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Act 250’s “Criterion 9L” – Frequently Asked Questions

Act 250’s “Criterion 9L”
Frequently Asked Questions

What is Act 250?
Act 250 is an environmental review and permitting process. Its purpose is to review development projects for their potential impacts, both on the project site and in the area near the site. There are ten criteria used to evaluate a project, including criteria related to water, transportation, and conformance with local and regional plans. District Commissions, made up of citizen board members, review applications.

When does it apply to projects?
Generally speaking, Act 250 applies when projects cross a certain threshold for size. Act 250 also applies when land is already subject to an Act 250 permit.[1]

What is Criterion 9L?
9L is one of the Act 250 criteria. This criterion, also called “settlement patterns,” is to reinforce Vermont’s compact downtowns and villages and protect the rural countryside. It minimizes sprawl outside of existing settlements. Criterion 9L was updated in 2014. Before Criterion 9L was changed, Act 250 did not have a way to address sprawl – poorly planned development that uses land inefficiently outside of compact centers. As a result, Vermont has seen creeping strip development that undermines the economic vitality of our downtowns and villages centers – even as we invest in them. The “new” 9L helps fix this.

How does 9L work?
It does this by including requirements that shape development outside of compact areas. Under 9L, if projects are not located within an “existing settlement,” they must make efficient use of land, energy, roads, utilities and other supporting infrastructure, AND must not contribute to a pattern of strip development.

How many projects have been rejected because of Criterion 9L?
This information is current as of January 21, 2015.


The revised Criterion 9L went into effect on June 1, 2014. Since then, no project has been rejected based on Criterion 9L. There have been other projects where 9(L) has come into play in various ways.

A proposal for a convenience store in the town of Jamaica initially did not meet Criterion 9L, but was then redesigned to meet it, and received a permit (Permit #2W0931-1).

The application for a proposed development in South Hero that would include restaurants, offices, industrial uses and/or retail, was withdrawn after the developers consulted with the District Coordinator about the project’s design, and found that it was unlikely to meet Criterion 9L The application was withdrawn and we have heard that the project is being redesigned to comply with Criterion 9L.

A proposal for a car dealership, Deneker Chevrolet, in Ferrisburgh was withdrawn by the developer. While Criterion 9L was one of the reasons reported in the press for the withdrawal, the official record with District 9 Commission does not contain a reference to Criterion 9L as a reason for withdrawal. (Note: as of December 15th, the applicant has since opened a dealership on an existing car dealership site in Middlebury, something seen by many as a positive outcome; the reason given for the move was General Motors requirements. http://www.addison-eagle.com/news/2014/dec/15/denecker-chevrolet-moves-middlebury/?News

What are the benefits of 9L?

  • The criterion is designed to reduce sprawl, which is poorly planned development that uses land inefficiently and undermines our downtowns and villages centers – even as we invest in them. It’s also designed to encourage “infill” development where strip development already exists, to make those areas more functional.
  • It gives people options because it often helps steer development into places that are accessible on foot or by public transit, as well as by car.
  • It can help keep municipal expenses down since sprawl can cost communities money: the costs of sewer extensions, road maintenance, and deployment of emergency services to outlying areas are all greater with spread out development.
  • 9L helps keep pressure off our famed working landscape, one of our primary economic drivers in Vermont.

Does Criterion 9L prevent all development in outlying areas?
No. Criterion 9L says is that if development is within an existing strip, it needs to be built in a way that minimizes the characteristics of strip development. Outside an existing settlement, development can happen if it meets smart growth and other criteria.

“Strip development” and “sprawl” are often thought of as problems that don’t apply to rural areas, but both are common throughout Vermont. This is particularly true in communities that are near areas with growth pressure, and in communities that have put land use policies in place that allow for commercial strip development along highways.

[1]Act 250: A Guide to Vermont’s Land Use Law, http://www.nrb.state.vt.us/lup/publications/Act250.pdf