Ed Stanak: With Act 250, Be Careful What They Wish For

This commentary is from Ed Stanak, who worked as an Act 250 district coordinator for 32 years for Washington and Lamoille counties and part of Orange County.

Over the decades, the National Chamber of Commerce has made vigorous efforts to seek legislation to reduce, if not eliminate, many forms of government regulation – such as worker protection and environmental laws – all in the name of free enterprise to bring about “economic growth.” These efforts have rarely been constrained by the facts and often have the overtones of propaganda.

Charles Martin’s April 18 commentary for the Vermont Chamber of Commerce titled “Law 250 and the Stifling of Economic Opportunity in Vermont” is an example of how the Vermont branch of the Chamber is committed to the mission of the National Chamber.

After Martin said that “Bill 250 deserves considerable credit for helping Vermont maintain” its status as one of the most beautiful states in the country, he then blamed Bill 250 for rescinding the bill. hotel and garage in Montpellier. . One can’t help but note that Martin did not credit Bill 250 – but the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and at least two national studies did – for helping Vermont weather several economic recessions over the years. years better than other New England states.

Instead, Martin asserted, without providing any factual evidence, that Bill 250 “directly contributes to the economic stagnation that many of our communities face.” Does Martin know that 70% of all land development and subdivision in Vermont is exempt from the Bill 250 review?

The record shows that the District 5 Environmental Commission of Bill 250 processed the application for the hotel and garage project in a timely manner and a final decision was made within six months of the filing of the application. The decision was then appealed to the Environment Division of the Superior Court. And there, the appeal sank into the swamp of legal proceedings for two years until the Hilton company terminated its franchise agreement with the Bashara family.

Appeals of district commission decisions (only 5% of all commission decisions are appealed in any given year) are brought to court in accordance with an amendment to Law 250 that the Legislative Assembly passed in 2004. Previously, appeals were handled by the Environmental Office, which consisted of nine citizen members. The amendment was proposed in 2003 by lawmakers who said the council failed to process appeals quickly enough and the court system would do a better job. One of the authors of this amendment was then-Sen. Phil Scott. The amendment was imposed throughout the legislative process with little opportunity for public participation and careful consideration of its effects.

So, has the Environment Court done a better job in handling appeals than the old Environment Office? No. Had Martin’s comment been fact-based, he would have admitted that a comparison of data from the old board and the current tribunal shows that the board’s appeal process was much more efficient.

What conclusions can be drawn from this rebuttal to Martin’s comment?

First, that the House, and other lobbyists, legislative promoters and advocates like then-Sen. Scott, got what they wanted in 2004 when the “License Reform” bill threw Bill 250 appeals into the court system.

Second, calls take longer due to this change. Third, the House’s decision to see development killed by appeals delays caused by the maze of the court process rests with the Vermont court system, not Bill 250.

Finally, the same team of deregulation advocates, including Gov. Phil Scott, are now calling for even more changes to Bill 250 so that Vermonters are not – to quote Martin – “victims of the recurring fallout from wasted opportunities.” . ”

Based on their background, the team (and the rest of us) should be careful what they want as their last big idea of ​​”license reform” didn’t work out so well for the Bashara family. and the city of Montpellier it?

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Tags: Act 250, Ed Stanak, Montpelier garage-hotel project

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