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City board to rule on Green Street development in July

VERGENNES — After an April site visit and a three-session public hearing that closed on Monday, the Vergennes Development Review Board will decide next month whether to approve a six-unit Planned Unit Development at 186 Green St. that would feature small, energy-efficient pre-built homes and common-owned land on 1.85 acres.
New Haven resident Scott Hardy is proposing the “Fisher Farm Community” on the former home of the Fisher Flower Farm. Plans call for current buildings to be demolished and for a seven-car garage to be built near the front of the property.
The homes would be built in White River Junction by modular construction firm VerMod. They are intended to have what Hardy called a “cottage look and a “net-zero” energy rating; that is, solar panels on the roofs combined with high levels of insulation and other energy-efficiency measures would be intended to supply all the energy homeowners need.
Hardy told the Independent in April the homes will range from 900 to 1,300 square feet and, depending on the materials used, number of bedrooms, and type of foundation, could sell for between $185,000 and $265,000. Hardy said he has preliminary agreements to sell three of the six homes, one of which will be set aside as elderly housing, thus allowing an extra home on the lot through a density bonus provision in city zoning.
Hardy also hopes to add a seventh home if an energy-efficiency amendment in the city plan now being considered is reflected in new zoning; it would allow another density bonus. Without density bonuses, the Medium Density Residential zone that applies to the parcel would allow five lots.
Zoning Administrator and City Manager Mel Hawley said on Tuesday he could not discuss details of the DRB’s 45-minute deliberative session on Monday. The DRB will continue deliberations on July 3 and must make a decision within 45 days of June 5.
“If they do not complete their deliberative session on July 3, they’re looking at a special meeting,” Hawley said.
That garage was one of two issues, along with parking, which the DRB focused on during Monday’s public hearing, Hawley said. At least one neighbor at an earlier hearing, according to minutes, also “noted that her property has a historic building and therefore is concerned with impact in light of the large garage proposed from an aesthetic standpoint.”
Hawley said the board must consider two issues in deciding on whether to grant a waiver for the garage, which Hardy said should be in the front of the development to keep traffic flowing among homes at a minimum.
One, Hawley said, is that the DRB must OK any accessory structure that is closer to the road than a home.
“We have a rule that accessory structures are not to be in front of the front building line without approval of the DRB,” Hawley said.
According to May 15 minutes, Hardy submitted a handout that included “examples of other properties on Green Street that have detached garages in front of the front building line.”
Secondly, city zoning requires that a detached garage not be a “dominant feature,” he said.
“There is a fair amount of landscaping in front of the garage, and the question in front of the board is whether … it be ruled it is not a dominant feature,” Hawley said.
According to May 8 DRB minutes, Hardy said “there is already a lot of natural screening along the street such that the garage is not the dominant feature.”
Also, Hardy is proposing 11 spaces and is asking for a waiver from the required 12 spaces, or two per home. He noted on May 8 the total does not include the garage spaces. But the catch is that the DRB has never counted garage spaces as parking spaces. City zoning defines a parking space as an “off-street space” of at least nine-by-18-feet “having direct access to either a street or alley” and is used for “the temporary location of one motor vehicle.”
“If you own a garage you might put all your worldly goods in there, not your car,” Hawley said. “Typically people that come visit you don’t use your garage, and garages aren’t always used to put a vehicle in.”
During public hearings the issue was raised of the 12-foot width of the main driveway and its gravel surface. Hardy said he chose gravel for its appearance, and he has also created in consultation with the city fire department what meeting minutes call “a structural lawn” that will support fire and rescue equipment in accessing the development.
Neighbors suggested fencing around the property and additional landscaping, and one abutter wanted assurances that a parking easement she enjoys on the property be respected.
Another question came on stormwater drainage. Hawley said it would be directed internally or two city-owned land to the west.
One neighbor wondered about the general number of homes on the lot, and another about clustering and open land. Hardy said in addition to a central green about a fifth of the lot to the rear would remain open.
The DRB also questioned Hardy about designs of the homes. Hawley said in an interview that city PUD regulations assume that not all the homes would be identical. On May 8 Hardy answered, per minutes, “there are three options of homes and that a limit could be set on the number of a particular design.”
One potential homebuyer also showed up at the May 8 hearing to praise the development. According to minutes, “He said he currently rents an apartment in the city and feels this project is a great opportunity for one to own a net-zero home in the city.” 

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