Act 250 (Vermont law)
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Act 250 (Vermont Law), Vermont's Land Use and Development Act, is a law passed in 1970 by the Vermont legislature, designed to mitigate the effects of development through an application process that addresses the environmental and community impacts of projects that exceed a threshold in size.
Development pressures resulting from the opening of two interstate highways (I-89 and I-91) made access to the state much easier for year-round visitors, creating community concerns including road congestion, increased environmental problems, burden on local services, and rising taxes. Governor Deane C. Davis (Republican) appointed a study commission in 1969 to develop a statewide law to address these concerns, as no environmental regulations or land-use controls existed. A major contributor to the construction of the law was Laura G. Wheeler, in consultation with then Vermont Attorney General James Jeffords.
The law created nine District Environmental Commissions to review large-scale development projects using 10 criteria that are designed to safeguard the environment, community life, and aesthetic character of the state. They have the power to issue or deny a permit to real estate developers for any project that encompasses more than 10 acres (40,000 m²), or more than 1 acre (4,000 m²) for towns that do not have permanent zoning and subdivision bylaws. The law also applies to any development project with more than 10 housing units or housing lots; and may also apply for construction proposed above 2,500 feet (760 m) of elevation. Act 250 also created the Vermont Environmental Board to review appeals coming from District Commission rulings.
The District Commissions are:
- District 1: Rutland County
- District 2: Windham County, southern Windsor County
- District 3: northern Windsor County, Orange County
- District 4: Chittenden County
- District 5: Washington County and Lamoille County
- District 6: Franklin County and Grand Isle County
- District 7: Caledonia County, Orleans County and Essex County
- District 8: Bennington County
- District 9: Addison County
The 10 Criteria are as follows:
- Will not result in undue water or air pollution.Included are the following considerations: (A) Headwaters; (B) Waste disposal (including wastewater and stormwater); (C) Water Conservation; (D) Floodways; (E) Streams; (F) Shorelines; and (G) Wetlands.
- Has sufficient water available for the needs of the subdivision or development.
- Will not unreasonably burden any existing water supply.
- Will not cause unreasonable soil erosion or affect the capacity of the land to hold water.
- Will not cause unreasonably dangerous or congested conditions with respect to highways or other means of transportation.
- Will not create an unreasonable burden on the educational facilities of the municipality.
- Will not create an unreasonable burden on the municipality in providing governmental services.
- Will not have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics, scenic beauty, historic sites or natural areas, and 8(A) will not imperil necessary wildlife habitat or endangered species in the immediate area.
- Conforms with the Capability and Development Plan which includes the following considerations: (A) The impact the project will have on the growth of the town or region: (B) Primary agricultural soils; (C) Productive forest soils; (D) Earth resources; (E) Extraction of earth resources; (F) Energy conservation; (G) Private utility services; (H) Costs of scattered developments; (J) Public utility services; (K) Development affecting public investments; and (L) Rural growth areas.
- Is in conformance with any local or regional plan or capital facilities program.
The 10 criteria have changed little since the adoption of Act 250 in 1970. Efforts have been made over the years to make the permitting process work more efficiently, along with performance standards. Today, the District Commissions receive between 600 and 800 applications per year, and hold hearings on an average of 20% of these. They have an approval record of 98%, but this rate includes plans modified during the hearing process, with conditions typically attached to permits when granted.
Act-250 jurisdiction attaches forever to permits, except to permits for quarries and logging at elevations over 2,500 feet (760 m). These permits are allowed to close when the work required to complete them is complete. Unfortunately. there is not sufficient funding to support personnel to verify proper completion of the required activity, so the Act-250 office must rely on the permit applicant to truthfully verify completion.
One of the co-creators of Act 250 was Laura G. Wheeler of Barre Town, Vermont. Her highly successful campaign for state office having been cut short just before taking office due to medical limitations, she did not want to leave public service without ensuring a clean environment for future generations. That legacy took shape in the form of Act 250. She consulted frequently with the then Attorney General James Jeffords, who provided crucial guidance in the editing and perfecting Act 250 until it reached its final approved form. Wheeler spearheaded the campaign, researching the topic fully and consulting with many experts to ensure its success. Others who were consulted on and were instrumental in its creation include, but are not limited to: Howard Rusk of New York, Jeanne Garvin of Montpelier, VT and Lawrence Gurnette of Michigan.
Per interview with Wheeler, her primary motive was to create a more beautiful Vermont by protecting clean rivers, the forest's ability to support clean air and abundant wildlife, and to preserve Vermont's natural resources of all kinds for generations to come. Of greatest concern was forest conservation and the prevention of excessive clear cutting. She presented and promoted this landmark legislation before Congressional committee, so other leaders would have opportunity to benefit from the template created by Act 250 and be encouraged to enact similar measures in their home states. It met with great approval, with many legislators commenting that it was 'a long time coming', and 'a much needed effort to protect the planet as a whole.'
The law has been controversial since its implementation, with concerns that the law could be improved to help Vermont be more business-friendly. In his 2002 gubernatorial campaign, Governor James Douglas ran on a platform that included restructuring Act 250. Supporters of reform look to reduce bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process.
- Rimer, Sara (July 4, 1993). Vermont Debates Value of Saving a Rural Image. The New York Times.