Tuesday February 12, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Brattleboro is one of only five communities in New England, and 43 selected nationwide, to receive a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Sustainable Communities grant.

The Brattleboro Planning Department applied for the grant to get assistance in rewriting the zoning and subdivision regulations, a project the department expects to take on this year.

"The core of our zoning regulations were written a long time ago, before the advent of the smart growth approach to zoning, and before concepts like preserving the rural landscape and supporting vibrant downtowns were a part of state policy," said Rod Francis, Brattleboro's planning director. "We want to include more of those ideas into the new zoning and subdivision regulations."

In winning the grant, Brattleboro will have an EPA official visit the town to take a tour and then meet with planning officials to look over the existing zoning regulations.

"We are looking at various tools to include more smart growth goals in the new regs," he said.

The EPA planning expert will then work with town staff to see how more smart growth and environmentally sustainable planning methods can be incorporated into the new zoning rules.

Francis said he expects to get a report of recommendations following the visits.

It is hard to put a financial estimate on what the consultation might cost, he said, though he said the town budgeted $30,000 to rewrite the regulations, and the EPA-funded consultation will definitely save the town some money.


Advertisement

"The town put this money aside but we were looking for ways to leverage that commitment. This grant does not require a financial contribution and it was specifically designed to help rural communities."

The Sustainable Communities grant program was developed in 2009 and brought together EPA along with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help municipalities tackle housing and transportation issues in a cohesive and sustainable way.

The grant program was set up to ensure that housing and transportation planning is done in a way that protects the environment and provides for long-range smart growth.

The Partnership for Sustainable Communities helps communities develop more transportation choices, promote affordable housing, strengthen communities so they can promote appropriate development and coordinate long-range planning around environmentally-sound practices.

Brattleboro's application was chosen from among 121 applicants this year.

The other New England communities to win an award include Bridgeport and Stamford, Conn., and Brunswick and Portland, Maine.

In announcing Brattleboro's grant award, EPA New England Regional Administrator Curt Spalding said the federal money will help communities in both short-term development as well as in long-range planning.

"Communities that pursue sustainable practices know that good management and planning go arm-in-arm with a strong economy and a healthy environment," Spalding said in a press release. "EPA's Building Blocks program helps communities invest in sustainable growth techniques, helping them to plan for a better future. The short term, targeted assistance we are providing will help stimulate local economies, while protecting people's health and safeguarding the environment."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.