Act 250 

Vermont state land use law, referred to as Act 250, requires a two-step permitting process in towns that have zoning or building permits.  In other words, for a housing project that needs both an Act 250 permit and conditional use review, the developer needs to obtain approvals from both the Act 250 District Commission as well as the local Development Review Board or Zoning Board of Adjustment.  The standards for the state and local review processes are often different.   

Act 250 standards and procedures add costs and can increase the time needed to get a project permitted.  Many Act 250 projects require an applicant to hire professional consultants to prepare the necessary documentation and coordinate with state regulatory entities to demonstrate the project meets all applicable standards. 

Going through Act 250 provides one additional avenue for interested parties to appeal a project. 

Exempting housing projects within designated community centers from Act 250 would help to encourage developing more affordable homes that the region needs. 

For more information see the Act 250 Program by the VT Natural Resources Board 

Developments of Regional Impact 

In New Hampshire, per RSA 36:54-58, local boards are required to determine if larger projects are likely to have broad impacts outside municipal borders and, if so, declare it a development of regional impact (DRI). Once a DRI has been declared, neighboring towns and the Regional Planning Commission are notified and allowed to participate in the local permitting process.  RPCs and neighboring communities can testify about the benefits of an affordable housing project for the region, for example. UVLSRPC has published guidelines to determining regional impact of proposed developments; however, determinations of developments of regional impact are not always done consistently across communities. Failure to declare a DRI for a qualifying project can factor into court appeals of land use board decisions. 

For more information see: 

Wastewater/Water Permitting 

Providing adequate water and wastewater is an essential part of any project.  However, it can add costs.  At times, the State permitting processes may be slow to accept newer technologies, while in other circumstances it may be the engineer.  Hookup and service fees can be high in some communities, adding to the cost for housing within the compact community center.   

To convert an existing single-family home to a duplex or a multi-family dwelling will require wastewater/water approvals.  By virtue of increasing the daily flows from the additional kitchen or additional bedrooms, sewer fees would increase or the septic system may need to be expanded. 

Decentralized wastewater systems can enable more dense development or redevelopment in lieu of a municipal sewer system. Where applied, land use regulations should allow these decentralized systems where suitable soil, land use and other requirements are met.  Communities should hire an engineering firm to evaluate wastewater options for any villages not served by a municipal wastewater system. 

For more information see:  

Fire and Safety Code 

In Vermont and New Hampshire, all rental units need to meet applicable state fire and safety codes.  Projects such as ADUs, short-term rentals, homeshare, or conversion of a home to 2 or more units would necessitate upgrades/construction techniques to meet the applicable codes.  Renovating multi-story, multi-use structures within the village center for housing can be cost-prohibitive due to the standards required for housing. In New Hampshire, tiny homes are not allowed as a long-term residence on a property, and modifying this would require targeted provisions in the Building, Fire and Safety Code suited for these types of housing. 

A common comment in communities is that apartments are not in very good condition and do not meet code.  Enforcement is difficult given staffing levels.  Some communities have opted to enforce the state code locally, such as Hartford VT. There is also the possibility for an iterative approach or staggered tax on improvements that could both help make these more attainable 

For more information see:  

Local Housing Codes 

Communities are enabled to establish local codes to address substandard or dilapidated housing.  Municipalities are enabled to address this a few different ways: as a nuisance ordinance, dilapidated housing ordinance, or local building code. In Vermont, examples of this are Derby Line’s Vacant Building Ordinance or Woodstock’s Dangerous and Vacant Building and Property Ordinance.  It is uncommon for most towns in this region to have a local building code. 

Municipalities also are enabled to adopt ordinances requiring that rentals register with the town, which can help to provide contact information and/or require proof that the buildings meet state fire and safety codes.  Examples of that are Springfield’s Rental Registry Ordinance, Killington’s Short-Term Rental Registry, and Hanover’s Rental Housing Ordinance. 

For more information see:  

Health Code 

The Vermont Department of Health and New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services enforce a rental housing health code that applies to all rented dwellings, dwelling units, rooming houses, rooming units and mobile home lots used as regular residences.  Vermont Regulations for Lead Control applies to target housing and public and commercial buildings. In New Hampshire, the Healthy Homes program manages the mitigation, prevention, and needed enforcement of rules related to environmental hazards, such as lead-based paint. 

Building Energy Standards  

All applicable residential construction in Vermont is subject to the Residential Building Energy Standards (RBES), based partially on the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Similarly, all applicable commercial construction and residential buildings 4-stories or greater above grade must meet the Commercial Building Energy Standards (CBES). In New Hampshire, the Residential Energy Code is based partially on the 2009 IECC. Energy efficiency investments in homes is very beneficial for improving the energy performance of a structure and saving money with home operating costs.  However, it increases the cost of constructing or renovating a home.  Appraisers reportedly have a difficult time valuing homes with energy efficiency improvements, and new buyers often do not want to pay for them.   

For more information see: