Act 250 case under way for proposed Bristol pit
BRISTOL — Proceedings got under way this week to determine if a proposed Bristol gravel pit conforms with Act 250, the state’s land use and development law.
The Act 250 hearing is the latest step in a years-long dispute about the gravel pit, which, if approved, would be located on a 65-acre parcel near the Bristol town center. The proposed excavation project would take up 26 acres on that property owned by Jim Lathrop, and Lathrop’s consultants estimate the pit could produce as much as 3 million cubic yards of gravel.
As the Addison Independent went to press Wednesday, it seemed unlikely that the commission would wrap up the hearing Wednesday afternoon, and the group was set to male plans to reconvene on Tuesday, July 6, and possibly Wednesday, July 7, at 9 a.m. at Mount Abraham Union High School.
Even after the hearing is finished, it could be at least a month before the Act 250 commission issues a decision on the case.
Members of the District 1 Act 250 commission from Rutland, rather than Addison County’s District 9 commission, are conducting the hearing. District 9 commissioners said the transfer of responsibility was necessary to avoid any perceived conflict of interest in the case.
The hearing kicked off on Monday morning with a site visit to the site of the proposed pit, as well as stops at several nearby houses. Homeowners used the site visits as a chance to point out their proximity to the pit to the commissioners, and to briefly raise concerns about noise, aesthetics or road traffic.
Donald and May Morris told the commissioners that their home on Rounds Road is their retirement home. Donald Morris later said that the couple chose the spot because it was a quiet place tucked away in the woods on a mountain.
“We thought we’d have a quiet place to live,” he said. “(The pit) wasn’t what we expected.”
Up the road, Dave and Sue Folino raised concerns about the pit, too.
“We believe in property rights, too. We just think there needs to be a balance struck between one owner’s property rights and an adjoining owner’s property rights also,” Dave Folino said after the commissioners headed off to their next stop on the site visit tour. “Right now it seems like a lot of neighbors’ property, including people in the village, will have their rights impinged upon and their values diminished so that one property’s rights dominate. And of course we’re as close as anybody to the epicenter, so it will impact us.”
Folino said he’s also worried about safety on the winding roads near his home with the proposed increase of trucks on the road.
“We try not to be in public issues focused on ourselves,” he said. “We try to be community minded, even if we have to sacrifice some personal rights or financial value or whatever. It’s awkward for us because we’re trying not to be just self-centered. At the same time we have to protect our financial situation and our kids’ safety.”
Following the site visits, the commission — and members of the 30 parties who applied to weigh in on the project — settled in for the three-day hearing. The back-to-back days of testimony, presentations and cross-examinations started with a look at the potential affect of the pit on the town’s aesthetics and scenic beauty. As the hearing continued, Lathrop’s consultants also made presentations on noise, dust and traffic levels, and parties to the hearing voiced concerns about similar issues.
Neighboring landowners and Jim Dumont, the lawyer representing the Smart Growth for Bristol group that opposes the pit, pushed for more data. They argued that because the Lathrop application does not include data about the three-year construction phase leading up to extraction, it’s impossible to judge the full impact of the gravel pit.
The hearing comes after more than five years of contentious debate about the pit in Bristol. Lathrop originally applied for permission from the town to build the pit in 2004. The project has met with harsh criticism from neighbors since then, and the application has run into several roadblocks.
Though the town’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) approved Lathrop’s 2004 applications, Bristol residents opposed to the pit appealed the decision to the state Environmental Court. Lathrop later filed a separate, modified application in 2007, but the ZBA rejected Lathrop’s request, a decision Lathrop in turn appealed.
Any decisions at the Environmental Court have been postponed until a decision is made about the proposal’s Act 250 status.
Reporter Kathryn Flagg is at [email protected].