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Planners urged to support affordable housing under new regulations

SHELBURNE A crowd of about 50 concerned citizens brought their hopes for the future of affordable housing in Shelburne to the Planning Commissions first hearing designed to give the public an opportunity to react to proposed changes to the towns zoning regulations. The hearing, held on Thursday, Jan. 31 at Shelburne Town Center, will be continued on Feb. 21 and perhaps also Feb. 28, before the members of the Planning Commission respond to the concerns and consider possible changes. The town revised the Comprehensive Town Plan and approved it a year ago. Work has been going on to make appropriate and supportive changes to the towns Zoning Regulations which provide the guidelines and legal framework for any development in the town and those revised zoning regulations must now be approved by the Planning Commission and passed on for approval by the Selectboard within the next six months. Advocates for affordable housing in the town were reassured by the Town Plan which included a commitment to such precepts as Smart Growth, encouraging development in the Village where transportation, sidewalks, access to shopping and services exist. However that commitment to focusing on affordable development in the Village was not supported by the draft zoning regulations. Focal point of the current concern is the Shelburne Woods Mobile Home Park located behind Shelburne Inn and Trinity Episcopal Church and the land between the park and the LaPlatte River. Three years ago the land, owned by Marvin and Sue Thomas, was offered for sale and a proposed use of the property would have meant the loss of the 28-trailer mobile home park. At that time the park residents, local advocates for affordable housing and agencies with expertise in mobile home park projects and affordable housing issues rallied to work together to find a way to prevent the loss. On Jan. 28, many of those same people gathered at Trinity Episcopal Church to raise awareness for the threat the revised zoning bylaws pose to affordable housing and the mobile home park, and to plan a campaign to bring their concerns to the Planning Commission at their Jan. 31 public hearing. Rev. Craig Smith of Trinity, who moderated the meeting, said, We saw that the current issues of density and the actions of the Planning Commission werent getting as big a headline as when the Thomases were going to sell Shelburne Woods. The meeting was attended by the principals of Green Mountain Development Group who have been working on a plan for a multi-use development on the 45 acres that include the mobile home park, the Shelburne Woods Association, the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity and the Vermont State Housing Authority. John Giebink of Green Mountain Development, explained that his company, which has developed other projects such as Deer Run, Farmstead and more recently The Pines on Dorset Street in South Burlington, an elderly supportive services facility, had been invited by the Housing Authority to see if they would be interested in developing the 45 acres that include the mobile home park and additional land along the LaPlatte, about 22 of which is developable. He said that developing the land to accommodate the mobile homes, housing for the elderly with supportive services, and additional mixed housing including affordable units, would be feasible if the higher density that is associated with Smart Growth and in fill in village centers were permitted by the zoning regulations. This land isnt going to stay like it is. It will have to be developed thoughtfully or the mobile home park wont be able to stay here and the whole area will be developed like any other subdivision, Giebink said. Ted Wimpey of CVOEO said, Appropriate density is the way towns can meet their goals of providing affordable housing, by building more housing in smaller areas, near to transportation and retail outlets. Its a tradition in the state, and its also the wave of the future that will help to keep the downtown vital. Richard Williams of the Vermont Housing Authority said, This is a model of how to combine affordable housing with other needed forms of housing in Shelburne. At the Planning Commission Public Hearing on Jan. 31, most of the speakers represented those who are seeking a way to ensure that the mobile home park is preserved and that the land, the only piece of undeveloped land in the Village, is made available for affordable housing. They brought petitions from the community asking for specific changes in the lot sizes for the mobile home park, and for greater density allowances in the rest of the adjacent property. While most of those present spoke in support of the proposal, there were some questions about the possible impact of increasing the height restriction and making the changes with a specific development project in mind. A big question: how dense is too dense?

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