Housing program unites envirornmentalists, developers

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(Host) For years, developers have said that objections during the permit process stand in the way of addressing the state’s housing shortage. But now, environmental groups say they’ll endorse affordable housing projects, if the developments meet environmental standards and do not contribute to suburban sprawl.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The housing endorsement program is designed to give an early seal of approval for housing projects. Environmental groups such as the Conservation Law Foundation have promised that if projects win the endorsement, they won’t fight them in Act 250.

Beth Humstone is executive director of the Vermont Forum on Sprawl. She hopes the seal of approval could prevent projects from getting bogged in permit delays:

(Humstone) “One of the ideas behind this is if you have nine non-profit organizations, including several environmental organizations, that have been known to oppose projects during the permit process saying that these are good projects, in terms of these criteria, then that will help smooth the way for the developers of these projects.”

(Dillon) The group has already endorsed six housing projects from Milton to West Rutland. Humstone says the projects will not contribute to suburban sprawl, which often involves new construction in farm fields or open land.

This housing endorsement idea came out of an effort called the Smart Growth Collaborative. The collaborative involves a number or organizations that are working to reduce sprawl and concentrate construction in areas that are already developed.

(Humstone) “And it doesn’t mean that other projects that take place that aren’t endorsed are bad projects at all, it just means that these are the blue ribbon projects in the state in terms of what is smart growth housing.”

(Dillon) One of those projects is a 42-unit affordable housing project planned for Stowe. The development is planned by Housing Vermont, a non-profit based in Burlington. Andy Broderick is the organization’s president. He likes the idea of the endorsements, and hopes it will help get environmental groups on his side in permit hearings.

(Broderick) “I certainly don’t want this to be sort of another permit process – yet another requirement for developers to have to meet. What I see it as is an opportunity for development that’s really good, that’s really good. It’s not going to be all development, but meets a broad constituency idea of what development to be, to be recognized.”

(Dillon) The Smart Growth Collaborative will kick off its housing endorsement program next Thursday at a conference in Montpelier.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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