Letter: The Role of Regional Planning
To the Editor:
Scott Milne, developer of the proposed Quechee Highlands, is clearly frustrated with regional planning in Vermont. But this frustration may be misplaced. Based on his Aug. 11 Perspectives piece, it seems that he either misunderstands or is misrepresenting the way that regional planning actually works, and why it’s necessary.
Regional planning in Vermont started in the 1960s, when the expansion of the federal highway system and the growth of ski areas brought change whose impacts extended beyond any single town. In and of itself, this development wasn’t negative, but its regional impacts — such as traffic congestion along highway corridors, downstream water quality, the demand for municipal services and the economic vitality of regional centers — needed to be understood and dealt with.
The same is true today. The development that’s taking place may be different, but the need to evaluate regional impacts of larger projects remains. This is the function of regional planning commissions and the regional plan.
Contrary to what Milne suggests, this plan is not developed in a black box by the regional planning commission. It’s developed by staff under advisement from regional commissioners, who are citizen representatives from the towns in the region. When the regional commissioners adopt the regional plan, they affirm that the plan’s policies are good for the region as a whole, and that projects being reviewed under Act 250 should be compatible with these policies. It is thus incorrect to suggest that regional planning staff are rogue agents for utilizing the plan — developed and approved by local citizen commissioners — in Act 250 proceedings.
Some may feel that the use of a regional plan undermines local decision-making, but it is more accurate to say that it brings a different and necessary perspective. Regardless of how excellent local planning is — Hartford, for example, has done admirable work with downtown and village revitalization, even adopting a “growth center” where the majority of future growth is supposed to occur — there are times when broader impacts must be identified and managed (notably, the proposed Quechee Highlands project is not located in the designated growth center). The regional plan, adopted by citizens and considered via Act 250, allows this to happen.
Sustainable Communities Program Director
Vermont Natural Resources Council