Quechee Plan Faces Act 250

Quechee — A study that predicts hundreds of new cars on Route 4 at rush hour if a large, mixed-use development is built between village centers is one of several testimonies that a state land use commission will delve into at a hearing today.

The focus is the proposed Quechee Highlands development, a 168-acre project on Route 4 near Exit 1 on Interstate 89 that would include residential, retail and office space.

“We have a carefully thought out plan that we believe is consistent with the intent of regulation, and will be a block in building a ‘sounder, a stronger, and a more enjoyable community,’ ” Scott Milne, who is spearheading the project, wrote in an email last night.

The traffic study will be one piece of information brought before the Act 250 commission, which has statewide jurisdiction over significant property developments. The study estimates a total of 216 extra cars on Route 4 during peak morning hours and 222 extra cars at peak afternoon hours.

The study, which was conducted by White River Junction-based Resource Systems Group Inc. , suggests several fixes to accommodate the added traffic. For instance, during the first phase of the project, the study recommends lowering the speed limit on ramps by 5 miles per hour, clearing vegetation near the proposed site access and installing a left-turn lane at the southbound Exit 1 off-ramp.

“If the recommended mitigation measures are pursued when warranted, construction of this development is not projected to cause undue adverse traffic or safety conditions on the local roadway network,” the study reads.

The first phase would see the construction of 10 mixed-use buildings on about 13 acres .

The possibility of additional traffic and the resulting fossil fuel consumption have raised concerns with members of the Hartford Energy Commission. At a meeting last night, the commission put the finishing touches on a letter that finds fault with the development. The letter will be presented at today’s hearing.

The letter asserts that the development, which has twice had its zoning approved unanimously by the town’s Planning Commission, is in conflict with the energy chapter of the Town Plan, which in part encourages energy-efficient transportation.

Because the development isn’t on a bus route and its location is between downtown centers, it violates the energy chapter of the Town Plan, the commission wrote.

“I think it’s going to be well-received,” Energy Commission Chairman Alan Johnson said of the letter after the meeting. “I don’t think it’s going to be a make-or-break issue. I think it’s going to add to a pile of stuff that’s going to come from other sources, including the Two Rivers Planning Commission.”

The Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission, which is one of a small group of bodies that can appeal an Act 250 decision, has already forwarded written testimony opposing the project to the Act 250 commission, Executive Director Peter Gregory said yesterday.

“Based on the application materials that were submitted, the project contains a lot of generic, unspecified retail uses,” Gregory said. “And the regional plan is quite clear that that’s inappropriate for interchange areas and rural areas of the region.”

Permissible retail uses include gas stations, restaurants and rest areas, Gregory said. Retail businesses such as clothing stores would go against the regional plan, he said, as that growth is expected to be funneled to established downtowns.

Jon Bouton, the chairman of the Hartford Conservation Commission, said yesterday that the commission sent a letter to the Act 250 commission in November noting that later development phases, which the planning commission requested be removed from maps because it only approved the first phase, had not been taken out in the permit Milne filed.

“We would like the district environmental commission to recognize that the town has not given approval in any sort of way for stages two and three,” Bouton said.

Roads proposed to be built under the second and third phase of development would inhibit a natural wildlife corridor, Bouton said. The purpose of his letter was simply to remind the Act 250 commission that that’s not a problem that needs to be taken up — yet.

“They really contribute to making it more difficult for wildlife to connect,” Bouton said of the proposed roads.

Despite members’ concerns, though, Bouton maintained that the Conservation Commission has not taken a formal stance on the issue.

Milne, who owns a travel agency, said last night that he was confident in the Act 250 process and that he would receive a permit from the commission.

“I believe that those who scorn Vermont’s land use permitting process, like many who scorn developers and/or development, too often use opinions as facts, data as a diversion, and emotion as thinking,” Milne wrote. “If things go the way we hope, one good result of this hearing and the board’s careful review of all of the facts will prove both of those camps wrong.”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.

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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 …