Bi-town study sought

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DEERFIELD VALLEY — Two towns are looking to get a better handle on housing.

"Housing is a challenge," said Steve Neratko, economic development director for the town of Dover.

He said air bed and breakfasts and rentals are taking away a lot of options. Also needed is housing for seniors, workers and individuals with special needs.

The Bi-Town Housing Committee of Dover and Wilmington is seeking proposals from consulting firms to develop a housing analysis and master plan for the next 20 years. Submissions are due May 1. A contract is expected to be awarded by June.

"The plan will incorporate the perspective of local stakeholders' input, will document local and regional housing-related initiatives underway, and will outline a strategy that will provide direction to the committee, the towns of Dover and Wilmington, housing developers and other partners to take actions that will build an economically sustainable, thriving community," according to a request for proposals.

Within about a week of issuing the RFP, Neratko already heard from five groups who were asking questions about the project.

"It's very exciting," he said. "I think it's something people have been thinking about for a long time."

Altogether, $20,000 has been budgeted for the project with each town setting aside $10,000 from their 1 percent local option tax revenue. Neratko said that figure seemed reasonable after talking with other municipalities that have gone through a similar process.

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Part of the plan is to look at offering incentives to developers. The committee also is exploring shared housing options and the potential for a hostel so visitors or workers can have a cheaper lodging option.

The study "will give us a really good roadmap to move forward," said Gretchen Havreluk, economic development specialist for the town of Wilmington. "Because it does include current inventory of both towns, what our need is then from there, they will create an implementation plan."

The Windham & Windsor Housing Trust's annual report on housing is helpful, she said, but it looks at the entire region.

"This is good because it's so specific to our area and we are so unique to other places in Windham County because we are so resort-centric," she said.

The two towns "are home to two recreational ski areas, the Green Mountain National Forest, as well as the many amenities needed to support those facilities," the RFP says. "This reliance on the tourism, retail and service sector creates several unique housing challenges. Much of the tourism employment is seasonally dependent, and many workers struggle [to get] the steady income stream needed for home ownership. In addition, the second home market, as well as visitor rentals, increases the pressure on home prices for both renters and homeowners. As a result, many employees commute long distances to work, either from ... Dover and Wilmington to larger centers of employment such as Brattleboro and Bennington, or the other way around."

Havreluk said an application for a municipal planning grant to help fund the study had been rejected.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at

@CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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