Monday, March 14, 2016
Kate McCarthy, VNRC: (802) 223-2328 (x. 114)
Brian Shupe, VNRC: 802-223-2328 (ext. 120)
Paul Bruhn, PTV: 802- 343-0595
David Mears, VLS: 802-831-1136
The Preservation Trust of Vermont and the Vermont Natural Resources Council last Friday weighed in on a legal dispute over a controversial development proposal at the I-89 Exit 1 interchange in Hartford.
They argued that a sprawling development would undermine the region’s efforts for orderly development and run counter to the regional plan.
The District 3 Environmental Commission denied the large-mixed use project an Act 250 permit because it did not comply with specific policies of the Regional Plan adopted by the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission.
The applicant, B & M Realty, LLP, appealed the District Commission’s decision, which was overturned by the Vermont Superior Court, Environmental Division. Both the regional planning commission and state of Vermont appealed the Environmental Division’s decision to the Vermont Supreme Court.
PTV and VNRC, represented by the Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, filed an amicus brief supporting the District Commission’s decision to deny the project on the grounds that it does not comply with the regional plan, and calling on the Supreme Court to overturn the Environmental Court’s decision.
“The Two-Rivers Regional Commission has done a stellar job planning for sensible development in the region so it’s particularly disappointing that the court blatantly ignored the plain language of the plan’s policies,” stated Vermont Natural Resources Council Executive Director Brian Shupe. “If its decision is allowed to stand, there is a real risk that the court will have undermined the ability of regional planning commissions across the state – and perhaps even municipalities – to determine the future of their communities. ”
The Exit 1 project is not the only major development project at highway interchanges that has attracted the attention of these groups. VNRC, in partnership with the Conservation Law Foundation and with the support of Preservation Trust of Vermont and a citizens’ group, Exit 4 Open Space, recently intervened in a massive development project at Exit 4 in Randolph. Like the Exit 1 proposal, the Randolph project would have violated policies of the regional plan and threatened the economic vitality of the nearby downtown. That application was subsequently withdrawn by the applicant.
According to Preservation Trust of Vermont’s Executive Director Paul Bruhn, “this type of development that includes large commercial and retail establishments poses a big threat to Vermont’s historic downtowns and villages centers. The regional commission has recognized this and put common sense policies in place to protect those economic resources, but the court completely ignored them.”
“Approval of this major new development at I-89 Exit 1 runs counter not only to the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Plan and so violates Act 250, but is also inconsistent with many other Vermont laws and policies which encourage development in our downtowns and village centers and protect open space from sprawl,” said Professor David Mears, Director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic.
In addition to VNRC and Preservation Trust, five regional planning commissions from around the state also submitted an amicus brief supporting the District Commission’s decision to deny the Act 250 permit.