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Big Victory for Regional Planning, Act 250

The Vermont Supreme Court issued a decision today overturning a Vermont Environmental Court decision that approved a large, multi-use development project adjacent to I-89’s Exit 1 in Hartford.   The Environmental Court approved the project on appeal after the District 3 Environmental Commission denied the project, finding that it did not conform to the Regional Plan.

The Supreme Court heard the case after both the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission (TRORC) and the Vermont Natural Resources Board (NRB), which oversees Act 250, appealed the decision.

VNRC and Preservation Trust of Vermont, represented by the Environmental & Natural Resources Law Clinic at the Vermont Law School, filed an Amicus brief supporting the regional commission and the NRB. In addition to VNRC’s friend of the court status, a key witness for the TRORC was current VNRC Board Chair Elizabeth Humstone.

Peter Gregory, executive director of TRORC, was pleased with the decision, stating, [“T]he Supreme Court was crystal clear on the value and weight of regional planning in Act 250 proceedings. This establishes an even stronger precedent for that input.”

VNRC Executive Director Brian Shupe agreed with Gregory. “This decision affirms the vital role that regional plans – and by extension municipal plans ­– play in the Act 250 process. In its unanimous decision the Court sent a clear message that Act 250 Commissions need to defer to plan provisions when they clearly signal that development is contrary to a town or regions land use goals,” said Shupe.

“What’s more, it’s clear that Commissions need to consider Vermont’s longstanding planning principles of concentrating development in our traditional centers when applying plan provisions to a project,” Shupe said.

Approving this project, despite the very clear regional plan language, would “undermine the viability of regional planning in this state,” the Court wrote in its decision. According to Shupe, “the Court also affirmed the ability of planning commissions to restrict development at interstate interchanges, areas that we know, from our recent work on Exit 4, are especially vulnerable to sprawl and strip development.”