The Hinesburg Planning Commission appears to be in the homestretch for developing a point-based system for awarding connections to its water and wastewater systems.
The system is intended to reward buildings that are built in accord with values that the town has decided it wants to encourage. The six criteria are public infrastructure, job creation, housing needs, stormwater treatment, village proximity and redevelopment, and energy attributes.
After a series of meetings at which the Hinesburg Planning Commission reviewed the first five criteria for awarding connections to the town systems, they discussed the sixth and final criteria – energy attributes – on Wednesday, Oct. 30.
“The idea is to incentivize and award points to projects that are building to a higher energy standard than what the state requires,” said Alex Weinhagen, director of planning and zoning.
Hinesburg is looking at prioritizing the awarding of water and wastewater connections to reward construction that goes above the state minimums for energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Pushing solar systems
Planning commission member Barbara Forauer said she would like for the commission to consider requiring new homes to be solar-ready. In her research she’s found it only adds $200 to construction cost to build with conduit that makes solar easier to add to a building.
She also advocated for encouraging development with smaller roofs oriented to maximize solar-energy efficiency.
Commissioner Joe Iadanza said he thought that insulation in particular should be encouraged by the point system because buildings can be retrofitted for many energy efficiencies but adding insulation is more difficult.
“You can add solar. You can change lightbulbs. You can do things like that,” But insulation – it’s big.”
Committee hair Maggie Gordon said that she thought that there should be more points awarded for including vehicle charging stations in new construction than the two points that are in the draft version. There was a consensus that this was an adjustment that commissioners would like in the final draft.
The planning commission ran some already constructed projects through the scoring system to see how they would have scored.
Green Street, an affordable-housing apartment development on the south side of Charlotte Road just west of town would have gotten no points for infrastructure because the only infrastructure it added to the town was a sidewalk to Highway 116, which was required to build. It would have gotten no points for job creation. However Green Street would have gotten 15 points for housing needs because more than 75% of the units were for “perpetually affordable housing.” It would get no points for stormwater treatment because the development didn’t do anything more than what was required. It would have gotten eight points for village proximity and redevelopment and five points for energy efficiency. This development would have gotten 28 points.
Continuing with the process, the commission found that Thistle Hill would have scored 16 points; Meadow Mist – nine points; and Hinesburg Center – 24.
Setting the bar, but not too high
The commissioners discussed the advantages of home ownership versus rentals and which was the best for the town to encourage.
He said one of planning commissioner Dan Myhre’s concerns was making sure the point’s required to get town water and wastewater aren’t so high “that we’re going to be exclusionary and we might get taken to court.”
Myhre said there’s an advantage to having more homes connected to help spread the costs of the system over more homes. With the town facing the prospect of a very expensive wastewater system upgrade, this is even more important.
The commissioners talked about encouraging more density of housing and smaller homes by adding more points for that kind of development to increase the numbers of people paying for the systems.
Some of the developments they tested with the proposed point system wouldn’t have been approved for water and wastewater connections. However, the planning commissioners talked about things these developments could have done to get more points, such as increasing energy efficiency.
“The energy efficiency is a no-brainer,” said chair Maggie Gordon. “Any developer, to be honest, who doesn’t go the high road on that is just handicapping homeowners down the road.”
The meeting concluded with Gordon saying that they will look at the overall point spread at their next meeting. In the meantime, Weinhagen said that he would rework the draft of the point awards system to make it work in accord with the concerns expressed at this meeting.
The next meeting of the Hinesburg Planning Commission is Thursday, Nov. 21, and Weinhagen expressed hope that they would have a final draft, except for a few minor tweaks, of the Growth Management Scoring System for Water and Wastewater Allocation then.