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Editorial: Shorelands development bill: A problem of scale

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Posted on April 11, 2013 |
By Angelo Lynn



One of the problems with H.526 is of scale. The focus and intent is clearly aimed at cleaning up the vast waters of Lake Champlain, which receives the drainage of thousands of acres of farmland, residential lawns and vast urban development. But when this same legislation is applied to tiny Sunset Lake in Orwell or the long-developed shores of Lake Dunmore, or many other similar lakes in Vermont, the legislation’s intent could well miss the mark and cause more injury than good.

On Lake Dunmore, for example, an active lake association has been intent on keeping its milfoil problem under control. Dues are collected, fund-raisers are held, and individual landowners that abut the shoreline are enouraged to patrol and handpick the milfoil off their shoreline. Permits are required for new construction or renovations on any lake lots as is the case with most towns with zoning and planning rules in place. Because the lake has long been developed, there is scarcely any land around the lake that has a vacant lot, even though much of it appears forested at first glance. The largest sections that are not forested and allow the most run-off into the lake are, ironically, the roadways operated by the state (Highway 53) and West Shore Road in Shoreham. Otherwise, private landowners have been careful to treat the shoreline with care.

Consequently, home values along the shoreline are high. That high valuation, in turn, means that landowners are willing to spend appropriate resources to protect the land and the water, and preserve their property’s value.

Lessen the value of those properties by limiting how a private landowner can develop in the future and you threaten to upset the forces of private enterprise that work so well in these closely contained environments.

The proposed legislation has been made better by allowing towns with planning and zoning laws in place to monitor lake development, rather than have state bureaucracy — the Agency of Natural Recources — appoint a czar to oversee any proposed development on almost any lake in the state. (That’s a nightmare waiting to happen.) But allowing the ANR to write the construction rules for towns to follow is also a surefire way to snuff out the embers of a resurgence in home construction, costing jobs and slowing the state economy.

We also worry that this law has been rushed through a very liberal House and is on a fast-track in the Senate without much input from the public as to the bill’s unintended consequences.

What makes sense is to limit the scope of the legislation for this first go-around by including the state’s larger bodies of water — Lake Champlain, Memphremagog, Castelton and others of similar size — that have significant enough pollution problems to warrant state intervention, while leaving smaller lakes with communities that are already acting as good stewards to continue to fend as they have been pending further study and possible state oversight if water conditions deteriorate.

Such legislation would put pressure on the smaller lake communities to ramp up their own stewardship, if needed, while leaving the state free of having to monitor more than it could possibly handle without a significant increase in state resources — which, as we all know, the state does not have. What is really idiotic, and is likely to happen in its current draft, is to create a bureaucratic process that’s underfunded and only succeeds in frustrating citizens, developers and town administrators and ends up driving responsible homeowners out of state and into other markets, thus depressing home values and creating a downward domino effect within Vermont’s lake communities. Bad laws can do that.

Angelo S. Lynn

Note: The author has lived on the shores of Lake Dunmore since 1992.

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