Selectboard Meeting Notes – Vacant Building Permits and Municipal Housing

The Brattleboro Selectboard had a first reading of a new ordinance regarding vacant buildings around town. If a building is vacant for 180 days, it must get a permit, and the cost of the permit doubles each year. Will it finally put some pressure on the empty Home Depot building? Not as written. It will be exempt.

In a discussion about possible municipally-owned properties that could be candidates for new housing developments, Liz McLoughlin mentioned a confidential plan that might include both the Municipal Center and the High Grove parking lot. She didn’t explain further.

And, your water rates will go up 5% rather than 1% this October.

Comments | 10

  • Preliminaries

    They are ready to go 5 minutes EARLY, but are waiting for the proper start time.

    Chair Daniel Quipp – One day I will be ready. Three things. A reminder that Town Departments put together a monthly report in our back up material. In those reports you can learn what they have been up to. The Brattleboro Police responded to 952 calls in April. Thanks to those who answer and respond to calls. Second, the Charter Review Commission is doing important work and they discussed RTM last week and had a large number of people participate. No decisions, but the process is ongoing. People who have opinions on the Charter, get involved. Finally, a shut out to the Library has a great series of events in the coming weeks – Harm Reduction and Overdose Prevention, Narcan training, the Big Red Shed is open and tools and implements and appliances are available, and there will be a community discussion about homelessness.

    Town Manager John Potter – I’m glad DPW are in the room because I want to let you know this is national public works appreciation week, so I want to thank them for all the work in town they do – if you see them this week, share your appreciation with them. It’s also the 50th anniversary of EMS Week – so thanks to them for the service they provide. Living memorial park pool opens June 15th, lessons are available. Rec & Parks has summer camps and programs, too. There will be a public forum on the future of Esteyville Common at the park – bring a lawn chair. Town Committee fair on the 29th – great way to learn more about giving back to the town. 6-7 pm at the Library.

    Liz McLoughlin- Peter and John and I and other town staff went to the SEVEDS summit today. A lot of interesting networking and ideas, and we made good connections and collaborations.

    Peter Case – I’ve gotten messages from citizens about issues in town, and they are issues we are addressing. Be a little patient. I promise something will begin to happen shortly.


    Jane W – I’m Jane Wheeler – I went to the Senior Solutions Advisory Board – we mostly had a presentation and reviewed info about the state insurance programs – Medicare boot camps – and now there is powerpoint presentation about signing up on the website and keep them in mind if they have problems wading through Medicare. Case management on Choice for Care Medicaid will be case managed through Senior Solutions. They are hiring more people. They have their helpline and they contracted with TruAlta – a free online caregiving resource – I went on it and have to say it is kind of good to have information before a crisis. May was older Americans month – keep in mind the contributions older Americans make – we have a lot of talent! Thanks!.

    Daniel – thanks for the report.

    Bob Oeser – a brief statement – we are trying to decide what to do with solid waste, but a lot of surrounding communities are going through the same thing. There is a meeting on May 29th in Vernon – an informational meeting, so there might be some tidbits to pick up. At Vernon Elementary school.

  • Ordinance Change – Chapter 1.5, Sections 2 & 17, Second Reading

    Daniel – No consent agenda tonight.

    Patrick Moreland – tonight is a second reading about the consumption of alcoholic beverages in public – restaurants can be permitted to serve outdoors on the sidewalk. They would need to be licensed, and Town manager’s permission. Then they could serve beer or wine on sidewalks in front of the restaurant.

    Daniel – this is the second reading of something we heard about a couple week back.

    Liz makes motion.

    Liz – I made comments at the prior meeting. I didn’t want to allow general open carry, and this doesn’t , so I’m happy.

    Daniel – board, public? None.

    Approved. 5-0

  • FY25 Utility Fund Budget

    Daniel – we are getting a second loo at this.

    patrick – the board will recall we looked at the budgets two weeks ago and we presented a budget with the previously approved 1% rate increases and that showed a deficit. Staff showed costs had grown and many capital projects that are coming. As a consequence, the board would reconsider the budget and have a 5% rate increase. So the budget tonight is the same as before, but rates are increased to 5%.

    Daniel – thanks, Patrick. The rate change is later agenda item, so this is about the budget itself.

    Liz makes motion.

    Richard Davis – I’m wondering – even with 5% level of … we’ll still have a deficit of $241k.

    Patrick – yes, in this particular year. It’s okay, not the best outcome, but okay. We don’t want to overcharge the public. We can spend down some accumulated reserve. But 5% positions us better 5years out. If we sustain this we’ll prepare now to manage future projects.

    Richard – the deficit won’t exist after 5 years?

    Patrick – yes, – trend to increasing our cash reserves.

    Daniel – there was a $250k grant that landed on our balance sheet in a different time then we thought… walk us through that.

    Patrick – it was $440k grant – it took longer than anticipated to get, so the grant has been received in FY24, so there is embedded … the balance will be $441k better than what is will show in cash reconciliation. It would show up if we had a year to date actual, rather than budget to budget.

    Patrick – I have a request – in the memo, there is a specific motion that includes the revenues, and the amount of expenditures approved through the capital program. Those details… I can hear Bob saying to include ht revenue and expense numbers…

    Daniel -a friendly amendment to be more specific about the numbers?

    Liz – Patrick can improve it… I have the info (gives budget numbers – roughly $6.9 million + 1.3 m in capital expenses).

    Franz – does anyone object?


    Daniel – further discussion on the budget? (no) Public? (no)


  • Announce Committee Vacancies

    Daniel – Peter Case will read these.

    Peter – he reads them all – (cg: his radio skills come in handy here…) ( the list is in a different story here from a few days ago) There are currently no Fence Viewers – this is dire.

    Daniel – Inspector of Lumber Shingles and Wood sounds like a good detective show.

    John Potter – come to the Town Committee Fair next Wed at the Library from 6-7 pm. Talk to current committee members and learn more.

    Franz – I want to chime in and say, until you actually get involved in Town affairs and committees, it can be difficult to know if you want to do it or not. This committee fair is such a good thing. Learn more and see what it feels like to be with people doing those things. I hope there will be a really good turnout.

    Daniel – how to apply?

    Potter – come to the Committee Fair, or contact our office.

  • Ordinance Change – Chapter 18, Water & Sewer, First Reading

    Daniel – this is a first reading.

    Patrick – of changes to water and sewer ordinance – water and sewer rates. To put it simply, this is to codify in the ordinance what you just voted for – a 5% increase rather than a 1 % increase in each article.

    Daniel -a quarterly bill will go up how many dollars.

    John Potter – about $10 a quarter.

    Richard -if we approve this at our next meeting, when is it effective?

    Potter – after July 1.

    Kim Frost – the October billing. Starts in August.

    Franz – an observation – when we did this in other years, we set the rates for a number of years in advance – we’re just doing it for the coming year, some may be confused about that?

    Potter – the sinking was we did it for 5 year periods. last year we ran really well and reduced the rate. Now this is the 5th year of the 5 year period, and this year we will do a rate study, so when we look at it next year we will set 5 year rates. We will try to come up with best recommendations for rates.

    Franz – as an enterprise fund – we sell something and people are buying – a business would do a study like this to get expertise about trends and how to anticipate future increases or spending.

    Daniel – public? (no)

  • Ordinance Change – Chapter 8, Article 6, Vacant Buildings, First Reading

    Sue Fillion and Steve Hayes

    Sue – this was first before you in February and we presented an overview of practices around the state.

    Steve – the ordinance change proposal before you is adapted out of the VLCT boilerplate recommended ordinance. In the template you the municipality makes decisions, so we’ve made recommendations but have brought in different language from other ordinances around the state, such as innovations in Rutland, and we’ve run it all by the Town Attorney. How about I take questions?

    Daniel – summarize for the public?

    Steve – it addresses problems around vacant and abandoned properties in town. We heard that a maximalist approach would be of interest to you, so there is a list of negative impacts, we define our terms, we list the obligations of a vacant property owner, then a permit with a fee that doubles each year plus a liability insurance requirement, plus an enforcement process.

    Sue – you register if you have an unoccupied property for more that 180 days (with some exceptions). If it is commercial – vacancy is more than 75% empty. So you’d need to file a registration permit, so you then keep it in good repair. If not, a building safety officer (the fire department or health officer) can enforce it. The Town

    Steve – the Town Atty wanted us to be able to request from a state court, to be able to enter or demolish the property if immediately necessary. And put liens.

    Sue – Fire Dept – if vacant, they want to put a sign on it saying so.

    Steve – penalties are boilerplate to VLCT – allows for: after 30 day warning, town could do municipal ticketing, and so we can charge up to $800 per violation, per day. Often not allowed to go that high by courts, though.

    Liz – thanks for this. It is something that I want to be enacted. Members of the public have spoken to me that it is an affront that people leave buildings vacant. Happy to see this. Also, we need the right regulations in place. When we have an enforcement issue, it takes a long time to get resolved. Better to have th proper base in the ordinance for what we want.

    Peter – some clarifications – the permits – that permit is &800?

    Sue – not set yet. The board could set it.

    Peter – have a recommendation?

    Steve – it varied a lot – not exceeding $1000. It would need a rational nexus for what we are trying to prevent.

    Peter – but people out there say it will be $1000 in another community?

    Steve – it has ranged a bit – Rockingham had several step fee schedule depending on what conditions were present. And ways to wave fees if you come into compliance. $150-250, but sometimes more and sometimes less.

    Richard – how will the town determine where they are?

    Sue – we get complaints – we can look at water and sewer shut offs. We hear from abutters. There aren’t a lot of buildings…. maybe 12 at the moment.

    Richard – so up to you to determine where they are? (yea) If they follow these rules, can they keep a vacant building forever?

    Steve – yes, but fee doubles each year.

    Liz – but if this vacant building should become dilapidated, the Town can demolish it in whole or part and place a lien.

    Steve – with court approval.

    Franz – I don’t have questions. I was confused. I didn’t see the permit doubling. I thought the penalties double.

    Steve – yes – there are a few ways to get off the register – fill the vacancy, or if you are able to show you are renovating substantially because it couldn’t otherwise be rented, you could come of the registry for a year.

    Franz – how do I phrase this – not clear to me… I’ll come back to it.

    Daniel – thanks – my assumption is that if we adopt this, we’d then have an item about registration permit fee options.

    Franz – I was just thinking there may be a property that someone else rents for a long period of time and the person renting moves out so the property is vacant, but the owner is still renting it – who is on the hook?

    Sue – it will always be the property owner.

    Franz – it could be empty but rented and not be vacant? Say they built a big home improvement store on Putney Rd that wouldn’t fall under this?

    Sue – it is in a shopping plaza and the rest of the plaza is occupied.

    Steve – we say 3/4 vacancy is the problem…

    Franz – of units, not square footage?

    Richard – is the definition of vacant adequate. Say somehow has something empty for a long time but someone sleeps there one night, is that vacant?

    Daniel – good opportunity to flag those things. I think we’d need to see it empty for 180 days.

    Peter – a lease – we could set it month to month.

    Daniel- other questions from board? Public?

    Oscar Heller – I think the idea of expanding this a bit more in the direction of the questions – big empty storefronts on Putney Rd or on Main Street are part of a bigger building that is rented – there is nothing wrong with these buildings but there is no pressure on them to rent them. Shaping it that way would be good. Empty storefronts have an impact in the whole community. An interesting opportunity to go a little further.

    Daniel – something vacant will require a permit, and the cost will double, and there are penalties for not keeping the empty building up. Carrot and stick…

    Sue – the carrot is to get off the list.

    Daniel – public? board? This is really helpful.

    Bob Oeser – I don’t know if I have a question – Daniel mentioned carrot and stick. Should there be a carrot in the ordinance. Is there a point where you have an interaction with the owner to see what is going on. I have a flashback to tax sales – there may be some simple things to be done to resolve issues. Some sort of mediation point?

    Sue – we are constantly doing that – talking to owners – it always starts as conversations and asking of we can help. Violation letters or tickets are last steps.

    Daniel – are there any places that incentivize getting from vacant to built. We’d like the vacant properties to join the housing or commercial buildings.

    Sue – there are ways to incentivize – in Brattleboro it cantata a while to get a development off the ground. Sometimes it is a business decision – they own multiple properties. Or they are waiting for a new tenant to demolish the building. Where do you want to put the incentive.

    Liz – you office is always open to people with those properties. (yes)

    Richard – do vacant properties have any tax liability

    Sue – the ones I know about do not at this point. We can check.

    Daniel – this will come back to us.

  • Suitablity of Town Properties for Housing Development

    Daniel -this is helpful to us in thinking about housing.

    Sue Fillion – so, the goal of this project was to look at town owned lands to see if there could be potential housing development. We did this. Steve did GIS work. We looked at a desktop survey of GIS data and zoning regulations and property records, and brought in some subjectivity by making some assumptions. We assumed to be viable it had to be at least 4 units and 3k square feet. We ranked sites by how suitable we found them and made some judgement there. We rated greenfield sites as easiest to develop. Parking lots would be moderate. We also looked at public parks. came up with a list of 23 sites ranked, and there are potentially more. Developers might disagree with our initial pass. We saw high visibility here at the Municipal Center and in the parking lot here, the police station on Black Mountain Road has a green space. The Harris Lot and Gibson Aiken lots, High Groove lot and Harmony lot. Those are high suitability. Moderate suitability sites include 9 parcels – the kettle pond, near Wilson’s woods and DPW salt and sand pit. We own several lots down there. Both Commons could have some housing – West B and downtown. Cotton Mill Hill areas has a lot near it but is industrial. Morningside… and we have low suitability. Library can have another story put on it. DPW as it exists would be challenging but a new one could accommodate some housing.

    Daniel – board?

    Liz – thanks for this. I wonder. Other states have penalties if municipalites develop a park site.. does Vermont have a program.

    Sue and tea – we’re not aware of that, we’ll ask Town Attorney.

    Liz – I would not be disposed to using a park, but the high suitability sites all seem like good ideas to pursue. Let’s explore the high suitability sites…

    Sue – we are looking for your input. We could do a deeper dive, and there is funding set aside to do some predevelopment feasibility.

    Liz – the Harris lot gets my thumbs up. An easy lift.

    Daniel – so next steps – we have 23 sites, but the low ones we can ignore. What would be helpful next?

    Sue – knowing if public parks are off the list, how do you feel about parking lots, and what does that mean for parking if you want to develop them all. I’d draw your attention to the low suitability – properties on Elliot Street 0- McNeill’s could be a challenge on thiol, but…

    Daniel – parking lots?

    Franz – build above parking lots, but I come back to the points: why is it so expensive to building housing and where do we get the money. We hear there is statue money. if we want to build on the lot and preserved parking, is it really feasible for us and what would be the Town’s role vs a private developer. How would our decisions help you do something real.

    Sue – town doesn’t need to be the developer. There are public-private partnerships. St Albans built parking and then developers do the rest. Town did infrastructure costs, but developers owns – Or we work with a developer consultant. Could be that the town applies for grants, or we sell the property for a dollar because we’ll get taxes back long term.

    Richard – as far as the garage and parking – Doesn’t see reasonable to give up parking spaces in town – build over them. Public private partnerships – there is a good untapped potential there. I’d like to see, to compliment this list, is to look at some parcels of land that have good potential for housing and then have a meeting with landowners to see if they’ll put housing there.

    Sue – we’ve done some of that. There is more we can do.

    Daniel – the municipal center we had a feasibility study about turning this into housing. Not hearing any opposition to that at this time. The other lots other than Harris?

    Franz – not crazy about using Harmon y Lot.

    Peter – that would remove some of our downtown center – same with High Grove. But Harris would be great.

    Liz – several pieces of the puzzle need to fit together. I’d keep High Grove out of contention. There are plans, confidential, for reuse of this building and they may or may not use the High Grove lot… it may be part of another project and shouldn’t be on the list.

    Daniel – are you getting helpful information?

    Liz – some DPW lots are available to develop at anytime?

    Sue – one parcel has a lot of slopes, and there are two that we haven’t looked at the deeds..

    Steve – the zoning would limit the density but they could be rezoned. The one with the slope is in a developed zoning district and could have greater density.

    Daniel – public?

    Frick – the lots by the high school make sense. Curious why they are secondary to parking lots?

    Sue – part of it is because your’d need to contract a road to the lots, plus extension of water and sewer. Mostly dealing with he kettle pond and it is subject to act 250. Some permitting hurdles, but not project killers.

    Frick – Harmony lot would be unfortunate to change. Any structures over a parking lot would be like a parking garage and would have problematic thermal performance. We are having a hard time maintaining the current parking garage. Pay some attention to maintaining what we already have. Steep lots as difficult to build? I’d be more creative, especially if they are south facing lots. Not expensive to build that way. The other things is there are impediments to full use of already existing housing that are largely not in the town’s control, except for the police dealing with rentals like they deal with houses. The selectboard could influence those things if you want to. I’d like to discuss it further.

    Heller – I would say for myself I would not be heartbroken to see something in Harmony – it serves as a center, but it a big square parking lot. It’s not especially inviting or welcoming. Might not be the worst idea ever. I’m also unclear one the next steps are – a road map? What can we expect?

    Daniel – still my question…how will it come back to us.

    Sue – we’ll recommend 2-3 sites to do predevelopment work on – find out financing, gaps, etc. We might vet this with some developers. That might be a next phase. WE can look into the act 250 permit at Kettle Pond. We could subdivide Black Mountain Rd if you want. Town could do employee housing. We’ll try to narrow it down.

    (fine plan, they agree)

    Daniel – if you have clear direction, great, and if not let us know and we’ll provide it.

    Franz – I wonder about what Ricard said about private land owners – and look at private parcels – that opens up some attractive possibilities – what do we want in specific locations. There are certain areas I think we should invest time and energy for housing in those areas, but we don’t own the land. I’d like to see a similar set of criteria applied to privately owned properties.

    Daniel – not sure it is relevant to this agenda item. maybe we can put it on a future agenda, would that be ok?

    Liz – I wanted to reiterate they key sites – Municipal Center , Harris Lot, Kettle Ponds.

    Danile – and the police station property.

    Franz – I drove by King Avenue – I didn’t see anything that looked like it was owned by the town.

    Steve – it is an odd parcel – it is zoned industrial – it is along Vernon Rd. Our small parcel is wedged shaped on southern side of the road. Not large but has a flat buildable area, but industrial.

    Sue – neighbors park on it.

    daniel – okay… adjourn?

    7:50 pm. Ahead of anticipated ending!

  • Vernon Special Meeting

    For details on the Town of Vernon’s May 29 informational meeting, see the following link:

  • Routine Open Meeting violations?

    “Confidential Plans?”

    Town is participating in undisclosed plans? Who agreed to these plans? Where and when was this agreement made? Is Selectboard Representative McLoughlin and other town officials violating their Oath of office by conspiring to keep a secret agreement undisclosed?

    Has “Normalization” of Open Meeting indifference has reached the point where town officials feel no need to disguise it?

    • Odd, eh?

      It was one of those weird mentions that jumped out at me. Watch the tape for exact wording but I got pretty close.

      I’m totally guessing here but maybe there was some Executive Session discussions about some project that might have involved a developer taking over the Municipal Center and moving town offices to High Grove? Or a redevelopment of the municipal center space that requires a portion of High Grove for some aspect of it, maybe they are getting rid of parking there in this mystery plan? Who knows? (Ahem, the board…)

      I would say that whatever it is, now that it has been mentioned in an open meeting, it’s not really confidential anymore. : )

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