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Smart Growth Summit Draws 160 Vermont Leaders to Discuss Community Development

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Vermont’s population is aging rapidly and cities and towns need to begin to make accommodations for a changing demographic across the state. That was one of the many issues addressed at the Smart Growth Summit held on June 16 at Champlain College and hosted by AARP Vermont and the Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC). About 160 local officials, planners, policy makers, developers, advocates, and business people from across Vermont came together to share their insights and learn more during a dynamic and interactive summit aimed at addressing a host of community development challenges and opportunities.

Opening the Summit Governor Scott said, “We, as a state, have made great progress in smart growth, with a renewed focus on growing our downtowns and village centers, and recognizing the value of targeting these areas for investment and growth.” Presenters and attendees then explored smart growth accomplishments, gained practical tools from colleagues, and discussed ways to harness smart growth to provide housing choices, transportation options, and a high quality of life for all Vermonters. The conversation was informed by small group discussions featuring a dozen experts from across the state who have undertaken smart growth projects.

Several ideas, recommendations and learnings came out of the morning event and a report will be generated in the coming weeks. Among them are:

  • Codes (zoning) that more readily enable mixed uses in one building and create development that reflects community values will simplify permitting process and make it easier for communities to get the types of growth and change that they want to see.
  • Complete Streets policies, creating roadways for all users, should be implemented on new road projects as well as on retrofits and maintenance projects.
  • Infrastructure investments are essential, particularly for wastewater/sewage which can impede smart growth development, and rural communities need creative financing solutions that will help this happen.
  • Building community support –clarifying what should happen in communities, and to then support it when it comes forth – is something that local officials need to make a priority.

The event brought together a wide range of organizations, officials, and decision makers creating a powerful atmosphere for progress on issues related to growth and development. “I think we all learned quite a bit from this summit and took away ideas and information that they can act upon, share with colleagues and build into their work,” said Kelly Stoddard-Poor, director of community outreach at AARP Vermont. “Clearly, success in this arena relies heavily on positive community partnerships and open communication among all stakeholders on any development project or proposal. Having consensus on goals, desired outcomes and impacts sets a clear path for success.” By partnering to hold this summit, AARP Vermont and VNRC have helped move the conversation forward in a way that helps inform both small towns and villages as well as larger Vermont cities as they address changing needs and demographics, she said.

VNRC's Kate McCarthy noted, "It was tremendous to see so many people, from a variety of fields and professions, come together to talk about all the benefits smart growth can bring to our environment, economy, and communities. As we continue to work toward reducing greenhouse gasses, helping people live quality lives at all ages, and providing housing and transportation options, smart growth needs to be a key part of the conversation. This Summit has helped us reinvigorate that conversation and we look forward to continuing it with AARP and our other partners.”

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