Housing supply

Weinberger pushes zoning changes to boost housing supply

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  • Derek Brower©️ Seven days
  • Mayor Miro Weinberger

Mayor Miro Weinberger will push for major zoning changes in the South Burlington neighborhood and beyond in an effort to ease the housing crisis, he announced Thursday.

Weinberger released a 10-point plan to open up areas of the city to builders. The aim is to approximately double the pace of development to allow the construction of 1,250 additional homes by 2027.

“Each area of ​​the city has the potential to accommodate many more households than today, while becoming even stronger and more attractive places to live than they are today, Weinberger said during a press conference in front of City Hall.

In particular, Weinberger wants to open the door to a mixed-use development in a part of the South End where housing is currently off limits. An attempt to rezone the South End in 2015 failed after artists and residents vigorously opposed it over fears of gentrification. Developer Russ Scully revived the prospect earlier this year. He hopes to build a mixed-use project where parking currently exists, Seven days reported last month.

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The mayor’s announcement came less than a week after city crews dismantled a nearby homeless encampment on Sears Lane, despite a two-month battle with activists and City Council progressives who are opposed to the eviction of the nearly 40 campers. The camp is part of the South End area that Scully and the Weinberger administration are seeking to rezone.

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The mayor also plans to use $1 million in federal pandemic stimulus funds to reduce homelessness as part of a goal to end it by 2025. Weinberger is proposing to use the funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to hire a city employee dedicated to addressing homelessness, bolster a “coordinated entry” program in Chittenden County that places individuals in apartments, and invests in approximately 30 “shelters” low barrier. By partnering with affordable housing developers, the city hopes to add 78 apartments for formerly homeless people in the coming years.

The city, as well as the state, has been working to eliminate homelessness for several years. With this latest effort, Weinberger said, the city is “recommitting to that goal and properly resourcing that effort so that, this time, it is fully successful.”

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Weinberger, who was first elected in 2012, has always campaigned on the belief that the root of Burlington’s high housing costs is a lack of supply which has been, as he said again on Thursday, ” largely created by a well-meaning but misguided state”. and the local land use policy which makes building houses far too difficult, too expensive and too time consuming.

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Between 2016 and 2020, Burlington added 779 new homes, including all but 19 in multi-family buildings, according to the Building Homes Together campaign, a public-private coalition led by the Champlain Housing Trust, Evernorth and the County Regional Planning Commission. Chittenden. Of these, about 24% were considered “affordable” housing.

County-wide, the number of new units built during the same period exceeded the coalition’s goal of 3,500. But the 536 new affordable units were well short of the 700 sought by the campaign.

Now the pandemic, which has slowed new construction and led to increased demand from out-of-state buyers, has “overwhelmed these green shoots of progress,” Weinberger said, noting, for example, how Afghan refugees are resettled in other regions. of the state because housing in Chittenden County is so scarce.

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The pandemic “has laid bare just how damaging this housing crisis is,” he said.

Earlier this week, the Housing Coalition announced a new campaign to build 5,000 more units across the county over the next five years, an effort bolstered by the $144 million in COVID-19 relief from the State that the Vermont Legislature and Governor Phil Scott recently allocated for affordable housing. .

Weinberger’s goal of 1,250 units represents a quarter of the county’s goal. He wants at least 312 of the new units to be permanently affordable.

Michael Monte, CEO of Champlain Housing Trust, said the organization has about 700 new units in various stages of development in Chittenden County. About a third of the planned units are in Burlington and include affordable apartments, affordable owner-occupied homes and housing for formerly homeless people.

A new residential area in the South End represents one of the greatest opportunities for future construction. The mayor said on Thursday the city had entered into a memorandum of understanding with developers, including Scully and the Champlain Housing Trust, and South End stakeholders, including the South End Arts and Business Association, to jointly solicit contributions for the new ‘enterprise innovation district. ”

The groups hope to present a zoning proposal to the Burlington Planning Commission in March 2022, the document says.

The envisioned neighborhood, Monte said at Thursday’s press conference, “I think strikes a balance between the needs of people and industries that have been there for decades – artists, makers – and with affordable housing , as well as a great need for our community.

Weinberger also announced that the University of Vermont is considering building more student housing on the former Trinity College campus on Colchester Avenue. His administration’s housing action plan calls for zoning changes on the Trinity campus to allow for the project, which Weinberger said would reduce pressure from UVM students on the housing market more wide of the city.

But to quickly increase the number of available homes, the city will have to look for opportunities in all neighborhoods, Weinberger said. He is pushing for so-called “missing mid-level housing,” a term that refers to smaller, multi-unit projects in low-rise residential neighborhoods. Projects of this scale are prohibited in many residential areas.

Weinberger argued that zoning reforms would allow for new developments that “still reflect the character of these beloved parts of the city.”

Councilman Joe Magee (P-Ward 3), who observed the Weinberger event, said he needed to know more about the proposed zoning changes and developments, particularly in the South End.

“While I’m supportive of us making progress toward building more units and zoning certain areas, I want to make sure we maintain the character of our neighborhoods,” he said.

More broadly, Magee said solving the twin problems of affordable housing and homelessness will require intervention beyond what Weinberger has proposed.

“If we don’t talk seriously about the fact that workers aren’t making enough money to live in our city, we’re going to continue to have a housing crisis that’s beyond our ability to meet those needs,” he said. declared.

Magee, who has been a vocal critic of the Sears Lane evictions, said ending homelessness also requires new investments in mental health care and addiction treatment, as well as barrier-free shelter options.

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“We constantly find ourselves in the winter,” he said, “without a plan for people who live outside when it’s cold.”