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Gov. Scott urges lawmakers to reverse course on changes to housing bill

A while building with a golden dome.
Gov. Phil Scott, housing developers and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns are urging lawmakers to reverse course on recent changes to a bill aimed at spurring housing production. The bill would make sweeping changes to local zoning rules, but the Senate Committee on Natural Resources last week rolled back some proposed changes to Act 250, the state's land-use law. Scott said at press conference on Tuesday the Senate needs to move forward on more significant changes to Act 250.

Gov. Phil Scott is urging lawmakers to restore parts of a massive housing bill that the governor and others say are necessary to spur more housing construction.

The state is in desperate need of more housing. The Vermont Housing Finance Agency estimates that the state needs between 30,000 and 40,000 more homes to alleviate the current housing shortage. Many people point to local and state regulatory requirements as one of the biggest hurdles to getting more housing built.

The bill, S.100, makes sweeping changes to local and municipal zoning rules, like eliminating single-family zoning statewide, and was also set to make significant changes to Act 250 — the state's land-use law. But last week the Senate Committee on Natural Resources rolled back some of those changes, including narrowing where denser housing development would be exempt from Act 250 reviews.

Scott, at a press conference on Tuesday, said the recent amendment will make it harder for Vermont to build much-needed housing.

“If the Legislature continues to ignore Act 250 reforms, I don't believe they can say they're serious about solving our housing crisis,” Scott said.

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Scott stopped short of threatening a veto if the bill in its current form reached his desk. He urged lawmakers to change the bill back to its previous form.

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here,” Scott said. “And if we all agree that there is a housing crisis here in the state, then when there's a crisis, you have to do extraordinary things.”

The Vermont League of Cities and Towns also expressed concern at the changes to S.100. Many of the proposed regulatory changes in the bill would reduce local control for municipalities, said Ted Brady, executive director of VLCT.

“In any other circumstance we would be dead set against these preemptions,” Brady said during Tuesday’s press conference. “But our members have told us housing is their number one concern, so we're not walking away from the table. We're trying to find a compromise that works for Vermonters. That compromise needs to include more meaningful Act 250 changes.”

Sen. Chris Bray, chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, didn’t immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment. Environmental advocates have been concerned the initial changes proposed in the bill, which Scott favored, would weaken Act 250 and lead to unchecked commercial and residential development.

The Natural Resources Committee referred S.100 to the Senate Appropriations Committee last week. That group is set to hold a hearing on the bill on Thursday.

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Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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