Proposal would put 7 homes on city property: PUD pitched for Green Street site
VERGENNES — A seven-home Planned Unit Development, known as a PUD, proposal for a Green Street parcel in Vergennes would be the first to make use of city zoning provisions for “density bonuses,” which would allow more homes on the lot than otherwise permitted.
Scott Hardy, a New Haven resident who has developed property in Chittenden County and might be familiar to some as the inventor of Neos overshoes, hopes to market seven small and highly energy-efficient homes with a “cottage look” at 186 Green St., the former home of the Fisher Flower Farm.
His application is now before the Vergennes Development Review Board, which will conduct a Monday (April 17) site visit, after which the board could call for a public hearing for a conditional use permit.
The homes for the “Fisher Farm Community” would be built offsite in White River Junction by modular construction firm VerMod. The homes, built by the same firm that made homes for the McKnight Lane affordable housing development in nearby Waltham, are intended to be “net-zero;” that is, meaning the solar panels on the roofs, combined with high levels of insulation and other energy-efficiency measures, would supply all the energy homeowners need.
Hardy said the homes would not be large — ranging from 900 to 1,300 square feet — or too pricey, with the cost for one-, two-, or three-bedroom properties running from between $185,000 to $265,000, depending also on whether buyers want high-end materials and/or full foundations.
All land would be owned in common with a condominium agreement, including a play area to the rear as well a central green, and a shared nine-bay garage is planned.
Hardy believes there is demand for village homes like these in a neighborhood like that on Green Street — and he said he has deposits for three of the building envelopes, subject to permitting and then final purchase-and-sales agreements.
“My goal is to try to create more of these net-zero, pocket neighborhoods around Vermont. So instead of just taking a 10-acre lot or a 5-acre lot and putting a five-bedroom home on it, why don’t we put five one-bedroom homes on it?” he said. “We need this kind of inventory, especially if it’s net zero. It gives people a lower cost of ownership.”
Hardy bought the 1.85-acre lot at 186 Green St. for $98,000 in October. Without density bonuses, the Medium Density Residential zone that applies to the parcel would allow five lots. Hardy proposes to reserve one home as senior housing, however, and that, according to zoning, triggers a provision allowing a sixth home on the parcel.
Another density bonus provision for creating energy-efficient homes would allow another home on the 1.85 acres. Currently, however, Vergennes zoning bases that trigger on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, which include a distance-from-services provision that might be problematic even though 186 Green St., like all of Vergennes, is not far from downtown.
According to Hardy’s submission to the DRB, the seventh unit “was sited based on anticipated changes to the Zoning and Subdivision Regulations which will include a density bonus for Efficiency Vermont’s High Performance Home Certification,” a standard he said the homes meet.
City Manager and zoning administrator Mel Hawley said he believes the homes themselves also meet the LEED certification, but confirmed Hardy “has requested the planning commission use a different standard than LEED.”
A FIRST FOR PUDS
Hawley also confirmed that until now no proposals to city zoning officials have made use of the density bonus provisions. The Claybrook subdivision off West Main Street and Hopkins Road, which won DRB approval in 2014, used PUD provisions to cluster homes on smaller lots, but did not seek to increase the number of lots permitted on the parcel.
“We’ve had PUD regs for a long time in our zoning regulations, but they’ve only been used in our Overlay District (by Claybrook),” Hawley said.
Hawley also described as unique the condominium ownership of the land — essentially, he described the homes as freestanding condominiums.
“This is a little different. This is not where individual property owners own a lot where they mow and would have an interest in another open space,” Hawley said. “The open space (on Fisher Farms) is everything outside of the footprint.”
Hardy said he considered traditional homeowner agreements (he called them HOAs), but decided the condominium approach, which he said does draw some lines around the homes, made more sense.
“It’s a small parcel,” he said. “You have to have an HOA anyway. It just seemed the right thing to do not to create these postage-stamp-sized lots. We have common land and limited common land. The limited common land is the area right around the buildings.”
Hardy also said he could have dedicated more homes to seniors and placed more units on the parcels, but decided against that approach.
“The best thing for the people that live in a community like this is to have a mixture of young people and older people,” he said. “I think that’s a happier, healthier lifestyle, and a lot of countries have proven that mixing the generations in the same environment is actually healthier for everybody.”
Hardy said he has been discussing the project with Hawley and the DRB since October. He met with the DRB in late March, and after Monday’s site visit the DRB will meet to discuss if Hardy’s application is complete. If so, the board could set an initial public hearing in early May.
Hardy hopes by summer to have a permit and then firm up the existing buyers and intensify his marketing, including with public informational meetings. Part of his marketing pitch (more can be learned by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org) is Vergennes itself.
“I think Vergennes has a lot to offer, and being able to have an in-town location where you can walk to restaurants or services is really attractive,” Hardy said. “That was a big component to what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do it.”
Hardy also described potential buyers and the rationale for his offering.
“If you are a first-time home-buyer and do not want to be renting, or are down-sizing, your options are generally are duplexes, which are essentially an apartment, or condominiums, which are basically an apartment. A lot of people live in Vermont because they want to live in four walls and a roof. There are a lot of places other than Vermont to live in apartment buildings,” he said. “It’s a inventory, a product, that’s not readily offered around Vermont.”
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