Opinion: Acts 248 and 250 need local input
Tom Denecker, Denecker Chevrolet, has withdrawn his Act 250 application to build a new car store at the corner of routes 22A and 7 in Ferrisburgh, per the Addison Independent, Nov. 20. Apparently he saw no hope of a permit in the face of opposition from the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, the Agency of Natural Resources, and Vermont Natural Resources Council. The application process was overwhelming and not worth the expense and the fight, per Denecker.
The reasoning against Denecker according to the report is the project is viewed as strip development according to Criterion 9L of Act 250. This is surely seems to be a lame excuse, especially since a huge gas station is currently being built just north on Route 7. And right next door to the Denecker project is a big park-and-ride facility and an old train station to be used for a visitors’ center. These projects already have started strip development. A car dealership is essentially a big parking lot and how is that different from the state park-and-ride? It seems the two projects fit nicely together.
So the powers that be have spoken, disregarding local planning and local energies. Also ignoring the fact that Denecker was only going to develop 4.5 acres of a 35-acre parcel; the rest of the land being conserved never to be developed. It’s hard to imagine how this can be called strip development.
The above reasoning then persuades me that all solar projects in Vermont are strip development and therefore should not be built. But of course solar projects are energy-related and approved or disapproved per Act 248 and not Act 250, which does have written criteria. Act 248 seems to have no criteria for energy project siting, no input from local planning, and very little citizen input. Act 248 directs that the three Public Service Board members approve or disapprove mainly by their own philosophy and reasoning with no regard for setbacks, esthetics, town or regional planning, whether or not the project is right in your face or your house or roads or views or is destroying agriculture land.
A major flaw in Act 248 is that it does not have to address the using up and development of agriculture land as Act 250 does. Hence almost all solar energy projects have been erected on agriculture soils with no mitigation. Act 250 has strict agricultural land criteria that must be met in order to develop. Act 248 does not. This gives the three Public Service Board members immense power way beyond any other entity in Vermont and they can approve any project they want.
This sure is grossly contrary to what Vermont is about and what Vermont has done to try to ensure that we have a livable community. Vermont has been a leader in agriculture and forest land conservation. putting millions of dollars of taxpayer and private money into many projects all over Vermont with impressive results and probably over a million acres of land conserved for agriculture and forestry and recreation and hunting and other uses. And of course in the process is helping to keep Vermont a beautiful livable place.
Vermonters have spent millions of taxpayer money for local, regional and state planning. We have contributed millions of dollars worth of volunteer time and personal expense to accomplish this planning. There have been countless town and regional plans with more countless hearings looking for and receiving public input. Vermont has invested mightily in keeping our landscape useful and beautiful. But all that is being trashed by the Act 248 process.
How can we allow this to go on? Are the Legislature and the governor interested in doing something? Sure we need to fight climate change. Yes we need to produce solar and wind power. But, if what we have when all is accomplished is an ugly place to live then we have failed. There are plenty of places that are remote to views, houses, roads and agriculture lands to build solar power.
Right now is the time to get the Legislature to act to require more respect for local planning and regard for agriculture land for both Act 248 and Act 250.
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