By Guy Page
An unsettling report on the front page of today’s Burlington Free Press describes what many Vermonter developers say has been the unhappy reality in Vermont for decades: Act 250 officials raising costly, unexpected roadblocks.
“Legislation causing delays, ‘sad’ stories” by veteran reporter Dan D’Ambrosio had not been published online as of 10:15 AM today. However, the paper is available in ‘hard copy’ on newsstands.
Act 250 is Vermont’s landuse and development law, passed in 1970 and the subject of lengthy, in-depth legislative review for over two years. Today’s Free Press covers two apparent Act 250 horror stories: a long-delayed approval for Henry Parro’s new gun shop on Route 2 in Waterbury, and repeated denials to approve a sugarhouse and gift shop near the Joseph Smith Memorial, a state historic site in Royalton honoring the founder of the Mormon religion.
Parro’s is the biggest retail firearms store in Vermont. The expansion, Parro’s Gun Shop Police Supplies and Indoor Range, reportedly was four years in the planning and regulatory approval. The official grand opening will be August 7.
Act 250 approval was delayed eight months, at an added cost of $120,000, the Free Press reports. According to the site’s architect, a 35-year veteran of shepherding projects through Act 250, Parro’s Gun Shop:
- Should not have needed Act 250 permission at all, because Waterbury’s stringent subdivision regulations should have exempted it from Act 250 oversight.
- Paid $6,500 in questionable impact fees for a roundabout that had already been built, mostly with federal funds.
During the Act 250 process, the VT Dept. of Transportation sought a $46,000 traffic impact fee for a roundabout built years ago, despite having no impact fee program in place and no definition of necessary proximity. And the roundabout had already been mostly paid for by federal funds. VTrans settled for $6,500, the architect reportedly said.
- Had to pay $28,000 for a 68-ft. buffer between the project and the Winooski River – even though 50 feet had long been the traditional required maximum distance for buffers.
In comparison to Parro, John Lefgren was a ‘small-fry’ with less ambitious plans. First he built (without a permit) a gift shop and deli near the Joseph Smith historic site to serve the nearly 50,000 visitors from all over the world, most of them making pilgrimages to the birthplace of the founder of their religion. After neighbors flagged his building to state officials, Lofgren noted an agricultural exemption in Act 250 and planned a sugarhouse operation.
The project was denied “because it was out of character with the area,” Joe Greene – who also was architect for the Parro project – said. A rural location next to a state-established historic site and tourist draw was – somehow – deemed ‘out of character’ for a sugarhouse with a gift shop. On the same road as a John Deere dealership.
The end result of six years’ effort, including a failed appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court, was Lefgren putting his property up for sale, at a price that will recover about half of the money already sunk into it.
For two years, the Vermont Legislature has been revising Act 250. A vote on a final version is considered likely next year. It remains to be seen if the Legislature will approve a bill that addresses long-standing concerns about the misuse of Act 250 as an impediment to development in the Green Mountain State.
Categories: State Government