Home News and Features Zoning Changes Boosting Density Will Come Before Council In February

Zoning Changes Boosting Density Will Come Before Council In February

The Montpelier Planning Commission unanimously voted Dec. 11, after a public hearing, to approve proposed changes to the city’s zoning ordinance and forward them to the Montpelier City Council for possible adoption. 

No members of the public commented on the proposed changes. The public will have another chance to testify on the zoning changes when public hearings are held at city council meetings on Feb. 14 and 28. The council can accept, reject, or modify the proposal, or come up with its own zoning changes, according to Planning Director Mike Miller.

The proposed changes include a few policy changes designed to increase density, along with changes required by recent legislation that will affect the Towne Hill neighborhood. The proposal also includes changes to the Country Club property, changes to sign regulations, and elimination of a section on solar access and shading. 

One of the proposed policy changes would allow any owner of a conforming lot with water and sewer to create a four-unit dwelling on that lot, despite the density rules for that district. For example, a lot in the Residential 3000 district was originally allowed to have one unit per 3,000 square feet of land, which is about 7% of an acre (the Meadows is one neighborhood now in Residential 3000).

In 2018, the rules were changed so that, despite the density limitations, a duplex could be built on any conforming lot with sewer and water, so that a 3,000-square-foot lot in Residential 3000 could have a duplex, as could larger lots in other districts. Miller told The Bridge that since the duplex change, he would estimate that five or 10 duplexes have been created, although that included “a number of people who wanted to do an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) and eventually decided to do a duplex instead, once they learned they could do it.”

Miller said the “four-plex” proposal means, among other things, that an owner of a large house could choose to divide it and create four studios instead of two two-bedroom units. It also means larger four-plex units could be built if they comply with setback and height rules. Parking rules would still apply where applicable (no parking spaces have to be provided in these zones: Urban Center 1, Urban Center 2, Urban Center 3, and Residential 1500).

 A second major change would be to eliminate all density requirements in the Design Review Overlay District, a meandering district that covers downtown, Stone Cutter’s Way, the National Life property, the Vermont College area, and most of Bailey Road and adjoining streets to the east.

Miller said at the hearing that AARP did a study of Montpelier zoning and recommended doing away with all density regulations to boost housing. This proposal only does away with density caps in the Design Review district on the theory that design review will prevent ugly buildings from being built, but allow denser buildings with good design, Miller indicated. Density caps have already been eliminated in the three downtown Urban Center districts.

One other policy change would make it easier to build 5- to 14-unit multi-unit buildings in residential districts. These had been conditional uses in residential districts but will now be a permitted use in all districts in the city except Rural, meaning they will not be subject to public hearings or conditions imposed by the Development Review Board. Density rules will still apply, and parking rules will apply in districts that have them.

Another proposed change was mandated by the Home Act passed by the legislature earlier this year. This law requires that minimum lot sizes in municipalities with water and sewer can be no larger than one-fifth of an acre, Miller said. That means the Residential 24000 district on Towne Hill has to be changed to Residential 9000, he said, shrinking the minimum lot size there by about two-thirds.

The zoning proposal also changes the zoning on the Country Club property to conform with the city’s “action plan” for the property.

The Country Club property, which has been in the Rural district, would be rezoned so that the upper open area is in the Residential 3000 district and the lower open area in Urban District 1, allowing for five-story buildings. Miller said the forested portions of the property will remain in the Rural zoning district.

During the Planning Committee hearing, Miller was asked about the access road to the Country Club property. He said a new road of the same steepness as the existing road would not be allowed under current zoning, but that engineers have told him the existing road can still serve the expected use of the property. 

He said the city plans to work with the state to see if it will allow the road to better align with Agway’s driveway across U.S. Route 2, and to lower the railroad tracks that cross the bottom of the road, which Miller said “would make things much easier.” The road does need mitigation, he said, and that means “engineering and money.”