MILTON — A year-long process came to a conclusion last week with the approval of rules aimed at growing Milton’s town core.
After the public had the opportunity to provide input, the Selectboard approved all 25 amendments to the town’s Unified Development Regulations (UDRs) in a vote 4-1 during its June 7 meeting.
UDRs are a set of policies developers must follow when building in Milton. The UDRs include requirements for design and layout, standards for sewage and wastewater management and guidelines for the protection of natural resources.
Despite some pushback from board member Brenda Steady and some community members, the approved changes enable more multifamily housing development in DB1 — the town core, or the area surrounding Milton’s Route 7 corridor.
“Milton is going to grow,” Clerk Chris Taylor said. “We are one of the last places in Chittenden County that can be developed.”
In spring 2020, Regina Mahoney, former interim planning director, reviewed Milton’s UDRs and found them to be difficult to understand and to interpret. She believed certain rules were hindering town growth.
At a joint meeting between the Planning Commission and Selectboard in August 2020, the two groups decided changes needed to be made in order to promote development in Milton.
After that meeting, the Planning Commission, led by new Planning Director Cymone Haiju, set out to make those revisions.
In September 2020, Haiju updated the Selectboard on the commission’s progress and said the amendments strive to balance the board’s desire for more commercial development with the COVID-19-induced housing boom.
“We don’t want to cut off the possibility of that dream,” she said Sept. 21, referring to the hope that more businesses would build in Milton.
At the end of 2020, the Planning Commission held a public hearing to gather feedback, which they worked into the proposed amendments.
On Monday night, during the second public hearing, Haiju provided an overview of all 25 changes.
Here are a few which aim to to make it easier to build in Milton:
Instead of requiring multifamily and retirement housing to include 20% commercial space in zoning district DB1, now only the first 30 feet of the building must be for non-residential use, like a gym or meeting room for residents (Section 2101.B).
Multifamily housing is now permitted in zoning district DB1 and restaurants are now an accessory use in district I2 (Section 2123).
“Live-work” units are now permitted in zoning districts DB1, NC1 and NC2. Haiju said “live-work” would allow people working in fields like art, architecture and technology to share living and retail space (Section 2123).
The addition of a dumpster, outdoor seating and the addition, replacement or reconstruction of a fence no longer need site-plan approval (Section 4302).
Steady said she approves of all the UDR changes except the new bonus density incentives.
“I think the density will bite everybody in the butt in the future: the school system, the police department, traffic, the town green will be full of kids because they won’t have any other place to go, etc.” Steady said.
Changes to Section 2007.B increase the maximum density bonus from 150% to 200%.
Residential developments with commercial ground floors or with higher-end amenities, like a furnished gathering room or gym, washer/dryer connections and an outdoor recreation space with a pool, tennis court or playground, would now be eligible for up to a 200% density bonus.
For example, a residential development with 40 original units allowed, can increase to 80 units if some combination of the above criteria is met.
Milton resident Crystal Gingras also shared concerns.
“We have a school district that’s taxed to its limits...we have a rescue force that's falling apart it sounds like,” she said. “If we allow all this residency to happen in this town, how are we going to keep the people that are already here safe? How are we going to give our kids the education they deserve?”
Haiju said the Planning Commission looked at Milton Town School District enrollment data from the last several years when considering this change. The data, she said, showed enrollment numbers slightly decreasing.
“That was a very important data point that the Planning Commission thought of when putting together this proposal,” Haiju said.
Milton resident Denise Tougas also opposed the increased density bonus, stating she thought the changes would turn Milton into more of a city than a town.
“I agree we need housing in Milton, but affordable, single-family, ranch-style,” she said. “I don’t want to see four-story buildings with 100 apartments in them on our main street. I know we need to grow, but we need to grow responsibly.”
Board member Michael Morgan said he hears and values these concerns, but believes the UDR amendments still allow room for the Town to decide what is built and what is not.
“I think we still have some teeth and some control over our destiny,” he said.
After board member John Fitzgerald made a motion, the Selectboard approved the amendments in a vote, 4-1. Steady was the only member to vote no.