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Downsizing Group Looks For Housing Options

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Over the past year, a group of residents — including my wife and myself — have been talking about and learning about the options for downsizing from a larger home to a smaller one at some point in the next few years. Some smaller houses and condos already exist here, but given the demographic shifts taking place, new housing units will likely need to be built for the growing number of Montpelier area residents over 50 who are interested in downsizing.

The move to smaller living quarters can make sense for older Vermonters who want to shed some property maintenance duties, reduce energy costs and other expenses, or live in a home that allows “aging in place” by having features such as a bedroom on the main floor or being located within walking distance of stores and services.

Vermonters have the second oldest average age by state in the country. As older residents move into smaller units, existing larger homes in Montpelier and surrounding towns will become available for younger residents, who — with today’s high building costs — often cannot afford to build or buy a new home. That shift would be good for Montpelier and our school system’s student numbers.

Older residents who have built up equity in their homes and saved money over their working lives may be in a better position to afford newly constructed housing units, especially smaller ones.

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Since the majority of local “downsizers” in the area would prefer to live in or close to downtown Montpelier, the downsizing trends also fit in well with the Net Zero Vermont goal of building more downtown housing units.

The Montpelier Downsizing Group has grown by word of mouth, calendar notices and Front Porch Forum postings to the point it now has over 100 email addresses (and it welcomes more — see end of article). The group has probably only scratched the surface in terms of people in Montpelier and surrounding towns who might want to downsize in the next two to 10 years.

So far, the group has had three meetings at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, each attended by 50 or 60 people, with a somewhat different composition of attendees each time. Various people helped get the group started, but meetings are currently being organized by Diane Derby and myself, with help from Brian Hollen and Cari Clement.

At the first meeting, in December 2015, a survey was handed out. The results, from about 30 households, found among other things, that being located within walking distance of downtown was “very” important to 64 percent of those surveyed. Eighteen percent would prefer to be within a quarter-mile of downtown, 43 percent want to be within a half-mile and 39 percent want to be within a mile.

As for housing types, 75 percent are interested in buying or renting a small house or cottage, 71 percent would consider a townhouse, 68 percent a condo, and 39 percent an apartment (the total percentage exceeded 100 percent because survey respondents could choose more than one option). Three-quarters said they would be looking to downsize in the next two to five years.

At the second meeting last spring, Matthew Wheaton of DEW Properties presented a hypothetical example of what one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom units in a new four-story building downtown would cost, while Chris Kiper of Anomal discussed the costs and process of building a tiny house.

The third meeting last December featured presentations by Realtors Tim Heney and Lori Holt about the real estate market and the process of getting ready to sell your home. The meeting also featured presentations about possible new housing projects in Montpelier that might be appropriate for downsizers, including the following:

Katie Gustafson of the Vermont College of Fine Arts said the college is considering converting one of its dorms to apartments or condos in the next few years, or building new housing on its property. College accreditation boards are encouraging colleges to find new income streams, according to Vermont College president Tom Greene.

Developer Doug Nedde has plans to convert the second and third floors of the TD Bank building at State and Main into 10 to 12 market-rate apartments, which could become available in 2018. The building has an elevator, and Nedde said he could provide parking at the parking garage he owns adjacent to City Center.

Architect Jay Ancel of Black River Design discussed his group’s Net Zero competition plans as well as some specific sites in Montpelier. In early January, Ancel hosted a meeting — along with property owner Jeff Nick — for 30 interested people about a possible cottage cluster development that could take place on a portion of the 6 acres at 250 Main St., where the original gray NECI building (now offices) is located and would remain.

Montpelier landlord Win Turner discussed his property on Sibley Avenue, where he is now considering subdividing and selling three lots of a quarter-acre each. Turner is also open to building single-family homes or duplexes on the property for downsizers or others.

Downsizer and Montpelier resident Cari Clement discussed her efforts to find a location in town to build a group of cottages or small homes that could share a common building for work spaces, exercise equipment and the like. One property she mentioned as a possibility is the undeveloped portion of the Redstone property, if the state was willing to sell.

The Montpelier Downsizing Group will probably meet again in the spring. If you would like to receive email notices about future meetings and possible new housing developments appropriate for downsizing, send an email to MontpelierDownsizingGroup@gmail.com.