By Bridge Staff
The Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) has submitted an application to the city of Montpelier seeking approval of a campus Planned Unit Development (PUD), including a master plan, that could potentially let the college avoid Development Review Board (DRB) review of certain conditional uses that under the existing zoning would require a public hearing and DRB review, according to Montpelier Zoning Administrator Meredith Crandall.
At a public meeting on the application to be held Dec. 6, “the biggest discussion point will be that under the current zoning regulations campus PUD applicants can ask the DRB to change conditional uses to permitted uses,” Crandall said.
The college is located in the “Mixed Use Residential” zoning district. Certain uses are permitted in that district, and others require conditional use approval. Conditional uses have to be reviewed by the DRB, after public input, with regard to impacts on the character of the neighborhood, traffic, and community facilities and utilities.
Among the conditional uses VCFA said in its application could potentially be added to the campus are various types of housing — multi-family housing, group homes, congregate living, and temporary housing — plus other conditional uses such as hotels, restaurants, retail sales, and community centers. The application also lists several currently permitted uses that might be a good fit for the historic campus, such as senior housing, B&Bs, inns, galleries, daycares, and grade schools.
The college does not currently have any plans for new buildings, and there are no new uses planned right now either, according VCFA Vice President for Finance and Administration Katie Gustafson. “The college leases out space in five buildings, and it is an important part of our business model,” she said. The college is always assessing its needs and would like to have a straightforward process available as new possibilities come up, Gustafson said.
The green at the college is not conserved or specifically protected by zoning, but the college has no plans for any changes there, she said. The campus PUD regulations state that “at least 30 percent of the total area of the campus shall be reserved as common open space.”
Crandall said if the college requests that conditional uses be turned into permitted uses, the DRB could “give guidance on what they might allow, and to what degree.” They might also ask for more data on the conditional uses the college wants allowed in the PUD with just an administrative permit, or the DRB could decide conditional uses should continue to be reviewed by the board, she said.
The PUD application will be the subject of sketch plan review before the DRB on Monday, Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. The meeting is open to the public in person at city hall or on Zoom, and public comments will be taken. The plan will be the subject of another hearing when a final PUD application is submitted for consideration, but Crandall said some important decisions about the PUD could be made on the basis of the Dec. 6 hearing.
In its application, the college lists all the permitted and conditional uses allowed in the Mixed Use Residential District, and then states: “The college would like to keep as many of these permitted and conditional uses available as possible in order to both serve the future needs of the student and community members, as well as to potentially secure alternative revenue sources.” It then highlights several specific permitted and conditional uses that is says “would fit naturally with the primary function of the academic institution and the needs of our community.”
The VCFA application and the Zoom link for the Dec. 6 meeting can both be found in the Planning Department section of the city’s website, after clicking “Pending Applications for Public Hearings” on the left side.
(Disclosure: The Bridge offices are located in a VCFA building).
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