth, meaning lots could be as small as 0.36 acre.

Perry said the change would not have a dramatic effect on the number of homes allowed there, but that the developer now working with landowners Paul and Marcel Bourgeois requested the change because he wants to put larger homes on slightly larger lots. Perry said the developer and landowners were concerned that Act 250 officials might insist on smaller lots if they were permissible.

“They really think the lots should be a little bit bigger,” he said.

The larger lots may mean more of the homes will be more expensive, Perry said. 

“At least some of the homes are likely to be high-end,” he said.

Aldermen at their meeting last week declined to change an existing provision in the MDR zone that lowers the minimum acreage required for multi-family dwellings, including elderly and affordable housing projects.

The law now reads that the minimum lot size for a single-family home is 15,000 square feet, but that additional units require just 10,000 square feet. Aldermen Mike Sullivan lobbied for upping the minimum for all units to 20,000 square feet, but the council sided with the point of view expressed by Alderman David Austin.

Austin pointed out that increasing the minimum lot size in all MDR districts would amount to reducing property rights now enjoyed by city land- and homeowners.

“It’s a whole other ball of wax when you take rights away,” Austin said.

Before setting the hearing date and time, aldermen did agree to make two small changes that will allow greater flexibility in property use to the owners of Kennedy Brothers on North Main Street and of a former medical office off Monkton Road.

Other provisions in proposed laws would also create a new Otter Creek Basin district, ease the way for many homeowners seeking approval for minor projects like decks and outbuildings, and relax some downtown setback and parking regulations. Those non-controversial changes have been agreed on since early in a process that began in 2001 and was interrupted for two years for a re-write of the city plan.

Sullivan said he expected more debate in the future about how the city will be zoned, and thus what it could look like.

“I think a lot of Vergennes needs to be rezoned,” Sullivan said. “The work down the road is going to be critical.”

As for the present, many are happy to see aldermen moving closer to adopting new zoning, including real estate broker and Bourgeois adviser Lynn Jackson Donnelly.

“I’d like to thank you for getting it done,” Donnelly told aldermen.

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