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The Strong Communities Quarterly is brought to you by the Department of Economic, Housing and Community Development.
The Department of Economic, Housing and Community Development
The Department of Economic, Housing and Community Development

Welcome

Strong Communities is a quarterly newsletter published by the Department of Economic, Housing and Community Development at the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, to highlight news, trends and best practices to strengthen your community. Each issue will spotlight planning and revitalization successes throughout Vermont, outline upcoming grant and training opportunities, and provide tools you can use in your community. We invite your thoughts and suggestions for topics to address or articles for future issues. Please send your comments or suggestions to accd.cpr@state.vt.us

New Expertise

This has been an exciting and productive year for the Community Planning and Revitalization (CP+R) team.  We are pleased to announce three additions to our team ― John Adams, AICP, who brings hands-on experience and the perspective of Vermont’s local governments; Richard Amore, AICP/ASLA, who provides charrette and community design experience to help more Vermonters understand why planning and revitalization matters; and Caitlin Corkins, MSHP, whose knowledge of Vermont’s historic buildings and commitment to customer service will assure continued support of the state and federal tax credit programs. Together with Wendy Tudor, Grants Administrator; Faith Ingulsrud, long-time Community Planning Coordinator; and Leanne Tingay, Downtown Coordinator, a highly capable team with a proven track record has been assembled to provide meaningful outreach and improve the quality of our programs and services. Chris Cochran, formerly tax credit coordinator, now directs the CP+R team.

Making a Good Program Better

The CP+R team is currently reviewing the suite of designations collectively known as the “Downtown Program” (Designated Downtowns, Villages and Vermont neighborhoods) to explore opportunities to make the program work better for its users.  We have met with numerous stakeholders to gather input and have completed a survey to guide key decisions on program changes.   Over 300 individuals responded to the survey statewide – including business owners, developers, planners, municipal officials and members of local downtown organizations.  Top recommendations included: more tax credits to encourage private investment in existing buildings, incentives for communities to master plan and permit development in centers, tools to promote a greater a mix of housing choices, and making state investments to support infrastructure improvements in existing centers a priority.  Click here for the complete results and survey data. By late November, we will have a package of recommendations to: 
  • Make designation requirements and decision-making clear and consistent for each program 
  • Increase state, regional and local government collaboration to encourage compact development
  • Encourage revitalization and new development in areas that meet local, regional and state goals.  
The CP+R team will keep you informed with updates on our website and via emails.   And it’s never too late to share your thoughts!  Please feel free to send your ideas to accd.cpr@state.vt.us

Project and Program Updates

Growing Smart and Safe
With consulting team support from the EPA and FEMA, local, state, regional and federal partners met with approximately 40 community members in Moretown on October 24th to discuss various ways to “slow, spread, and sink” storm water as well as other management policies and practices to minimize future flood impacts in the Mad River Valley. It was clear from public comments that the towns in this watershed understand that to tackle the flood challenge they must work together, look beyond their town boundaries and think comprehensively and regionally. It was also apparent to the communities’ members that striking a balance between individual needs and the collective good is not easy, but necessary. We hope success in the MRV will provide a model to help other communities and regions grow smart and safe. Click here for more information about Growing Smart and Safe.


Municipal Planning Grant Program
The Municipal Planning Grant (MPG) Applications are now under review. A total of 62 MPG applications were submitted for a total grant request of $619,440 (for the $440,000 available). The Municipal Planning Grant awards will be announced by early December.


Downtown and Village Tax Credit Program
The Downtown Development Board recently awarded $1.8 million in tax credits as part of Vermont’s Downtown and Village tax credit program for 2012. The tax credits will help fund 30 rehabilitation projects in 17 communities around Vermont and will be leveraged for $26 million in building improvements. In addition, $500,000 in flood credits was targeted to help business owners repair and rehabilitate buildings damaged by flooding in 2011. For more information about the federal and state tax credit programs, please contact Caitlin Corkins, Tax Credits & Grants Coordinator at 802-828-3047.

Tools You Can Use

Brownfield Area-Wide Assessments and Planning
The CP+R team is collaborating with the Agency of Natural Resource Department of Conservation (DEC) to promote and target brownfield area-wide planning in Vermont’s downtowns and village centers. The initiative is modeled after EPA’s Brownfield Area-Wide Planning program that looks at vacant and contaminated sites within a region comprehensively – rather than individually. This holistic assessment allows communities to address each site within the context of broader revitalization and economic development goals and better plan for housing, transportation and infrastructure projects that support the entire community. This strategy is particularly helpful for communities with contaminated sites that are too small or distressed to be viable for redevelopment individually. Addressed collectively, these sites can all become more attractive to potential developers and spur community-wide revitalization.

Spotlight on Brownfield Program: Merchant's Row in Barre, VT
The City of Barre utilized EPA funding through the DEC Brownfield Area-Wide Assessment program to conduct a comprehensive assessment and plan of the Merchant’s Row redevelopment area. The Merchant’s Row master plan encompasses approximately four acres in downtown Barre City and proposed improvements to the area include safer and more efficient transportation circulation, improved parking configuration, improved landscaping and green space, and new sidewalks and a bike path in downtown Barre. The Brownfield Assessment entailed a review of historical directories, identification of hazardous sites, and identification of data gaps in current or previously executed site assessments. In addition to Barre, the DEC has supported area-wide assessments for Windsor, St. Johnsbury, Essex Junction, Winooski, and Richford. For more information about the DEC’s Brownfield program, please contact Trish Coppolino or Richard Amore at the CP+R team to see how your town may link brownfield clean-up to community planning and revitalization.


Municipal Planning Grants Support Form-Based Codes in Huntington
The Town of Huntington used the Municipal Planning Grant program to explore better ways to accommodate development in its two villages. Like many rural places, Huntington’s zoning regulations allow suburban-style strip malls and large-lot residential lots, but historic buildings in the village are non-conforming. The proposed form-based regulations not only recognize the historic settlement pattern as conforming, but reinforces it by requiring any new development to fit the walkable, human scale that makes villages attractive.  More information about Form-Based Codes can be found here.

Downtown Corner


Welcome to the Downtown Corner featuring all things "Downtown & Main Street".  Our intent is to share innovative ideas from our downtown organizations and recognize their many accomplishments. In upcoming issues, we’ll feature a downtown, inform you about fabulous festivals, detail economic development strategies aimed at vacant buildings and provide creative streetscape or downtown master plan ideas.  The Downtown Corner will also outline one idea or tip based on the Main Street 4-point approach.  If you have ideas to share, please contact Leanne Tingay at 802-828-3220.


Downtown Corner Tip:  Waterbury – Appreciating Volunteers
Volunteers are the life blood of any non-profit organization.  Most downtown organizations honor volunteers at an annual meeting or perhaps an after the event celebration. However, there is always a point midway through a difficult project or major initiative where volunteers can become discouraged, frustrated or even burned out.  Waterbury developed a thoughtful way of letting those cherished volunteers know their work is essential and appreciated.  During their monthly board meeting, Jeanne Kirby, Executive Director of Revitalizing Waterbury, notifies the board of who has been working above and beyond the call of duty.  A ‘thank you’ card is then circulated for board members to sign and add personal notes prior to mailing to the volunteer to let them know their efforts are recognized and valued by the community’s leadership.  


Downtown Transportation Grant Spotlight:  City of Vergennes, VT
The City of Vergennes recently completed the last phase of a Downtown Transportation Grant to redevelop their downtown streetscape and create an accessible environment for all.  The historic downtown was settled on a hill which created a challenge for accessibility.  Access to the majority of the downtown storefront entrances was limited by sidewalks with stairs with an absence of ramps due to the challenging topography.  The Downtown Transportation Grant assisted the City of Vergennes to assess the downtown, block by block, which resulted in the removal of the stairs and the installation of a series of ramps to make the downtown accessible.   In addition, the sidewalks were upgraded, overhead utilities were relocated underground, and decorative street lights were installed. The grant’s 50% financial match came both from the city and from some property owners willing to assist in the revitalization of downtown.  Throughout the course of this project the downtown experienced a renewed interest of businesses seeking to locate in the downtown.  Vacant storefronts are now occupied and open for business.  The revitalized downtown evidences a true public/private partnership that has captured the community’s energy in enhancing downtown Vergennes.  The Downtown Transportation Grant created an accessible and redesigned streetscape built upon the community’s desire to revitalize their downtown beyond just bricks and mortar.

The Downtown Transportation Fund helps municipalities pay for transportation-related capital improvements within or serving a designated downtown district. Past projects include parking facilities, pedestrian and streetscape improvements, utility relocation and parks.

Planner's Tool Box

Walkable Neighborhoods and Pedestrian Sheds
What is a ped shed?  Short for pedestrian shed, this planning term identifies the basic building block of walkable neighborhoods.  Also, called a walkable catchment area, it defines an area within walking distance from a downtown or village center. Experience has shown that the average person will walk to destinations they can reach in fewer than five or ten minutes.  Pedestrian Sheds are often defined as an area covered by a five minute walk (about 0.25 miles or 1,320 feet) and 10 minute walk (about 0.5 miles or 2640 feet).  To see how walkable your city or town is, visit Walk Score.

News and Resources

Community Recovery Partnership (CRP) Report
The Community Recovery Partnership (CRP) released a report by the Irene Recovery Office that outlines the lessons learned from the August 28, 2011 tropical storm, and documents the collaboration that helped to restore the quality of life for many of Vermont’s most impacted businesses, residents and communities.

Planning Awards

Every fall, worthy individuals and projects are recognized for their contributions to their community or to the field of planning.  We congratulate the following awardees of the 2012 awards from VPA and NNECAPA (Vermont Planners Association and the Northern New England Chapter of the American Planning Association).

Joshua Schwartz, Executive Director of Mad River Valley Planning District received the NNECAPA Professional Planner of the Year and VPA Merit Certification.  He has led the Planning District in tackling key planning issues which impact the future health, economy and landscape of the Mad River Valley, such as renewable energy, affordable housing, historic preservation, municipal waste and water systems, recreation trails, flood resiliency and local food systems.


Peter Gregory received the VPA Mark Blucher Professional Planner of the Year Award. He has worked tirelessly in the planning field since 1984 and as a professional in Vermont since 1989, many of those years as Executive Director of the Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission, one of the state’s 11 regional planning commissions.  He contributes significantly to statewide efforts to improve the effectiveness of planning in Vermont.

Jeff McDonald, of Charlotte, Vermont, was recognized as the VPA Citizen Planner of the Year, for his commitment to improving his community and region.  McDonald has served as the Town of Charlotte representative to the Metropolitan Planning Organization for 11 years and has served on the Town’s Planning Commission for over 16 years, and as chair for the last eight years, exhibiting solid leadership.


Vermont’s 11 Regional Planning Commissions were awarded both the VPA and NNECAPA Project of the Year for  their collective response to Tropical Storm Irene. The Regional Planning Commissions were recognized for their responsiveness, collaboration and flexibility in a time of emergency.


Rutland Regional Planning Commission is the recipient of the VPA Plan of the Year award for the Route 22A Corridor Plan.  Developed in conjunction with Vermont Agency of Transportation, the Addison County Regional Planning Commission and towns along the corridor, the plan will guide where and what types of land use and roadway improvements should be considered now and in the next 20 years along Route 22A, and makes additional recommendations on how the overall scenic rural character of Route 22A can be maintained into the future without sacrificing mobility for local communities or the region.

Fall 2012 Issue

New Expertise
Making a Good Program Better
• Project and Program Updates
Tools You Can Use
Downtown Corner
Planner's Tool Box
News and Resources
Planning Awards

News and Events

Vermont Housing Conference. Vermont’s largest housing event is coming to the Hilton Burlington on Thursday, November 15, 2012.
Vermont Brownfields Forum: Brownfield Reuse Initiative: This one-day Brownfields Forum is intended to provide guidance and real world applications to the development of Brownfield sites in Vermont.  The forum will take place on Thursday, November 29, 2012 at the Stoweflake Resort in Stowe, Vermont.
Fall Planning and Zoning Forum on Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 sponsored by the VLCT Municipal Assistance Center. Register for the event here.
• Winter Networking Meeting for Downtowns – Montpelier, VT – Friday, February 1st – Lost Nation Theater.  Note – Montpelier’s Art Walk and New Winter Festival begins on that Friday evening.
National Main Street Conference – April 14 – 16, 2013 in New Orleans, LA

Funding and Incentives

EPA Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Grants – deadline November 30, 2012
• Certified Local Government Grants – deadline January 10, 2013
Our Town  (Grants for Creative Place-making from the National Endowment for the Arts) – deadline January 14, 2013
• Hart Family Fund for Small Towns (National Trust Preservation Funds) – deadline February 1, 2013
Downtown Transportation Grant – deadline February 4, 2013
Recreation Trails Grant Program – deadline February 25, 2013
• The Division for Historic Preservation maintains a Funding Directory that may be useful for all involved in planning and revitalization.  

What is a Strong Community?

A strong, resilient community is an urban, suburban or rural community that has more housing and transportation choices, increases opportunities to live close to jobs, shops or schools, is more energy independent, and helps protect clean air and water for all citizens.
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