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What is Vermont Senate's act 250 reform?


What is Vermont Senate act 250 reform?

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  1. Vermont Senate Act 250 reform, encapsulated in Bill H.687, is aimed at revising the state’s long-standing land use review law, known as Act 250, to address both environmental protection and housing development needs. The reform seeks to streamline processes and reduce regulatory hurdles to foster housing growth, especially critical amidst an acute housing shortage in Vermont.

    Key components of the reform include:

    1. Redesigning Act 250’s Jurisdiction: The bill introduces a “tiered” system, which modifies how development is reviewed under Act 250. Certain areas, particularly designated growth and village centers, will see a loosening of regulations to encourage housing projects, while more stringent protections are planned for ecologically sensitive zones.
    2. Interim Exemptions: To immediately boost housing development, the reform proposes temporary exemptions for housing projects within specific zones, such as designated downtown areas and village centers. These exemptions are intended to last until the full tiered system is implemented.
    3. Appeals Process: The Senate version of the reform retains the current judicial system for hearing Act 250 appeals, countering proposals to shift appeals to a new quasi-judicial board—a move opposed by Governor Phil Scott’s administration.
    4. Financial Implications: The reform includes a new property transfer tax on second homes to fund housing initiatives and addresses property tax valuations to support regions affected by recent flooding.

    Governor Phil Scott has expressed concerns that the reforms might not sufficiently promote housing development, particularly in rural areas, hinting at the possibility of a veto. The Senate passed the bill with a narrow margin, complicating the likelihood of overcoming a veto.

    The bill remains contentious, with various stakeholders, including environmental groups and housing developers, having divergent views on the balance between development and conservation. This ongoing debate underscores the complexity of land use policy in Vermont, reflecting broader tensions between growth and environmental stewardship​ (VTDigger)​​ (VTDigger)​.

  2. Vermont’s Senate recently passed a major bill, H.687, that reforms the state’s long-standing Act 250 land use law. The key provisions of the Senate’s Act 250 reform bill include:

    Relaxing Act 250 in Development Centers

    The bill relaxes the reach of Act 250 in existing designated development centers like downtowns and village centers. This aims to reduce regulatory barriers and encourage more housing growth in these areas by exempting certain projects from Act 250 review.

    Specifically, it exempts all housing projects in designated downtowns from Act 250 through July 2028, and exempts projects up to 50 units in designated village centers.

    Extending Act 250 to Sensitive Areas

    While loosening Act 250 in development centers, the bill also lays the groundwork for extending Act 250 protections to ecologically sensitive areas yet to be mapped out and defined through future rulemaking processes.

    Other Housing Provisions

    Beyond Act 250 changes, the bill includes other housing policies, such as creating a new property transfer tax on second homes, placing a temporary property tax valuation freeze on some new/rehabbed homes impacted by 2023 flooding, and requiring flood disclosure for home purchases and rentals.

    Appeals Process Changes

    One major change is keeping Act 250 permit appeals within the judicial system for now, while calling for a study on potentially moving appeals to a new quasi-judicial board in the future instead of court.

    The Senate made substantial changes to the House’s version, so the two chambers will need to reconcile differences before the bill can become law, pending the Governor’s approval or veto.