ROCKINGHAM, Vt. – At the Tri-Board meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, the Rockingham Incremental Development Working Group (RIDWG) has invited a representative from the Vermont Housing Finance Agency to present their findings from the Vermont Housing Needs Assessment 2020-2024. The board would like to invite all who are interested to attend the meeting to learn more.
In early 2020, the Take Action Rockingham meetings determined that a top priority is the redevelopment and rehabilitation of Bellows Falls buildings. 43 interested residents joined a committee, but Covid-19 stalled the group formation until 2021.
Sarah Lang, then of the Southern Vermont Economy Project and Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation helped bring Incremental Development Alliance (IncDev) to Rockingham with financial support provided by the VT Council on Rural Development (VCRD), VT Natural Resources Council, Preservation Trust of VT, VT Housing and Conservation Board, and the VT Community Foundation.
IncDev provided technical assistance to the town and interested residents that included a target market analysis, educational lectures about small scale development, spot tests, process mapping, and a regulatory review.
RIDWG, a small grassroots group of local residents and regional organizations, was formed to carry the momentum from IncDev’s training and bring a focus to the power of small incremental improvements, through beautification and collaboration. Other topics covered at RIDWG meeting as an outgrowth of the IncDev were Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) feasibility, the formation of landlord groups, contractor lists, and the creation of a Neighborhood Development Area. RIDWG even helped create a pro forma training and a multifamily home buyer course hosted by the BDCC.
On June 9, 2022, a group from RIDWG; Trustee Jeff Dunbar, Planning Commission member John Dunbar, RIDWG Administrator Sarah Lang, Development Director Gary Fox, and Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance (BFDDA) Director Betsy Thurston led the “Reimagining Rockingham” panel at the Downtown and Historic Preservation Conference in St. Johnsbury, Vt. The conference was hosted by the Preservation Trust of VT, VT Dept of Housing and Community Development, and was also attended by Rockingham Historic Preservation Commissioners Walter Wallace, Elijah Zimmer, and Diana Jones.
Lang introduced IncDev and the technical assistance the nonprofit provided. Fox gave the history of RIDWG’s creation starting with the first VCRD visit to Bellows Falls in 1998.
Jeff Dunbar highlighted IncDev’s training with workshops that he and member Duane Case had attended including the Small Developer Boot Camp. He said one of the challenges was identifying the first “small but big thing,” and opportunities included Downtown second and third-floor spaces and the over 85 Carriage Houses throughout the village that could be developed into ADUs.
John Dunbar discussed zoning districts, setbacks, and density requirements and shared statistics that 46% of Bellows Falls housing stock falls well below the requirement for lot sizes. He provided spot tests of four properties typical of those within the Village of Bellows Falls.
One example showed that bylaws require a 7,000 square foot minimum while the subject property has 3,850 square feet. Frontage setbacks require 70-foot minimum. The same property only had 39. The front and rear requirements at 25 and 30-foot minimum have a mere 5 and 3 feet respectively. Dunbar said that the majority of village houses, if built today, would not be allowed under current Rockingham zoning bylaws.
Dunbar went on to emphasize that zoning ought to facilitate the preservation of our neighborhoods and that adding residential diversity to Bellows Falls’ walkable neighborhoods is vital to maintaining a welcoming, attractive, and vibrant village.
Thurston highlighted BFDDA’s work from 2020, thanks to a Community Block Development Grant that paid for the lights in the trees and with help from Zimmer and Jesilyn Bashaw. Together they have developed the Keep Bellows Falls Beautiful campaign, which meets monthly to improve and beautify the village. On May 14, 2022, a kick-off event brought 46 volunteers to the Waypoint Center for painting, planting, clean-up, and lunch. On the last Monday of each month, volunteers including Zimmer, Bashaw, and the Dunbars, have painted railings and benches and mulched the garden at Hotel Windham.
The next Keep Bellows Falls Beautiful event will be held on Monday, Aug. 29 at 5:30 p.m., and we will be painting the railing at the Centennial Building.
The IncDev training and workshops are available online at www.rockinghamvt.org/inc-dev-working-group-resources.
For more information, or to join RIDWGs October meeting, email RockinghamIDWG@gmail.com