Tag Archives: Act 250

Randolph Exit 4 I-89 development land conserved

Sometimes with the right combination of co-operation, money, power, and influence things can be made to “click” to preserve open land here in Vermont.vermontlandsave1

An agreement has been made involving developer Mr. Jesse “Sam” Sammis and his wife Jean “Jinny” Sammis, the Castanea Foundation, and a Vermont goat farm that will result in the conservation of hundreds of acres almost two hundred acres of land which will remain open and farmed. Sammis’s now-abandoned  development proposal  along Exit 4 from I-89 in Randolph as planned would have included 274 residential units, 280,000 square feet of office space, 236,000 square feet of light manufacturing space, and a 180-bed hotel and conference center.

As reported in a press release last week from the Preservation Trust of Vermont:

The Montpelier-based [Castanea] foundation is acting as an intermediary to hold the land to allow time for the sale of a conservation easement with public funding, private fundraising, and the eventual sale of the conserved land to Ayers Brook Goat Dairy for agricultural purposes.

In addition, Sam and Jinny Sammis have agreed to sell the remaining 22 acres that they own at Exit 4 to the Preservation Trust of Vermont. Working in conjunction with Conservation Law Foundation, the Vermont Natural Resources Council and the citizen group Exit 4 Open Space, the Preservation Trust of Vermont will have the opportunity to purchase the remaining 22 acres. The groups will need to raise $1 million dollars – substantially below the assessed value for the property – over the next 60 days to complete the deal.

The original sprawling undertaking had the backing of the Shumlin administration. Part of the proposed project was an agreement with the state for developer  Sammis to build and run an officially sanctioned state welcome center. The center and a 30-year lease on state-owned land would have provided  exceptionally convenient access with the Interstate exit funneling traffic to the Sammis-owned industrial park, office space, conference center and hundreds of residential units. Former Governor Shumlin’s former Secretary of Administration, Jeb Spaulding, was particularly enthusiastic “When I first heard about this proposal I thought it sounded too good to be true.

The recent agreement to save hundreds of acres of land took an impressive alignment of active local opposition to the development, several heavy-hitting conservation groups, and of course lots and lots of money.

But despite all the smiles and good feeling now, developer Sammis’ said: “I’m happy about it from a conservation standpoint. As a developer and somebody who’s lived in Randolph for over 40 years and knows that there’s a tremendous demand for good jobs, I’m disappointed.”  Sammis’ remark (nudging pretty close to right up against some sour grapes) anticipates future development battles.

And those battles will involve Act 250 Vermont’s statewide development review process. Governor Phil Scott has pledged to “reform” Act 250. His  encounter with Act 250 as young businessman is part of his well-worn origin story. The review process is bound to be factor as that thousand-acre utopian city-state planned for nearby Upper Valley towns of Royalton, Sharon, Strafford and Tunbridge moves forward.

So there’s more to come. Think of all the open land through no fault of its own located near the interstatefound just “sitting” there, “undeveloped”barely even monetized! For Phil Scott, surely a heresy!

Scott Milne and his axe grinding campaign

In a recent statement, Republican US Senate candidate Scott Milne, reacting to the massive futuristic “utopian” city David Hall is planning for Vermont, makes it obvious he views the entire New Vista issue through his own peculiar personal lens. Milne zeroes in almost exclusively on his pet issue in his 2014 run for governor: alleged “overreach” by regional development boards and Act 250.milnesaxe

For a number of years Milne and his business partner (and campaign funder), attorney David Boise III have been attempting to build a mixed use development project on land they own in Hartford, Vermont.

The Quechee Highlands project, which borders Interstate 91 in Hartford, has wound its way through the development review process and various court cases for a number of years. After a defeat in one contentious hearing several years ago an angry Milne remarked: “I’m going to try to figure out if I’m going to do anything, and if I do, it’s probably going to involve more lawyers, and it’s just going to continue to brand Vermont as a bad place to do business,” Although the project recently won a significant court case, hurdles remain — along with apparently some bitter feelings on Milne’s part.

Milne’s comment (below) on the massive thousand-acre multi-town New Vista project was part of an ongoing batch of local and statewide candidates’ reactions gathered up by Nicole Antal, who follows this issue for the Daily Upper Valley community website.

Although I appreciate the candor of folks who are whispering about it not being right — because “it’s inspired by Mormons” or because it could attract hardworking Republicans to Vermont and upset one-party rule — particularly in Windsor County, [only two of the towns targeted by New Vista are in Windsor County]  I hope we will get folks with those prejudices out of the way as judges, juries, or regional planners — so Vermont can carefully and soberly review this idea.

Not sure what he even means by “the candor of folks who are whispering.” But Milne  could have taken the time to educate himself about the project’s origin and found that early on it was David Hall himself who said the project was partly inspired by his Mormon background, although Hall has maintained that he does not want the LDS Church’s official involvement. The official LDS (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) reaction to the project can be found here.

Generally, the reactions of all dozen or so Republican, Democratic, and Independent candidates for local and state offices indicated a basic level of caution over the massive project and sympathy for community concerns. And all save Milne seemed thankful to have the Act 250 development review process in place to regulate the process.

Let’s unpack his comment a bit. Milne alone of the candidates contacted fails to comment on objections to the size and scale Hall’s proposed population of up to 20,000 residents for the self-sufficient city/state he has in mind for the rural area. Without evidence, Milne implies New Vista will not get a fair hearing due to “one party rule — particularly in Windsor County” and suggests Democrats are acting out of fear of what Milne thinks would be an influx of “hardworking Republicans.”

While the contest he’s in is a low-key senate campaign for now, Scott Milne is again a man running with his own little axe to grind — a personal dislike, perhaps even a hatred of regional planning boards and the act 250 development review. One wonders how he thinks becoming a US Senator will solve his local development issues. What axe would he be able to wield? And how sharp would it have to be to cut through the red tape of local and state control?