Milton’s Selectboard approved a measure Monday night that halts development of multifamily housing in downtown districts and storage units townwide for up to two years while officials retool zoning.
The goal is accomplished via interim zoning, a statutorily bestowed power that allows towns to institute temporary bylaws to protect health, safety and welfare and promote physical and economic growth.
By the end, Milton’s Planning Commission hopes to pass permanent zoning, address traffic issues and lift sewer connection restrictions.
Commissioners introduced the topic at a two-hour long hearing on March 16, saying they’ve seen residential outpace commercial growth, pressuring schools and town services. PC Chairwoman Lori Donna said the town is “at a crucial point to create a much better Milton.”
The selectboard seemed to agree Monday night.
Selectman John Cushing thinks interim zoning could allay some of his fears about repaying debt incurred in Milton’s town core tax increment financing district.
The TIF allows Milton to retain some education taxes for infrastructure to entice commercial growth, but if Act 60 changes or if growth doesn’t come, Milton’s still on the hook, he said.
“If we do this right, I believe that people will want to sign onto this and that down the road, we’re going to find it was the right thing to do for Milton,” Cushing said.
Selectboard Chairman Darren Adams wondered if restricting single-family homes in the M4 Checkerberry district was necessary.
Donna suggested these developers – and those of any nonconforming use – can ask the selectboard for an exemption, a special provision for the interim zoning duration. The PC can issue opinions on whether these proposal are consistent with future development goals.
The process also assesses an additional $150 application fee, $75 warning, $10 recording fee and $2 per abutter fees for interim zoning projects, town planner Jake Hemmerick said, to account for the extra review. The board approved the schedule 4-1, with Adams voting in the negative.
Adams also wondered if the planning office would steer these applicants in any particular direction. Hemmerick said staff would present all options and let the builder choose.
Selectboard Vice-Chairman Stu King asked about the future of storage units. PC member Tony Micklus said they need to find the right place, which isn’t on lots served by valuable water and sewer lines that go unused.
King noted the interim zoning should have included used car lots and recycle yards; Milton has too many that are detracting from the town’s image, he said.
Selectman John Bartlett said the PC needs to put all pieces under the microscope, including aesthetics. He said it’s sad the Hannaford and Vermont Federal Credit Union projects only look great because the developers went beyond the regulations.
Donna said the interim zoning process will produce better defined and higher quality regulations, which she thinks will entice developers since they’ll know what Milton wants.
“When you expect more, when you have it your regulations, you get the investment in your downtown,” she said. “We don’t want people to have to go above and beyond – we want them to know that’s what’s expected in Milton.”
Donna thinks interim zoning is just one piece of Milton addressing its image. She said the PC will host meetings on different topics and advertise them widely to invite feedback.
“Now you guys can go to work,” Cushing said after the board unanimously approved the measure.
“We’re going to have a lot of work to do,” Donna said. “It’s worth it.”