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Londonderry residents push back on proposed housing and development zoning bylaws

A person wearing a white shirt that says CREW on the back paints along the edge of a roof. An American flag waves in the foreground.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
/
Vermont Public
Joey Gouveia paints a roof on a deli in downtown Londonderry recently. Gouveia has made a living working for second homeowners, but he says Londonderry is changing and it is harder for people like him to get by.

There's a battle raging in Londonderry over proposed changes to the town's zoning regulations.

On one side, the Planning Commission says Londonderry has to modernize its land use rules to encourage more housing and development, and meet updated Vermont environmental laws.

But a vocal group of residents say the zoning regulations threaten their way of life and their livelihoods, and they say they’ll work to vote down the more-than-200-page document.

Joey Gouveia has been making his living off the second homes and businesses that cater to the ski and vacation industries since he got out of high school almost 50 years ago.

And for a lot of that time, he says, it’s worked for him. He raised a son, and he feels like he’s a part of the community here among the residents who cut firewood, work in construction and landscaping, and run small businesses.

He says all of that changed after COVID-19, as the number of people moving to the area spiked and home prices rose to historically high levels.

“I think some of the main things that changed is that everybody is making this look like city now,” Gouveia said as he got ready to paint a roof and porch on a deli in downtown Londonderry. “And we’re getting forced out with high, high rents. And I live off these people, but I certainly don’t want to change Vermont.”

The housing crisis that’s affecting just about every corner of the state is especially acute in the Londonderry area, which is close to the Bromley, Stratton and Magic Mountain ski resorts.

“I think some of the main things that changed is that everybody is making this look like city now. And we’re getting forced out with high, high rents. And I live off these people, but I certainly don’t want to change Vermont.”
Joey Gouveia, property and landscape worker in the Londonderry region

The median sale price of a home in Londonderry has increased by more than 60% since 2020, and an average home is selling for $439,023, according to Zillow.

That’s 10% higher than the statewide figure.

So Londonderry, like a lot of towns in Vermont, including Stowe and Shelburne, is trying to change its zoning regulations. Town officials want to both encourage more home building and better manage the growth that comes with an influx of new residents.

The Planning Commission recently released its first version of the new zoning rules, and a lot of what’s in that report has Gouveia really upset.

“Everything moves so fast,” he said. “And they need to understand … this is a great place, and stop trying to change it, so fast.”

Along with reducing the lot sizes to try to spur more home building throughout town, the new regulations also limit when people can cut and deliver firewood, what kind of lighting can go up around someone’s property, and how long people can store cars or campers on their land.

And Gouveia isn’t the only one who has problems with the direction the new zoning regulations might take Londonderry.

More than 100 people showed up to a select board meeting recently to voice their opinions about the new zoning regulations.

More than 100 people filled the Londonderry Town Office for a recent selectboard meeting. The group came out to show their opposition to a new proposed set of zoning bylaws.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
/
Vermont Public
More than 100 people filled the Londonderry Town Office for a recent select board meeting. The group came out to show their opposition to a new proposed set of zoning bylaws.

“Hopefully there’s enough people here to keep Londonderry the way it is, the way it’s always been,” George Adzima told the board during the hour or so the new zoning regulations were discussed. “It survived this long, it will, without none of you people forcing garbage like this on us.”

The town’s Facebook page has been active, and ugly, and a select board member recently quit after a particularly raucous meeting.

There hasn't been a lot of pushback on the new housing rules, which would allow for more home building throughout most of town. But folks like Adzima say the other proposed changes threaten working-class families, who are already being squeezed by high housing costs, inflation and limited economic opportunities.

“You’re going to tell me I have to put a special lightbulb so I don’t blind people driving down Hell's Peak Road?” he said. “No, you people have gone too far, too far.”

This tension between development and tradition is nothing new in Londonderry, according to Planning Commission member Dick Dale.

“Any suggestion for positive change — and that’s been this way any time — it’s us versus them. 'They’re rich, we’re not. We don’t want change, even if it benefits us.' That’s it, 'We don’t want change, because you’re not from here,'” Dale said.

“Any suggestion for positive change — and that’s been this way any time — it’s us versus them. 'They’re rich, we’re not. We don’t want change, even if it benefits us.' That’s it, 'We don’t want change, because you’re not from here,'”
Dick Dale, Londonderry Planning Commission

The Planning Commission has been working on the new zoning regulations for six years, and Dale says the town’s existing regulations are outdated.

They don’t reflect updates to the state’s water and wastewater rules.

They don’t address short-term rentals, which Londonderry is trying to regulate.

And they don’t take on the housing crisis that’s making it hard for businesses to find workers, and making it hard for families to stay in town.

So Dale says Londonderry has to change, and realize that if it is to survive, then everyone has to give a little bit.

“I’ve been told, repeatedly, in all of the time that I’ve been here, is that I’m not from here. I came here, but I’m not entitled to make suggestions on ways of improving things,” Dale said. “Except, they always fail to recognize that I am now from here. And if I can create storefronts that are back in business, and if I can create safety on the road, and if I can make sure that there is affordable housing, why shouldn’t I do that?”

Dale is hoping things cool down a little in Londonderry.

And he says there will be public hearings and opportunity to tweak things this way or that to try to get more people on board.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

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Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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