By Guy Page
Since 1970, Act 250 regulations and regulators have controlled land use and development. Some pro-growth Vermonters say it has stifled beneficial economic growth. Slow-growth Vermonters say it has done too little to control unwanted sprawl. Last year the Legislature passed a law establishing the Commission to recommend how best to update and overhaul Vermont’s landmark planning and development law. Commission members include Rep. Amy Sheldon, Chair; Sen. Christopher A. Pearson, Vice Chair; Sen. Brian Campion, Rep. David L. Deen, Rep. Paul Lefebvre, and Sen. Dick McCormack.
A subcommittee was asked to report to the full Commission how well Act 250 has fulfilled its goals, including that “the use of the land and the environment must be regulated to ensure that those uses are not unduly detrimental to the environment, promote orderly growth and development, and are suitable to the needs of Vermonters.”
The subcommittee concludes:
- “Act 250’s ability to achieve the goals….. is necessarily limited because its jurisdiction is limited. It is estimated that about 75 percent of development in Vermont is not subject to Act 250.”
- “Act 250’s authority to perform land use planning was repealed in 1984.”
- “Given Act 250’s limited planning and regulatory authority, it is difficult to pinpoint the program’s effectiveness … However, the following facts relevant to those goals can be noted: Vermont land was developed at approximately 2.5 to three times the State’s rate of population growth between 1982 and 2003. The overall miles of Vermont rivers and streams impaired for one or more uses was reported as 311 in 2004 and 365.2 in 2016. From 2004 to 2016, 8,645 new parcels between zero and 10 acres in size were created in Vermont.”
Provided such slow-pitch softballs, the generally slow-growth Commission might issue a top-down recommendation to the Legislature that says something like this: “Act 250 is too limited in scope. It needs to cover more than a quarter of all development. The State of Vermont must be given even more power to plan how property can – and can’t – be developed.”
More than a year of meetings, discussions and documents can be reviewed at the Commission on Act 250 website. The Commission will meet Nov. 8, 16 and 30 and Dec. 7 and 14. A report will be issued to the Legislature sometime before the Commission disbands in February.
All of this planning and review will, of course, require expert legal assistance. The Legislature advertised last month for a Legislative Council attorney to specialize in natural resources and energy, including Act 250. The deadline for application was Oct. 26.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.