For decades, Vermont’s premiere land use law, Act 250, has provided important protections for Vermont’s natural resources and communities.
Prescient when it was passed in 1970, it provides for development to conform to the natural resources on which we all rely, and to provide for objective, citizen oriented environmental review of major development projects.
Over the years, efforts to weaken Act 250 have mostly been defeated. This year a number of bills being considered by the Vermont Legislature, and the alliances created to support them, cast doubt on Act 250’s continued success.
There is no doubt we are all poorer if we abandon efforts to keep Act 250 strong.
One bill, H.448, weakens protections for agricultural resources by making it easier to develop valuable farmland. By expanding the availability of “off-site mitigation,” the bill allows more acres of farmland to be developed in exchange for paying money into a fund to protect farmland in other areas. The bill rejects longstanding Act 250 precedent that CLF helped develop, that off-site mitigation should only be used as a “last resort,” and should not become a cost of doing business to make it easier to pave farmland.
Another bill, H.823, creates new and broader exemptions from Act 250 for developments in downtowns and other areas. While encouraging development in downtowns makes sense, the bill fails to provide incentives for development in appropriate locations. Instead it relies on expanding Act 250 exemptions, which eliminates review of a project’s impacts.
The Shumlin administration and developers have joined forces to push these changes. In part they grease the skids for new development – from ski areas to highway interchanges to new big box stores. This is a scary prospect. The scale and scope of new development is increasing. Now is not the time to cut back on Act 250 protections.