By Kirby Keaton The Planning Commission has been very busy lately! We have many potential zoning changes to consider this year and will be formulating proposals to address the city’s needs as they come up. This means it’s a great time to reach out about some of the things to expect from us in the coming year. To name a few, we are considering the need for density requirements in some parts of Montpelier, whether our solar shading requirements for new development are working as intended, and a total rewrite of our city plan. You’ll hear from us when each comes up. The Planning Commission is made up of members of the community who want to help the city reach its many goals. Each individual member has a set of talents and educational background relevant to planning. Our backgrounds vary, but we all have a desire to serve our community. It may come as no surprise that one issue we are working hard to address is the severe housing shortage in Montpelier. This issue is much larger than just Montpelier. You probably already know this. We see constant news coverage of the housing crisis and the state legislature has worked at addressing the problem the past few legislative sessions. The problem remains.For years, housing and rental prices in Montpelier have been out of control. Many middle income Vermonters cannot currently afford to live in our city. This is especially unfortunate when you consider that living in an urban center is one of the best things an individual can do to lessen their impact on the environment, contribute to the local economy, and have a high quality of life. People who cannot find affordable housing in Montpelier move elsewhere and possibly contribute to the problems of sprawl and car dependence. Other people live here but sacrifice basic needs in order to afford it. In short, we have a big problem that affects everyone to which there is no single answer. The Planning Commission and several other city committees are currently working on an update to the city plan, which is the document that city council adopts to serve as a guide for the subsequent eight years. This new plan will involve some ambitious goals and strategies related to housing development. While working on this, we found that everything from transportation to economic development to natural resources is deeply impacted by our lack of housing. The Planning Commission is also working on some adjustments to our zoning bylaws to make new housing development possible and will forward those recommendations to the city council for consideration a few months from now. We recognize that, when it comes to new development, some tensions may arise. For instance, will the new development fit in aesthetically? Will there be an impact on traffic, city services, and the local environment? We take all of these concerns very seriously and look for ways to address the housing problem without creating new problems. We believe that increasing the availability of housing can be done without severely impacting the other parts of our city that we cherish and appreciate. To achieve this, we seek solutions that are backed by scholarship and research, as well as the experiences of other municipalities and planning experts. Maybe it goes without saying, but we will never put forward a proposal that we think will make the city less attractive or a less special place to live. We would love to hear from you as we continue to try to address this housing shortage (and all the other work we do too). Please feel free to stop by one of our meetings in person or virtually, or just send us a message regarding your views, concerns, ideas, and proposed solutions. We want to hear from people who have experienced difficulties in the current housing and rental market, as well as people who have concerns about what allowing more development could mean. Our meetings take place every second and fourth Monday and can be accessed virtually at montpelier-vt.org/129/Agendas-Minutes (find the latest Planning Commission agenda and the Zoom link will be on there). We’re looking forward to hearing from you. Kirby Keeton is the chair of the Montpelier Planning Commission and works as an attorney focusing on government policy.