By Guy Page
Deciding to not wait after Town Meeting, the House on Friday approved H.926, the proposed revision of Act 250, the 50-year-old land use and development law.
The bill passed 88-52 despite no votes by Democrats Matt Birong – Vergennes, Chris Bates – Bennington, Cynthia Browning – Arlington, Jay Hooper – Randolph, Bill Notte – Rutland, and Linda Joy Sullivan – Dorset. Paul Lefebvre (R-Newark), a member of the committee that wrote the revision, voted yes.
If the bill is given final House approval, it will go to the Senate. Gov. Phil Scott has had significant input into the bill and State House insiders are not predicting a veto.
A roll call vote to delay voting on H.926 until after Town Meeting failed 45-96. The delay vote was suggested by Rep. Jim Masland (D-Thetford), a supporter of the bill who nonetheless said constitutents would want to provide input on Town Meeting Day. The vote followed two days of lengthy floor discussion of amendments, questions, and concerns.
For example, Rep. Mark Higley (R-Lowell) today criticized on the House floor a little-recognized clause that would trigger Act 250 review for development located next to any “land trust” property.
Here’s how the proposed “land trust” change appears on page 536 of the Feb. 27 2020 House Journal:
“A permit will be granted for the development or subdivision of lands adjacent to governmental and public utility facilities, services, and lands, including highways, airports, waste disposal facilities, office and maintenance buildings, fire and police stations, universities, schools, hospitals, prisons, jails, electric generating and transmission facilities, oil and gas pipe lines, parks, hiking trails and, forest and game lands, (new language) lands conserved under chapter 155 of this title, and facilities or lands protected in perpetuity and funded by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board under chapter 15 of this title, when it is demonstrated that, in addition to all other applicable criteria, the development or subdivision will not unnecessarily or unreasonably endanger the public or quasi-public investment in the facility, service, or lands, or materially jeopardize or interfere with the function, efficiency, or safety of, or the public’s use or enjoyment of or access to the facility, service, or lands.”
More than a half-million acres — an estimated eight percent of all undeveloped, private land in Vermont — is now under conservation by the Vermont Land Trust.
Much-need development in Newport was stymied two years ago in part because of extensive land conservation, Higley noted. “Conserved land actually impedes new development,” he said. “This new piece that was added is a hindrance.” The House should instead “free up” development of land located next to conserved land.
A representative for the Malletts Bay section of Colchester said he had hoped for positive changes that have not been forthcoming. “What I hear from constitutents and developers is that Act 250 is unpredictable and costly,” Rep. Pat Brennan (R) said. He said he had high hopes for the Act 250 revision but told his House colleagues, “I come away disappointed. I cannot support this.”
Rep. Anne Donahue (R-Berlin) said she too supports waiting until after the Town Meeting break.
Brooking no delay was Rep. Carol Ode (D-Burlington), a member of the Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife Committee that has been working on the revision for two years. The bill represents years of work and is ready for a vote, she said. “A lot of work has gone into this,” echoed Rep. Brian Cina (P-Burlington). “It may not be perfect – but what ever is?”
This vote would give all members a chance to hear from their constituents,” Rep. Brian Smith (R-Derby) said. “Isn’t that what we are supposed to do?” Added Rep. James Gregoire (R-Fairfield) – “I’m disappointed … isn’t that what we’re here to do?”
The delay roll call can be seen here.
Read more of Guy Page’s reports.