Hartford Boards Find A Common Ground
White River Junction — A town commission that hoped to thwart the continuation of a mixed-use development off Route 4 in Quechee was steered in a less strident direction by town officials last night.
The Selectboard didn’t vote on any motions regarding the requests of representatives from the town’s Energy Commission, members of which wanted to present a letter of opposition to the Quechee Highlands development , on behalf of the town, at an Act 250 tomorrow morning.
Instead, officials suggested that strict opposition might not be the way to go.
“You don’t have to go and oppose the application,” Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg said. “You can go and present these concerns and a desire to work with the developer, without throwing down the gauntlet and squaring off.”
The proposal for the commission to soften the letter and offer to work on energy initiatives with those involved in the project generally went over well with the three commission members in attendance.
“It could be an excellent development, even from an energy standpoint,” Energy Commission Chairman Alan Johnson said. “But as it’s presented, there’s no compromise on energy here.”
The project, which would include residences, retail and office space, is spearheaded by Scott Milne, who has controlled the 160-acre property since 2004. Milne, who owns a travel agency and co-owns B&M Realty, LLC, received unanimous support for the project from the town Planning commission in both June and October.
Energy Commission officials opposed the development, which would sit near Exit 1 on I-89, because of its location between White River Junction and Quechee.
“It’s putting growth right between two dense downtowns,” Luke Eastman, a member of the commission and an ardent opponent of the development, said in an interview last week. “It’s completely against what the Energy Commission is supposed to be promoting in town.”
The commission will meet tonight at 5:30 p.m. at the Main Street Museum to put the final touches on its letter, which will then be presented to the Act 250 commission tomorrow. Approval under Vermont’s Act 250, which governs land use and development, is necessary for Milne’s project to go forward. Those affected by proposed developments, such as municipalities and abutters, can attend the hearing to voice their concerns.
Tomorrow’s hearing, at the Municipal Building, will be begin with a site visit at 8:30 a.m.
Last night, commission members began by asking the Selectboard if it would approve the letter they presented. Though the development went through the Planning Commission process , Energy Commission members said the plans conflict with the energy chapter of the town’s Master Plan .
“If the Board of Selectmen endorse our letter,” Eastman said, “then we would ask that they present this at the Act 250 meeting or, barring that, allow us to present it to them on behalf of the town.”
That idea quickly met resistance from Selectboard Chairman Ken Parker, who worried that if the town contradicted the Planning Commission’s approval at this point, it would reflect negatively on future growth.
“It sends a very, very bad message out into the larger community, whether it’s Vermont or New England, that Hartford’s a place to avoid,” Parker said. “Because if you start a project there, you never know where you’re going to get blind-sided.”
The idea behind approaching the Selectboard, Energy Commission members said, was to strengthen their testimony by speaking on behalf of the town. Even without the Selectboard’s blessing, the commission can still testify at the hearing, and the state body holding the hearing would weigh that testimony as heavily as it sees fit, Rieseberg said.
Selectboard Vice Chairman F.X. Flinn noted that the fact the commission could testify would be enough for people outside the Hartford sphere to believe the commission represented the entire town’s thoughts.
“You guys really need to think very seriously about that,” he said.
As the discussion came to an end, the three commission members indicated they would likely follow the advice of the board and Rieseberg.
“I’m going to personally urge that we go in the direction as (Rieseberg) suggested,” said Lynn Bohi, the commission’s clerk.
“Personally,” Johnson added, “I think that’s ideal.”
Jon Wolper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3248.