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Quechee Highlands Developer Appeals Vermont’s Act 250 Decision  

An artists' rendering shows the Quechee Highlands development with the Route 4 entrance at the bottom. (Courtesy Joseph Architects)

An artists' rendering shows the Quechee Highlands development with the Route 4 entrance at the bottom. (Courtesy Joseph Architects)

Quechee — The developer behind the proposed Quechee Highlands project is appealing the denial of an Act 250 permit, saying the proposed mixed-use development would conform with the regional plan and won’t create traffic problems along Route 4.

“This is a smart development, and the strong support by the Town of Hartford proves that,” Scott Milne, a principal in B&M Realty who has proposed the project on a 168-acre parcel near Quechee Mobil and the Interstate 89 interchange, said in a statement released Thursday.

“We obtained every permit but Act 250. We want a fresh look at the issues that led to the denial, and a chance to prove this project fits with the regional plan and that the approval we have from Vermont (Agency of) Transportation for the intersection is warranted.”

The District 3 Environmental Commission last month unanimously denied the project the permit for the development’s first phase, a proposal for 130,000 square feet of office, retail and residential space in 10 buildings on a 12.5 acre part of the parcel.

The commission found the project would “cause unreasonable congestion or unsafe conditions with respect to transportation” and also failed to comply with the regional plan, a key criterion in Vermont’s landmark Act 250 environmental law governing large developments.

The Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission had asserted that the project doesn’t comply with the regional plan, which is intended to direct development toward established downtown villages and discourage it at interstate exchanges.

Quechee Highlands has won the backing of the Hartford Planning Commission, in part because the town has identified the interchange as a “growth center” suitable for development.

A traffic analysis showed Quechee Highlands could draw 186 new vehicles onto Route 4 during the peak morning rush hour under phase 1, and another 30 vehicles in that time if the second phase of development is undertaken. The proposal for the new development is coming as public concerns about the safety of traveling along Route 4 between White River Junction and Woodstock have been heightened by several fatal crashes this spring.

The appeal filed with the Vermont Superior Court’s Environmental Division by the attorney for Milne, a North Pomfret resident who also runs a Lebanon-based travel agency, poses several questions the developer wants the court to review, including asking “whether the Regional Plan’s definition of ‘substantial regional impact’ is justified as a matter of law.”

“We’re going to argue that their definition is faulty,” Milne said in a phone interview Thursday night, noting that the 130,000-square feet in new space under phase 1 of Quechee Highlands pales in comparison to the 2 million square feet of new nonresidential development predicted for Lebanon over the next 20 years.

Milne also said Quechee Highlands would construct new dedicated turn lanes on Route 4 at the project entrance and another at the I-89 southbound ramp intersection with Route 4, and noted that much of the new traffic on Route 4 would be contained to the area near the project entrance and I-89 interchange.

Peter Gregory, the Two Rivers executive director, said on Thursday the regional commission would continue to defend the regional plan during the Superior Court review. He said it maintains that principal retail development should be downtown and in villages, not at interchanges and along highways.

“Retail was a clear nonstarter,” Gregory said. “My executive committee has indicated that they want us to continue to defend the (regional) plan.”

Proceedings before the Superior Court can take several months, and decisions made there can still be appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court.

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com or 603-727-3217.