What is the 1705 VT Route 128 Project?
The property located at 1705 VT Route 128, (1705 property) also known as the Pigeon property, was a former service station and bus garage. The Town is partnered with Vermont River Conservancy, Champlain Housing Trust, Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity, and Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission to investigate the possibility of a multi-goal project of conservation, providing public access to the Browns River, development of affordable homeownership housing, expansion of the Town Office and Public Library property, and environmental improvements. The Town and residents are uniquely positioned to play a leading role in shaping the development of the property.
The 1705 Rte. 128 project is still in its initial stages. There are still many hurdles to overcome. The Town does not own or control the 1705 property. The Town has no contract to buy this property and the PC is not recommending that the Town use taxpayer funds to buy the property. Nor is the PC recommending that the Town be the developer of the property. The steps the PC has taken to get to where we are today are as follows: About 3 years ago, the Planning Commission learned that the owner of the 1705 property intended to put it on the market for sale. At that time, the PC discussed if it might be possible to work with the property owner to gain benefits and advantages for the Town. Specifically, could the Town acquire a portion of the 1705 property on which it could build a new or expanded Town Office. The property owner agreed to hold off listing the property for sale and to work with the Town to investigate if any such arrangement was possible. That investigation led the PC to the Vermont River Conservancy (VRC) and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB). Website link: vhcb.org
The VRC is a non-profit organization that acquires land with the goalof protecting public access to rivers and streams. One of its business models is to partner with other funding sources (like VHCB) to buy private land adjacent to Vermont rivers, establish permanent public access to the river, and then use the remaining land for public, municipal or other purposes, such as housing.
In order to purchase the 1705 property, VRC will seek funding from VHCB. Many entities and municipalities seek funding from VHCB for various housing and conservation projects. This creates a very competitive environment for the limited dollars VHCB has to distribute in any given year. So much so, that the likelihood of VHCB funding VRC’s purchase of the 1705 Property if it only involved conservation, is very low. In order to increase the likelihood of VHCB funding the purchase, affordable housing units need to be included as part of the conceptual plan, in addition to the permanent public river access. Neither VRC or VHCB will develop or build the housing, Rather, they will partner with other non-profits to provide those services, such as the Champlain Housing Trust (CHT) and Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity (GMHfH).
GMHfH and CHT are both non-profits. CHT is a community land trust that supports the people of Northwest Vermont and strengthens their communities through the development and stewardship of permanently affordable homes. Founded in 1984, it is the largest community land trust in the country. CHT also offers financing tools to prospective buyers including homebuyer education, pre-home purchase counseling, financial literacy education and mentoring, and foreclosure and delinquency intervention services.
GMHfH and CHT have created a partnership program that enables low and moderate income households to become homeowners. GMHfH physically constructs the homes. After construction is complete, CHT would purchase the homes from GMHfH and enroll the homes in the Shared Equity Program. After enrollment, the homes would be sold again to the low and moderate income households. Potential buyers must be income eligible and are required to assist with at least 200 hours of construction while their home is being built by GMHfH.
Sales within the Shared Equity Program do not require the homeowner to pay closing costs. This greatly reduces the cost of buying a home. As a standard term of the Shared Equity Program, all homes must be sold back to CHT. The equity gained at during the sale of the home is split between the original homeowner and CHT. CHT uses their funds to cover closing costs, and potentially reduce the sale price, for the next buyer of the home. The program ensures that homes in the Shared Equity Program remain perpetually affordable.
This particular proposal achieves many goals in the Town Plan including the creation of affordable housing; the creation of recreational opportunities; the acquisition of additional land which can be used for Town Office expansion; the clean-up of decades worth of soil contamination; and the improvement of stormwater runoff from the Town Common Area to the Browns River. All of this at little to no cost to the Town