A new ‘Zion” for Vermont?

Thanks to GMD reader, Jennifer Shaw for suggesting the topic and providing a timely link.

With the Q-Burke development scandal still playing out, attention should be directed toward another uber-ambitious development plan, by one David Hall of Utah, that has so far seen limited public discussion.

Here’s the latest skinny, as carried on AP:

“SHARON, Vt. — A Mormon Utah businessman who wants to build a massive, futuristic, utopia-like community in central Vermont says he’s about to buy 500 more acres of land for the project, bringing his total to about 1,400 acres.”

The plan is to build a massive community reflecting the founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints, Joseph Smith’s 1833 concept for a city called ‘Zion.’

To build this city, Hall aims to acquire a total of 5,000 acres of land in south-central Vermont. Clearly, once this current purchase is complete, he will be well on his way to the full acquisition and will have increased credibility with potential investors.

The proposed utopian development Hall envisions will include housing for 20,000 people, plus offices, gardens, forty-eight basketball courts and 48 Olympic size swimming pools! That works out to one pool and one basketball court for roughly every four-hundred residents.

With all that planned recreational real estate, I’ll bet Hall dreams of the rebellious youth of his ideal community sweating out their trouble-making on the court or in the pool.

The idea is that the community should be self-sustaining (nothing wrong with that), producing sufficient food, jobs etc. to support all the occupants. How exactly that can be accomplished is yet to be fleshed-out, but with a timeline of “several decades” to work out the details, and a whole lot of money, Mr. Hall seems to think his dream could become a reality.

I wonder what kind of local permitting conversations are going on about that now? Act 250 alone should be a formidable challenge but we’ve all seen projects that should not have, by any reasonable understanding of Act 250, been permitted under the existing laws, but somehow managed to squeak through.

We have become so accustomed to the truism that ‘growth’ is the solution to all of our problemsthat some small communities have ceased to question whether it is indeed true in their case. It’s difficult to believe that a place as lovely as Sharon could be ripe for exploitation, but that’s apparently what Mr. Hall is relying upon. After all, someone is selling him the land.

At the right price, he observed, “Everything’s for sale.”

This proposal should ring alarm bells for anyone who recognizes the importance of preserving the open spaces and village character of rural Vermont, desirable qualities that are in extremely short supply everywhere else in America.

A city incorporated under Hall’s vision would be technologically very advanced but somewhat lacking in opportunities for individuality.

“In Hall’s “city,” people would live in energy-efficient modular homes within walking distances of heavy industry, farms and a central square consisting of 24 four-story buildings. Residents would deposit their assets in a communal fund upon arrival, though they’d be free to leave whenever.”

Vermont is now the most non-religious state in the Union. We pride ourselves on tolerance, but the majority of us prefer a personal spiritual journey to one that has been organized by others.

Even though Mr. Hall insists that the community would not be religiously exclusive, it is doubtful that the arrangement would attract many people outside the Mormon faith; and such a massive new enclave of homogenity is hardly going to enrich Vermont’s already feeble diversity.

I suspect that many Vermonters will hesitate to criticize the plan, lest they appear insensitive to a religious minority, but there is much to criticize about such a huge shift in land use away from rural, low-density uses, toward intense human habitation with all the environmental impacts that accompany such a change. Lawns, gardens, swimming pools, toilets and dishwashers all take their toll on the watershed. So do acres of concrete and new roads to service 20,000 new residents.

I say ‘new residents’ because there are currently only about forty-five hundred Mormons living in Vermont, and it is unlikely that all of them wish to up-stakes and move into a planned community.

20,000 people is greater than the population of South Burlington, Vermont’s second largest city.    All of Windsor County is only 56,000 people.

I’d like to hear from our readers who live in Windsor County what their thoughts are on Mr. Hall’s plans. Is this a change you can envision for your region?

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

6 thoughts on “A new ‘Zion” for Vermont?

  1. My land abuts New Vista and what he bought was once family property, I do not agree with this and have been very upset about the whole “dream” which is his and his alone.

  2. There has been many meetings organized about this, you can read about it on the Facebook page Stop the New Vista Project, where local residents are sharing news and investigating this project as it unfolds.

  3. Mr. Hall, while claiming to be building something to prevent sprawl, is creating the worst cause of sprawl: placing a new population center outside of already-built infrastructure. From that perspective, it’s no different than the cookie cutter suburbs that exploded all over New Jersey during the 1950s. No matter what he envisions for decades from now, the people who first move there cannot possibly all be employed there, which means commuting. And given the location, it means commuting long distances each day. Regardless of how “green” the buildings may be, their placement in an un-built, rural area is literally the definition of sprawl.

    In addition, the plans he is working from are for flat terrain. The modified drawings he has provided for hilly terrain show that the entire project would require shaving off the mountainsides to create flat steppes the entire height of the development (which would require untold quantities of dynamite, on our granite facades). This will necessarily destroy the ecosystem in the area, drastically altering the flow of water and eliminating the very trees we need to protect against climate change and ensure healthy flora and fauna. It would be strip-mining the mountain with the only purpose being the creation of the world’s most controlling and ugly condo complex. Even the most homogenous and lovely design is an ecological disaster when compared to the natural landscape he plans to remove. There is plenty of precedent, worldwide, of what happens when one creates dense development on mountains. Bolivia’s are probably the worst, Greece’s are probably the best, but even at that, it’s hard to call the utter demolition of the entire ecosphere in the area “green.”

    The village of Oia in Santorini, Greece is an example of an aesthetically pleasing compact community built into a mountainside. This community houses 3,300:

    Think about the ecology of that community vs the ecology of the forest-scape of Royalton.

    In addition, each “square” as he calls his 20,000 person cities, includes an extractive industry. His ultimate goal is 5 of these settlements, for a total of 100,000 people, and 5 extraction wells/mines of some sort. Since his background is in oil drilling and the manufacture of artificial diamonds, both of which are highly polluting, one wonders what he envisions as the extractive business on our mountaintops? As we have seen elsewhere, it’s nearly impossible to protect down-hill watersheds from pollutants generated from mountainside extraction. He hasn’t chosen a copper-rich area, and there’s even less of anything else that could be of value in that area – so what is he planning to extract to support 20,000 people in perpetuity?

    Toss in the whole cult aspect, and it gets even more unsavory. Having dealt with a condo association and their whimsical “rules,” I can say I’ve never seen anything akin to his plans to control how many people in different combinations (singles, couples, child-bearing, etc.) can be allowed to live in which parts of the community, and of those, who can and cannot participate in community leadership (hint: probably few non-hetero white males, married, with children). It’s never a good thing when some self-annointed “leader” builds a community in the middle of nowhere, and requires everyone who joins to hand over all their assets. That is the most effective way to remove autonomy from those who enter, making it difficult or impossible to leave. It is a classic sign of a cult. Looking at the provided web site, and all of the links he provides, his vision meets every one of the 6 classic cult warning signs.

  4. How telling that nowhere in Hall’s plan does he consider the sense of place, art, beauty, individualism, love of surrounding nature, local customs and culture, or the slightest nod to the importance of the history of an area. People are seen as digits that must fit as he has proscribed. This proposal lives in one man’s head.

    Yesterday, the People’s Temple of Jim Jones popped into my head as I puzzled over what would make someone want to impose his vision on an unwilling community.

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