Zupan: Act 250, friend or foe?

By Lawrence Zupan

My first impulse upon hearing of an American seeking to put one stick upon another to build, or put cash on the line to open a business, is to stand and cheer him or her on. After all, isn’t this precisely what has enabled America to grow great and expand? Has it not been pioneers crossing a new frontier no matter the risk and uncertainty of success? Yesterday it was the Pilgrims crossing a forbidding ocean and covered wagons moving west. Today it might be biotechnical geniuses unlocking new cures, or digital pioneers multiplying the inventive potential of ever more efficient computing.

Lawrence Zupan for U.S. Senate

Manchester resident Lawrence Zupan

Or it might be a few guys with saws and hammers looking to build new homes and buildings in Vermont.

Act 250 was conceived as a regulatory instrument promoted as a measure designed to enhance environmental stewardship and conservation of Vermont’s character and natural resources. It was not explicitly promoted as a job-killing, liberty-and-private-property-stealing power grab. I’ll leave it to others to detail, 50 years on, the degree to which it has succeeded in its stated mission and at what opportunity cost.

However, I will tell you my experience with Act 250, which will explain why I was initially happy to hear of its grandly announced effort at “reform.”

Almost 30 years ago I bought an approximately 100 acre parcel of land in southern Vermont, with the intent to arrange several building lots on it, put in roads and power, prepare home sites and sell them. Rather than being welcomed as an entrepreneur willing to put my money on the line to produce suitable sites for families to live, I was treated with the inquisitorial suspicion and interrogation which might normally be reserved for criminal perpetrators. I was informed by that exalted Act 250 Commission that 36 of my 96 acres would need to be banned from human habitation and left to lie fallow due to evidence that deer used the land. Mind you, this property stared a short distance across the valley at hundreds of thousands of acres of the Green Mountain National Forest.

So, what happened was that the economic value of more than one third of my land was seized by the state (they told me not to complain, since they could have taken more than half) for the sake of an abundant animal species which also had abundant land to inhabit nearby. This was an unconstitutional seizure under my Fifth Amendment rights. After spending almost $100,000 in permitting and legal fees, and two years of two permit applications, the Act 250 Commission, in its infinite wisdom and manifestly unlimited power, begrudgingly granted me the privilege to have 10 lots on my almost 100 acres.

Since when do we treat investors, builders and entrepreneurs with suspicion rather than a warm welcome? Since when does the state have apparent rights over private property which chronically and dictatorially far exceed the rights of the actual property owner? Since when do we sanction unelected bureaucrats to wield such power over rightful property owners?

Because of my experience, as well as my observation for all these 30 years of Act 250 in action, I was naively happy to hear of the proposed Act 250 reform. However, in true government-speak, it appears that this supposed “reform” has turned out to be an opportunity not to humanize and refine the burdensome property regulations of Act 250, but, on the contrary, to make them more onerous. Using the nefariously ubiquitous evil of carbon as their politically acceptable bogeyman, it seems that what is now being proposed is that every new Vermont project must be “carbon neutral.” I have news for all legislators examining this issue: The only time that humans will be carbon neutral is when they are dead. And, if current events are any guideline, even then these human culprits (formerly beings exuding carbon with their presumptuous breathing habit) may become subject to governmental sanctions for their corpses emitting carbon.

In addition, the new proposal demanding that all new project proponents must buy the diabolically and destructively clever shell game sham called “carbon credits” is just the latest form of punishment for any Vermonter who might still have the effrontery to want to build or create something in our previously proudly free and independent state. With small rural Vermont already the greenest state in the union, adding more onerous regulations will only give environmentalism a reputation as thinly veiled, wanton and arbitrary anti-capitalism and offer a new meaning to the phrase “tilting at windmills.”

My friends, unlike bureaucrats who propose these rules and apparently inhabit an alternate world where progress and productivity are completely disconnected from livelihoods and economic well-being, you and I know that producing more anti-business regulations will be one more wilted rose adorning the casket of Vermont’s already negative business and growth reputation and record.

Anyone who has ever worked for a living knows that creative productivity is the foundational element of American and Vermont human growth and progress. Let the word go forth that Vermont is open for business, and that everyone with a new idea is welcome to come here and plant the seeds of their future success in our newly hospitable soil.

It’s time for us to demand true regulatory reform of Act 250. It’s time to put our legislators on notice that new building, new business and new industry are not our enemies, but the very elements which will put food on the tables of Vermonters, and keep our young graduates from fleeing to fairer climes where growth and economic vitality are not dirty words.

And there will still be plenty of room for the deer.

Lawrence Zupan is a resident of Manchester and was the 2018 Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.

Images courtesy of Bruce Parker/TNR and Lawrence Zupan for U.S. Senate

10 thoughts on “Zupan: Act 250, friend or foe?

  1. Please research Nato agenda 21 it covers everything they are trying to do here in Vermont. It’s a world wide agenda.

  2. Vermont has been on a choke hold since day one with act 250, these days the Governor
    stands at the pulpit and cries about residents leaving the State for a better future and the
    retirees are leaving due to the tax burden a state with no tax base from Business.

    As long as we have a Liberal Democrats running ( ruining ) the state, nothing is going to change
    is act 250 outdated ?? ……

    As long as you have a “Non-Business” attitude in Montpelier……..The state is doomed !!

    The Golden Dome Liberals, think Microbreweries and pot sales are going to save the state
    as Big Business is not on their agenda, just look at Liberal NY 25,000 jobs gone in the blink of
    an eye !!

    Act 250, you can’t build that here, but you can destroy every open pasture with solar panels

  3. Much of this was forseen at the time.
    “The Green Mountain Boys” tried to stop Act 250 in the last of the 60’s. Thousands of members strong. They had a deal with Dean Davis to hold their powder and let Davis get rid of the subjective and worst last 5 of the 10 criteria in Act 250. Davis cut their throats, lied, and all the subjective criteria were included!
    Later Citizens for Property, CPR, rights tried to stop Act 200 which was entirely subjective demands and requirements. Thousand strong and very active – we lost that battle – even after getting 1000 to show up for a sham “hearing” in Randolph against the proposals.
    Soon after Property Owners Standing Together, POST came forth with warnings against implimentations of act 200, Vigourous campaign, burried under established layers of unmoveable entrenched bureaucracy.
    Now we all whimper. We write Essays as powerful practical as Mr Zupans, We support Ethan Allen Institute

    None of this has any impact on an entrenched arrogant bureaucracy, or the Boston law Firm, “Conservation Law Foundation” which supplies ”intellectual cover” for these power hungry bureaucracies.

  4. Perhaps Act 250 when first enacted served its purpose in discouraging rampant land speculation. But, that was 50 years ago. Wake up Montpelier, in case your calendar is out of date or you do not have one, it’s 2019!!! Times and needs do and have changed. Vermont for want of busineses providing decent paying jobs is dieing on the vine. Where oh where have our youngest and brightest gone????

  5. Vermont’s third rail of power, Planners
    We’re in Business Now!
    For almost a half century it’s been common knowledge, Vermont has not been open for business. Even when a need existed many trying to set up shop here were discouraged by the road blocks placed in front of them and the high cost of just getting started. However, some were happy about the hurdles government placed in the way of growth and felt our State should remain a beautiful rural Oasis free from Sprawl and the contamination of a thriving economy. Around 1968 we took the first steps necessary for controlling our urge to grow and prosper by going into the planning business as a way of preserving our rural charm and local character. There would be no more need for billboards and it would be ok to hug a tree in public if you so desired. Most Vermonters went about making a living as they had always done perhaps without realizing they were starting to lose control as their government was being acquired. These Central Planners did not destroy our government institutions; they merely set up a planning structure that operated in parallel with it, this gave them control while leaving the impression the people were still in charge. Next planning commissions were established in each town government, this further perpetuated the idea that the people were still in control by making them invested in the process as they participated in a planning ritual for the good of their community.
    Shortly after establishing Regional Planning Commissions in 1968 Act 250 was passed. This law not only gave the planners we employed something to do, it also exerted control over every conceivable element of growth in the State. After a while jobs in the private sector began to disappear as the pressures of creating a utopia took a toll on our economy but even if we had noticed what was going on who among us would blame the planners for this decline, they were just trying to help us plan for a better future.
    When it became obvious business was drying up we didn’t worry, we now had planners who could deal with this scourge of decline. Central Planners gleefully accepted the challenge and instituted a new business model for Economic Development and Revitalization that would be administered by our Regional planners; surely this would save us from our peril. Now business would boom again and towns lined up to take the grants being offered them to revitalize. Of course they were unaware it would never happen as these grants were only being used to sustain the existence of the planners parallel universe. Oh you might get an occasional building upgrade or something physical that could be seen by the public to bolster the planner’s credibility and reinforce their importance but no lasting improvement to our overall economy. Perhaps that could be expected since development that is based on a real need does not depend on subsidies to sustain its existence.

    So after 50 years of planned economic development and revitalization some of us are beginning to wonder why it has not yet occurred?
    During this period we have clearly been focused on the theme of development over and over again but the only results are more of the same, it’s like being on a merry go round that won’t stop to let us off. This is what it feels like when you lose control; it was very subtle in the beginning when planners needed our cooperation but as their agenda has advanced our personal investment is less of a requirement, this is when it starts to feel like we are powerless to stop what we are supposed to be in control of, our government.
    Remember when we got rid of our Billboards, was it because they were blight on our landscape or could it have been they represented free market capitalism, something most central planners detest? Vermont was once a proud Republic with industrious and proud people who accomplished a great deal before they were relegated to just planning to fail. Where is our spirit now?
    Just look at us, setting goals like 90% renewable energy by 2050, then promoting the solar industry by subsidizing and manipulating Vermonters to accomplish these dreams, while at the same time regulating it. We may no longer be Capitalists but cronyism sure hasn’t been left out of the equation, some developers stand to make a lot of money on the tax payer’s dime while we just continue to plan. Why did we remove our billboards when their impact was far less intrusive than the acres of solar arrays we are told we must install now?
    Vermont has a third rail of power we call planners, this should be looked at with a critical eye because it‘s structure is self serving!
    We left something of value behind in 1968; maybe we should attempt to rediscover it, unless of course planners are another legitimate branch of our government.
    We are invested in a ritual of distraction that is perpetuated on us by politicians who don’t seem to know or care what the purpose of our government is. We have a constitution and founding documents that suggest we are a Republic, yet for some reason we seem to think we are a Democracy of majority rule with no protection for our citizens. At this point in time we are probably neither a Republic or Democracy as our agendas are that of globalist elites controlling us from a third rail of power called planners and sadly we can’t even see it. Our Republic can be reborn but not without the will to understand it!
    LJE Wallingford 1/26/201

    • We’ve been studying affordable housing in the Mad River Valley for 30+ years, planning and studying. Habitat for Humanity built two homes, that’s it.

      It’s so simple to have affordable home ownership for $600 per month. We simply don’t allow it, but we can get a permit for a 6500 sq. ft mansion in 15 minutes.

      They talk a good game for the common man, but they leave him broke, hungry and hopeless. They talk a great game.

  6. Lawrence Zupan’s essay speaks volumes on what is wrong with Act 250. Consider for a moment that all items mentioned in the 1970 Act 250 were already laws of record in Vermont, including environmental concerns. Government overreach reared its ugly head once more and the laws were combined into a nasty package making life miserable for anyone to develop land, open a business or operate a large farm. With the new planned amendement package many of the “Grandfather” businesses and industries face forced closure and bankruptcy. Act 250 is no friend of Vermont. #802VTALLIANCE

  7. The Golden Dome Dwellers never give back control they have already taken – they always want more. Occasionally, they will use the old Communist technique of “two steps forward, one step back” – but only when absolutely necessary. Act 46, the school consolidation law is a good example were they decided to hold their ground and give NOTHING back ! The reform of Act 250 will only mean more regulation, more restrictions and a downward valuation of whatever land they decide should not be confiscated and what land should be set aside for the future – undeveloped, but a continued tax obligation of the individual(s) who has been fooled into believing they own it !

    • Well stated. These proposed Act 250 changes remind me of decisions emanating from Development Review Boards in the Monterey, CA area when I was stationed there during the early 1990’s. I recall wondering how long it would take for similar proposals to reach the East Coast and Vermont. Now we know.

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