City panel rejects Green Street housing development

VERGENNES — The Vergennes Development Review Board on July 3 denied a proposal for a six-unit Planned Unit Development (known as a PUD) at 186 Green St., the former home of the Fisher Flower Farm.
The DRB cited a number of shortcomings in the plan put forth by New Haven resident Scott Hardy, who had hoped to install six small, energy-efficient VerMod modular homes on the 1.85-acre parcel and eventually add a seventh unit.
Hardy’s development would have been the first to make use of city zoning provisions for “density bonuses,” which would allow more homes on the lot than otherwise permitted. Five homes would be the normal maximum for the lot, but he proposed to reserve one home for seniors, meeting a requirement for a density bonus for senior housing.
The seventh home could have been added in the future if and when current zoning is changed to reflect energy-efficiency provisions in the town plan now being considered by the Vergennes City Council, and an additional density bonus would be in effect.
In its written decision the DRB found fault in several elements of the development, including the location of a seven-unit garage, the width of a site’s access road, the number of parking spaces provided, and landscape screening it said was inadequate.
The DRB also ruled the development as designed does not qualify as a PUD because the homes and the garage are neither sufficiently clustered, nor are they sited close enough to the outside of the property:
“Section 1006.E requires that structures shall be clustered when feasible and/or sited towards the edge of the property … The Development Review Board finds that the proposed location of the seven-car garage along Green Street, the six one-family dwelling building sites (along nearly the entire north and south border), and a common play area at the end of the parcel (which represents approximately 16 percent of the parcel) does not meet the requirement of Section 1006.E as clustered development.”
In emails to the Independent, Hardy said he would be “exploring options for a bit” and had intentions of “revisiting a plan in August” with the DRB.
“While I am clearly disappointed by the DRB decision, my hope is we can find a way to move forward giving current and new residents a housing option that looks towards the future vs. needing to strictly conform to past or current regulations,” he wrote, adding, “I do believe there was some confusion around this subdivision process and what is allowed or not allowed under a PUD … I appreciated the time and energy of the volunteer Vergennes DRB and look forward to finding solutions.”
Hardy, who had preliminary deals in hand for some of the homes, said he believes there exists demand and need in the city for small, energy-efficient homes sharing common land. He wrote he will post information on the project website, fisherfarmvergennes.com.
“My goal was to create an affordable, in town, Zero Energy community for Vergennes. Bristol’s Co-housing has shown there is community interest and need in greater Addison County,” he wrote.
Hardy planned to demolish the existing building that was a home and also contained the Fisher Flower Shop. Plans called for a seven-car garage running parallel with Green Street, a main driveway on the north side of the lot and a second driveway on the south side, and a common green in the center as well as the play area in the rear. The six homes surrounding the common green were intended to be high-efficiency, “net-zero” homes, according to Hardy. Net-zero means that they won’t consume any more than the energy the produce with their own renewable energy sources.
Hardy said the homes would range from 900 to 1,300 square feet and sell for between $185,000 and $265,000, depending on factors such as whether buyers would want high-end materials and/or full foundations. All land was proposed to be owned in common with a condominium agreement.
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.
These were among the issues the DRB cited in its denial:
•  The northern driveway narrows from 24 to 12 feet. According to the decision, “The Development Review Board finds that a driveway that is 12 feet wide is not sufficient for two-way traffic.”
•  That no accessory buildings are allowed in front of main buildings without DRB approval. The DRB ruled “that the proposed seven-car garage along Green Street, if constructed, would be a dominant feature when viewed from the street.”
•  That there were too few parking spaces. Twelve are required for six homes, and the site plan only included nine legal spaces. Garage parking does not count toward parking spaces.
•  That “Clustering is defined in the regulations as a development arrangement in which all buildings allowable on a site are concentrated on a portion of the site, leaving the remainder of the site undeveloped,” and the proposal did not satisfy this PUD provision.
The denial also notes the DRB “received testimony from abutting property owners claiming there was not sufficient landscaping and setbacks along common border and finds that the proposed landscaping, screening, and setbacks does not result in achieving compatibility and protection to adjacent properties.” 

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