WRC NEWSLETTER

WINTER 2024

IN THIS ISSUE

Upcoming Grant Opportunities


Windham Regional Plan Update


VT HOME Act & Municipal Zoning Reforms


Bellows Falls Areawide Plan Moves Forward


Share your Knowledge and Improve Water Quality in the Region's Rivers


Municipal Building Energy Audits Begins


Updates on Local ARPA Funds


Preparing for Transportation Grant Applications


Four Towns Awarded MPG's from ACCD


From the Director

QUICK LINKS

WRC Calendar


WRC Commissioners


WRC Executive Board


WRC Contact Us


COVID-19 Resources for Our Towns


COVID-19 Resources for Individuals


Flood Recovery Resources

WRC CALENDAR

January 24, 12:00 pm:

Finance Committee



January 24, 6:00 pm:

Tactical Basin Plan 12 Kick-off Meeting


January 25, 5:00 pm:

Natural Resources Committee


January 30, 6:00 pm:

Full Commission


February 1, 6:00 pm:

Energy Committee


February 6, 6:00 pm:

Project Review Committee


February 7, 6:30 pm:

Planning Coordination Committee


February 12, 4:00 pm:

Transportation Committee


February 13, 6:00 pm:

Executive Board


February 14, 4:00 pm:

Brownfields Committee


February 19, 2024:

WRC offices will be CLOSED in observance of Presidents' Day


February 22, 5:00 pm:

Natural Resources Committee


**All Committee meetings take place virtually via Zoom.


**All meetings are subject to change, please check the website for updates.

UPCOMING GRANT OPPORTUNITIES

AARP Vermont

Community Challenge Grants

OPEN: January 2024

 

New England Grass Roots Environmental Fund

Seed Grant

DEADLINE: Rolling 

 

Grow Grants

DEADLINE: March 19, 2024

 

Preservation Trust of Vermont

1772 Foundation Matching Grants

DEADLINE: Letters of Inquiry January 11, 2024

 

USDA Rural Development 

Community Facility Loans & Grants

Communities with populations of 20,000 or less

DEADLINE: Ongoing (contact USDA office)

 

Water and Wastewater Loan and Grant Program

Communities with populations of 10,000 or less

DEADLINE: Ongoing (contact USDA office)

 

Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development

Community Partnership for Neighborhood Development

DEADLINE: March 1, 2024; May 31, 2024


Vermont Community Development Program

DEADLINE: Rolling

 

Better Places

DEADLINE: Rolling

 

Downtown Transportation Fund

DEADLINE: Feb 19, 2024

 

Vermont Natural Resources Council

Small Grants for Smart Growth

DEADLINE: Rolling

 

Windham Regional Commission

Windham Region Brownfields Reuse Initiative

Brownfields Cleanup Grants & Loans

DEADLINE: Rolling 



For additional information about grant possibilities for your projects please contact Susan Westa.

Windham Regional Plan Update

The Windham Regional Commission continues its work on updating the 2014 Windham Regional Plan. The Regional Plan provides guidance and direction for change and development in the region and establishes a policy basis for the WRC’s positions and work program priorities. Since early 2023, WRC Committees have been working with staff to review each plan chapter to identify sections and policies that need to be updated based on new issues and challenges for the region. WRC anticipates a final draft of the plan will ready for public review later this spring.  

Vermont HOME Act and Municipal Zoning Reforms

Governor Scott signed Act 47, also known as the HOME Act, into law in June making changes to the Planning & Development statute, Act 250, and other laws to enable new opportunities for housing development within local, regional, and state planning and development regulations. Most significant for Windham region towns are the municipal zoning reforms that address new requirements for allowed residential uses, minimum density allowances, and off-street parking. Some of these provisions went into effect on July 1, 2023, and others will be phased in. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has created a Resources Page that includes a summary of the Act and answers to frequently asked questions from towns.


WRC is able to advise towns about bylaw updates to comply with the new law. We strongly encourage towns to work with their town attorneys as well when making bylaw revisions. Please note the zoning reforms only impact towns with adopted zoning bylaws. However, all towns should still review the legislation as there are other relevant requirements. For example there is additional information and data now required for the local housing element in town plans. If you have any questions, please contact Matt Bachler, Senior Planner, at 802-257-4547, ext. 112.

Bellows Falls Areawide Plan Moves Forward

In May 2022 an Areawide Plan was completed for Bellows Falls Island and “Under the Hill” with brownfields funding through the WRC. The Areawide Plan considers brownfields and other environmental issues, as well as community needs and economic development opportunities. It is now moving forward. As a first step, the Tow is undertaking redevelopment of the Bellows Falls train and bus station. Redevelopment of the train station is critical to attracting commercial, residential, light industrial, and transit-oriented development to the Island, which has been underdeveloped for many years. The Town has also begun investigating mixed use development opportunities on an island parking lot.


Simultaneously, the Town is pursuing brownfields cleanup in the “Under the Hill” area. The sites known as TLR, Penta Wyman Flint and the Adams Grist Mill are all considering further brownfields assessment work. The Town plans to redevelop these properties as part of the Connecticut River Heritage Center. Redevelopment of the Island and Under the Hill is a great opportunity for the Town to advance new housing, as well as community and economic development opportunities.

WRC STAFF
Executive Director
Ext. 106

Associate Director
Ext. 108

Office Manager
Ext. 107

Finance Manager
Ext. 103

Senior Planner
Ext. 112

Regional Transportation Planner
Ext. 109

Transportation Planning Tech
Ext. 114

Planner
Ext. 116

Senior Planner
Ext. 110

Senior Planner
Ext. 111

Senior Planner
Ext. 113

Share your Knowledge and Improve Water Quality in the Region’s Rivers

The Tactical Basin Plan for the Deerfield River watershed and the Connecticut River direct tributaries in southeastern Vermont (what is referred to as Basin 12) is in the process of being updated. This revised basin plan will provide an overall assessment of the current conditions of the watershed, identify high priority waters for restoration and protection, and direct funding to implement projects that protect, enhance, and restore aquatic habitat that supports the uses and values such as swimming, fishing, and boating. 


Basin 12 covers a large area of 18 towns including Brattleboro, Dover, Stratton, and Wilmington. It encompasses the Deerfield and Green Rivers and the East Branch of the North River which all flow into central Massachusetts to the Connecticut River. The tributary streams that flow directly into the Connecticut River include Whetstone, Broad and Newton Brooks.


Learn more about Basin 12 in the Deerfield River StoryMap.


The new Plan will lay out a framework to restore polluted waterways, identify needed improvements to infrastructure, such as bridge and culvert replacements, call out stormwater problems in need of mitigation, and address nitrogen pollution in the Connecticut River.


Public input is needed to inform the draft plan to ensure that local concerns and projects are included.



You can provide input by participating in the on-line SURVEY or the public meeting on January 24, 2024, at 6:00 pm.


Register in advance for this meeting:

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAlduCtrT0qHdcp2jWOnS1RM95RZIpic7um


After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Municipal Building Energy Audits Begin

The first towns in our region have begun to receive energy audits through the Municipal Energy Resilience Program (MERP). Ready with heat sensors, blower door apparatus, measurement lasers and knowledge about energy efficiency, contractors hired by Vermont Building and General Services (BGS) have visited a few towns to do deep dives into analyzing buildings for how to make upgrades to save energy. Town Fire Stations, Garages, Libraries, Town Halls, and Community Centers have been getting thorough looks in order for the contractors to give each town an energy audit report of the building with specific recommendations on projects to help enhance energy savings.


Energy Audits began in October 2023 and will be conducted through May of 2024. Once municipalities receive their energy audit reports, they will be eligible to apply for implementation funds for their municipal buildings through the MERP program when that phase of the program opens in late 2024. It is also anticipated that throughout the next year, several new energy improvement funds will become available to municipalities. Having the energy audit reports for municipal buildings will position these municipalities to apply and make improvements on their town buildings, lowering energy bills and reducing their carbon footprints.

A blower door test being conducted at the Putney Town Library to see how airtight the building is and where heat is escaping.

A building envelope specialist conducting the external evaluation of the Wilmington Memorial Hall.

All aspects of heating and cooling a building are examined during the energy audits. An energy inspector is looking at the heating system in a Readsboro Town Garage.

Updates on Local ARPA Funds

As towns work on their budget planning for next year, we wanted to remind communities that their State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund awards, also referred to as “ARPA” funds, need to be obligated by December 31, 2024, and fully spent by December 31, 2026. If funds are not obligated or spent by these deadlines, then they must be returned to the U.S. Department of Treasury.

 

The Vermont League of Cities and Towns recently issued new recommendations based on changes in the U.S. Department of Treasury’s rules and better understanding of the program. The VLCT article can be downloaded here, but the general recommendations are:  

 

  1. VLCT recommends that towns obligate all of their ARPA funds by March 31, 2024, if possible. This will allow you to report your ARPA funds have been fully obligated when you complete the required April 2024 reporting.
  2. If you cannot obligate all ARPA funds by March 31, 2024, VLCT recommends that towns spend the funds as quickly as possible. This could be accomplished by transferring ARPA revenue to your general fund (this fiscal year if possible) and spending it on payroll or other non-contractual expense. This will free up general fund revenue that would otherwise have been used to pay for these expenses and create a fund balance (surplus) for future use. If you are considering this approach, review any adopted financial policies or established practices the town has when it comes to fund balances.
  3. If you have an annual professional audit, review your plan with your auditor before putting it into action.

 

If you have any questions, please contact VLCT through the Municipal Access Portal. You can also contact Matt Bachler, Senior Planner at WRC, at 802-257-4547, ext. 112.

Preparing for Transportation Grant Applications

Grant applications are an important source of funding for towns to complete projects that are beyond the scope of funds available in the annual town highway budget. There are many different state and federal programs that can fund a variety of transportation improvements, from infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians and streetscape improvements to funding for culvert replacement projects and ditching.

 

Grant programs are competitive, and towns compete against others across the state for a limited amount of funding each year. There are steps that towns should take to give their application the best chance possible of being funded in any given grant cycle.

 

An important first step is identifying the scope of what you are trying to achieve. Clearly defining what the grant will address, where specifically the project is located, and how your proposed solution will solve the identified issue will go a long way in making your application more competitive. The WRC can provide data collection and other work to demonstrate need and improve the town’s application. This includes but isn’t limited to collecting data for number of vehicles per day, average speeds, vehicle class, daily bicycle or pedestrian traffic, completing assessments of the condition of existing infrastructure, including sidewalks, crosswalks and culverts, as well as if a road segment meets the criteria of the Municipal Roads General Permit.

 

Estimating costs for your project is another way to strengthen an application. This might include calling a contractor, working with your town highway department, the VTrans District or contacting a nearby town that has recently completed similar work. Having concrete, realistic numbers will help determine the best funding option and strengthen your application.

 

Once the scope of work and a rough cost estimate have been identified, the town will be able to determine what grant funding source is the best option for the project. There are a variety of State and Federal programs that can fund transportation work, each with different eligible projects and maximum available funding. The WRC can work with towns to determine what program is the best fit for your project.

 

Another step towards a successful construction project is to complete a scoping study. A scoping study is a document created by an engineering firm that outlines in detail possible alternatives for a given project. This process includes working with the town to gather public input and direction from the governing body to ensure the final product fits the needs of the community.

 

A scoping study better positions the town to receive construction funding for your project, providing a detailed outline of the project, a site plan and a realistic cost estimate that can then be provided to the state during the application process.

 

Bringing in other partners on grant applications including the Agency of Natural Resources, the VTrans Maintenance Districts, and in some cases the U.S. Forest Service will strengthen your application. One example is completing hydraulic studies and/or securing stream alteration permits in advance of an application for a culvert replacement project. When the town requests a hydraulic study, VTrans and ANR staff will work jointly to assess the existing conditions at a particular culvert, including whether that culvert currently meets state standards, how likely it is to fail under different storm conditions and what the best options are for a new structure. This is a particularly strong piece of supporting evidence when applying for stormwater mitigation funding and requesting these studies far enough in advance so they can be included in an application will greatly improve your chances of being funded.

 

The WRC is able to help towns develop grant applications for transportation related projects. There are a variety of grant programs with relatively consistent annual deadlines. If you have a project in mind, or would like assistance in identifying needs and potential funding sources, please reach out to WRC Transportation Planner, Colin Bratton, at (802) 257-4547 ext. 109. 

Bellows Falls Holiday Lights

Picture: Jeff Nugent

Four Towns Awarded Municipal Planning Grants from ACCD

The state's Municipal Planning Grant program from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) award list for the next fiscal year has gone out and the Windham Region was awarded 4 grants. The funded projects are plan updates for Winhall and Jamaica, a consortium application among Brattleboro, Rockingham and Wilmington to complete a cultural plan providing a vision and action plan to grow and strengthen arts and cultural assets in the Windham Region, and a housing needs assessment and action plan in Putney. The Municipal Planning Grant program is widely recognized in Vermont as being among the best source of funds for planning purposes that towns can easily access.


While these projects received funding this year, a number of applications from the region were not approved. This is due to a variety of factors, including limited funding as there is just under $675,000 for the entire state. Given the limited funding and high demand for these grants, it behooves towns to be as prepared - and competitive - as they can be when applying. There are some simple steps that towns can take to position themselves for a successful application.


Be familiar with your town's zoning bylaw and town plan document.

  • These are generally the documents that will be updated when utilizing ACCD funding. Familiarity with what goals and policies are in the town plan, and the town's progress towards meeting those goals or enacting policies, is essential to preparing a competitive application.
  • It is helpful to meet with the selectboard/planning commission to regularly review goal progress and schedule upcoming goal work sessions..
  • Having a firm understanding of your town's goals and policies across the town's planning documents allow for a streamlined application process.



Contact your RPC as early as you can.

  • Contact WRC as early for application assistance. The application and materials generally come out in the September, so contacting WRC months ahead can ensure a productive and comprehensive dialogue. This is especially true if your town wants WRC involved in the application process either as the one preparing the application or providing editorial comments.


Understand and Identify stakeholders.

  • Part of the application is to identify and demonstrate community support for the project. Plans are intended to be implemented, and engagement with the public should be ongoing - not just a part of the occasional plan update process. This also creates the opportunity to maintain an up to date list of stakeholders active and interested in town planning efforts. The town can them contact those stakeholders to obtain letters of support for an MPG application.


Become more familiar with the MPG program and its potential uses. State MPG priorities vary to year but compact settlement infrastructure and climate resilience are regular themes. Below are examples of uses other than town plan and zoning updates for an MPG. The program itself goes far beyond town plan updates and bylaw modernization grants.

  • Feasibility study for developing town-owned land for housing.
  • Study to assess existing town facilities and make recommendations for office and public meeting space improvements.
  • Creating a new capital improvement plan .
  • Flood resiliency study including hydrologic modeling, land use policy recommendations, and infrastructure improvements.
  • Housing Needs Assessment and Action Plan
  • Village Master Planning
  • Recreation Master Planning


Let us know how we can help. Contact Senior Planners Matt Bachler (mbacher@windhamregional.org) or Mike McConnell (mgm@windhamregional.org) or call (802) 257-4547.

SeVEDS Field Trip to Ball Mountain Dam in Townshend.

Picture: Sue Westa

From The Director

Understanding the Story of Town Government & Its Limitations

In October the WRC co-hosted with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns a convening in Townshend of selectboard members from throughout the region for them to have a conversation with one another, and for us to hear what they have to say about the things they’re dealing with. Many of these volunteer elected municipal leaders give dozens of hours of their time each week to the needs of their respective towns, and it’s still not enough. Their work has become more complex. They’re navigating damage done by storm after storm, navigating state and federal requirements across multiple programs, trying to hire and retain personnel hiring, coping with a diminishing town service volunteer pool, managing major infrastructure planning and investment, and, in cases, dealing with personal attacks and intentional obstruction of public proceedings. Everyone who attended wanted to keep the conversation going, so we’ll make sure that happens.


Every day I see our towns holding on by a thread or breaking, and I fear those doing the work of towns are on the verge of breaking as well. This system that was designed more than 230 years ago when snow and mud probably made it difficult to travel beyond town boundaries for 5 months out of the year couldn’t have anticipated the decision-making and administrative complexities of the 2020s, or the structural challenges that make achieving efficiencies of scale damned near impossible. I suggest we, as a state, need to have an honest conversation about what’s working and what’s not and what alternative models might make sense for Vermont.


As I see it we’ve got challenges at two different levels. The first I’ve laid out above – demands on towns are increasing with no end in sight with no correlating increase in capacity to meet those demands. Then there’s the state level. Critical state policy depends upon the assumption that towns have the ability and capacity to act. These policy areas are broad and increasing, and include public safety, housing, transportation, climate adaptation and resilience, immediate and long-term disaster recovery, energy and greenhouse gas reduction, flood protection, economic and community development, land use and conservation, and a host of other issues. From where I sit I see towns struggling to keep up with basic town planning needs. Taking on other tasks, including statewide policy goals that towns, operating independently from one another, have little ability to affect, is beyond their political or operational capacity. We need an honest conversation about what statewide policies are within a town's ability to act upon and affect, and which are necessarily the responsibility of the state if policy goals and outcomes are to be realized.


I know this isn't easy. Our towns are, to a great extent, at the heart of community identity. These tiny geographies define the character and personalities of the places we call home. Seldom do I hear community identity related to counties and certainly not regions. Identity is tied to town, and in some cases specific geographies within towns. But if as a society we don’t figure out the government capacity and action issue, we stand to lose the things we value most about where we live – including people. If we don’t figure out how to best develop the infrastructure necessary for the quantity of housing we must have for current and future Vermonters, we will lose our family, friends, and neighbors who have to leave because they can find no suitable housing. If we don’t do the planning and put the infrastructure in place to grow our villages and downtowns away from floodwaters, these places that are central to our identity, culture, and economy will be damaged or lost to flood after flood after flood. If we fail to act to protect headwaters forests and downstream floodplains, and better accommodate the flow of floodwaters across the landscape in places and ways that don’t carry away homes and livelihoods, then our lives here will be diminished in nearly every regard. Some of this can be done at the hyper-local level that is our towns. Much of it requires action among towns and by the state.


I don’t pretend to have solutions to the challenges, but I’m convinced we need to get a conversation underway. This would be an ideal conversation to be taken up by the state’s universities. I come out of the tradition of institutions of higher learning assisting with the assessment of statewide challenges and putting forth ideas about what might work. Wendell Berry wrote, “The significance – and ultimately the quality – of the work we do is determined by our understanding of the story in which we are taking part.” Doing this work can tell us the story of ourselves, so we can more fully understand how we might conceive of governance structures that will better steward and sustain our communities. 

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