Editor’s Note: Nick, as a member of the Selectboard, was directly involved in the application process.
East Thetford, North Thetford, Post Mills, Thetford Center, and Thetford Hill have all been added to the state’s Village Center Designation Program, having met the statutory requirements of 24 V.S.A. Chapter 76A and following a quick and unanimous vote by the state's Downtown Board. According to the program’s website, "the designation brings financial incentives, training, and technical assistance needed to attract new business and vitality to Vermont’s small communities.”
Financial incentives include tax credits for residents and businesses within the designated areas:
10% Historic Tax Credit
This tax credit is approved as an add-on to approved Federal Historic Tax Credit Projects, and eligible costs include interior and exterior improvements, code compliance, and plumbing and electrical upgrades.
25% Historic Tax Credit
Façade work is eligible for this tax credit up to $25,000.
50% Code Improvement Tax Credit
Eligible projects include ADA modifications, electrical, fire safety, or plumbing up to $50,000. It also includes up to $50,000 each for sprinkler systems; up to $75,000 for elevators; and $12,000 for lifts.
The program also provides "technical assistance provided by the state to support local village revitalization and planning efforts."
There's more: "Priority consideration for various ACCD, VTrans and ANR grants and incentives including, ACCD’s Municipal Planning Grants, State Historic Preservation grants, Vermont Community Development Program (VCDP) grants, VTrans Bike/Ped and Transportation Alternatives grants, Northern Border Regional Commission Grants, ANR Water and Wastewater subsidies and loans, and various other state grants and resources." (Thetford was just awarded a VTrans Bike/Ped grant). Here's a comprehensive list of funding resources.
The state also gives priority consideration to village centers when looking to lease or construct state facilities.
Only those properties within the designated areas are eligible for benefits. Below are the boundary maps of the five Village Centers, which were developed with assistance from Two Rivers-Ottauquchee Regional Planning Commission (TRORC) and following strict program guidelines.
The designations will remain in place for eight years (until April, 2029), at which point they will need to be renewed. The renewal process is usually simpler than the initial application process however, which requires, in part, that the Town's intention to apply for Village Center Designation be included in a regionally-approved Town Plan.
For Thetford, these designations have been years in the making. Richard Amore, Planning and Outreach Manager for the program, toured Thetford with members of the Planning Commission in 2015. At the time, the Commission was working on an updated draft of Thetford's Town Plan. That draft, or a version of it, was not adopted until 5 years later in 2020 after extensive review and revision by TRORC. To achieve regional approval, the Town Plan had to meet a litany of statutory requirements, with emphasis on land use planning, forest blocks, and energy.
The designations open the door to Neighborhood Development Areas, which can be within 1/4 mile of a Village Center. The program provides "special permit and tax incentives for communities and developers that commit to building mixed-income housing within and adjacent ... Village Centers." Qualified projects are exempt from Act 250 regulations for priority housing projects, exempt from land gains tax, and eligible for reduced permit fees. The municipality could also receive additional priority consideration for state grants.
The Neighborhood Development Area designation encourages municipalities and/or developers to plan for new and infill housing in the area within walking distance of its designated downtown, village center, new town center, or within its designated growth center and incentivizes needed housing, further supporting the commercial establishments in the designated centers.
The municipality or a landowner or developer can submit an application to designate a Neighborhood Development Area. The Planning Commission has already talked about it, specifically for Post Mills, where a new zoning district – Neighborhood Residential – has been included in the recently adopted Town Plan. While the Town's Zoning Bylaws do not reflect this new zone yet, it is fair to say that it is... well, the Town's plan to update its zoning bylaws to do so. While a zoning district is different than a state-designated Neighborhood Development Area, the overlap could have a symbiotic impact on housing and community development.