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Act 250 under microscope

A construction site in Vermont. File photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger
A construction site in Vermont. File photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger

By Mike Polhamus

For Vermont Digger

The Vermont Senate supported a bill to review the state’s land use law, Act 250, voting 26-0 in favor on Monday.

The bill, H.424, would create a group called the “Commission on Act 250: the Next 50 Years” composed of seven legislators — three from each of the Legislature’s chambers, and one member of either chamber who is appointed jointly by the Committee on Committees and the House speaker.

The commission would be charged with three tasks.

It would need to review Act 250’s goals while considering a variety of information and statistics to evaluate how well the law has worked since its passage in 1970.

It would also seek input from Vermonters “on their priorities for the future of the Vermont landscape, including how to maintain Vermont’s environment and sense of place.”

After that, the panel would write a report recommending changes to improve the law.

The commission would receive advice from a group of executive branch members, including representatives of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development; the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets; and the Agency of Transportation. This group will deliver a report on its recommendations for Act 250 by October, according to the bill.

Another group would also attend the commission’s meetings and offer advice. It would consist of planners, a professor, an environmental advocate, a developer, an environmental attorney and others.

The Senate version calls for a different commission membership than what the House envisioned.

Sen. Richard Westman, R-Lamoille, said he hopes the commission will take a look at consistency in Act 250’s application.

Act 250 was written to give a measure of local control to the districts that review project applications, but districts sometimes reach different conclusions about the same proposal, Westman said.

For instance, a 93-mile snowmobile trail stretching from St. Johnsbury to Swanton crosses three districts; two of them told the project’s supporters it wouldn’t need to undergo Act 250 review, but one district required review under the law, Westman said.

A separate bill before legislators this year illustrates another challenge involving Act 250 in its present form, said Brian Shupe, executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council.

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