Power of Place: Reimagining Vermont’s State Designation Programs

Smart Growth America is working with a team of practitioners and leaders with deep knowledge of state and local land use policy to reform Vermont’s state designation programs that guide development and state investment priorities for revitalization. This project offers an exciting opportunity to support livable, walkable, thriving communities with a range of attainable housing and healthy economies in the State of Vermont while protecting the State’s character and rural landscapes, addressing equity and historical barriers, and supporting and investing in downtowns and villages.

Smart Growth America is kicking off a project to review and assess Vermont’s state designation programs along with partners from Vermont-based Community Workshop LLC and a small team of subject matter experts. The evaluation of the programs presents a unique opportunity to refocus on smart growth strategies and much-needed additional housing while maintaining Vermont’s pattern of compact cities and village centers separated by rural countryside. We believe that the designation programs can be updated to expand regulatory incentives for diverse and equitable communities.

Vermont’s Department of Housing and Community Development manages the state designation programs—outlined here as Downtowns, Village Centers, New Town Centers, Growth Centers, and Neighborhood Development Areas—which “work together to provide incentives, align policies, and give communities the technical assistance needed to encourage new development and redevelopment in our compact, designated areas. The program’s incentives are for both the public and private sectors within the designated area, including tax credits for historic building rehabilitations and code improvements, permitting benefits for new housing, funding for transportation-related public improvements, and priority consideration for other state grant programs.”

The project aims to set a vision for the next 25 years of Vermont’s designation programs by setting new goals, evaluating emerging priorities, and defining future success. To ensure more equitable outcomes, we will begin the project by listening to diverse stakeholders, from state and local officials to local businesses and community members, as well as advocacy and nongovernmental organizations.

We will also evaluate the current designation program’s structure, processes, and partnerships, comparing them to similar programs from other states. This work will culminate with a report of findings and our recommendations to the Vermont General Assembly, which may include recommendations to:

  • Modernize, reform, and consolidate existing programs
  • Improve the consistency between and among regional plans and future land use maps
  • Make the designation programs and associated benefits more accessible to municipalities
  • Strengthen designation and incentives as a platform for place-based economic development, climate action, complete streets, and equity and efficiency of public investment and service delivery
  • Implement changes that lead to smart growth outcomes.

By aligning Vermont’s land use and development programs and community investment with smart growth principles, we can support the equitable delivery of the program and meet the needs of communities. Through this project and our recommendations, we hope that the state’s designation programs can serve the communities of Vermont and as an example for other states to follow, as well as inform the future of land use and planning.

Land Use and Development Technical assistance