Act 250 and Downtowns

The problem

The land use plan and state capability and development plan originally envisioned by Act 250 contained principles (in the form of legislative findings) and maps to show how uses related to each other (within and across municipal boundaries). This helped to promote a settlement pattern that supported downtowns and villages and minimized sprawl.

However, without those plans, Act 250 reviews projects in a piecemeal way, leading to incremental sprawl that undermines farmland, forestland, and existing community centers.

Embedding this and our state’s planning goals into Act 250, and strengthening regional and municipal plans, would help achieve the desired settlement pattern. It would provide guidance and more certainty to applicants on where and how Vermont should grow, while building from local and regional visions.

Potential policy solutions

  • Link planning goals of 24 VSA §4302, the statutory smart growth principles (24 VSA§2791(13)), and findings from the state capability and development plan to the Act 250 criteria.
  • Update capability and development plan maps to identify state interests and use them in coordinated project review.
  • Require review of regional plans for conformance with planning goals and planning statute; set up a review body that includes RPC peers and others, as well as an appeal process.
  • Require that municipal plans receive approval from Regional Planning Commissions before they can be used in Act 250. Establish a process for municipalities and community members to appeal regional decisions about plan review.
  • Update Criterion 9K, effects of development on public investment, to further define “public investment” so that it includes the numerous programs established since Act 250’s inception (i.e., designation programs, certain tax credits, local tax stabilization, Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, etc.), and ensure that the public investment in designated growth areas is protected.
  • Make explicit the need to reference maps in Criterion 10 review.

With questions or comments about Act 250 and how it relates to Vermont’s downtowns, please contact Kate McCarthy, Sustainable Communities Program Director, at kmccarthy@vnrc.org or 802-223-2328 x114.