Randolph Developer Withdraws Request For Exit 4 Development Review

Thursday, February 18, 2016
Randolph — The developer of a controversial proposal to construct a large mixed-use development on a scenic sweep of land off Interstate 89’s Exit 4 has withdrawn his request for a preliminary review of the project, a move cheered by environmental groups even though the developer says he remains committed to developing the land.

Last year, developer Jesse “Sam” Sammis asked the state’s District 3 Environmental Commission to evaluate whether his plans to build more than 1.15 million square feet on the 172-acre site would comply with certain criteria of Act 250, which governs large development in the state.

During a series of contentious public hearings, the Conservation Law Foundation and the Vermont Natural Resources Council argued that the proposal would disturb too much prime agricultural soil, and did not conform with local and regional development plans, the two criteria being evaluated.

Before the commission ruled on the matter, Sammis and the environmental groups asked for time to work out a non-adversarial resolution to the issues surrounding the project.

On Wednesday, apparently as a result of a round of closed-door meetings among the parties, Sammis formally asked the commission to allow him to withdraw his application for review.

While Sammis said he still intends to develop the site, the environmental groups see the withdrawal as a major step forward in their efforts to protect the land.

“I remain fully committed to a project at Exit 4 that will best serve the Town of Randolph, local business and agricultural interests, and my family,” said Sammis in a written statement. “We will now take what we have learned from all of the stakeholders and continue those discussions as we decide how to best move forward.”

Sammis’ lawyer, Peter Van Oot, said Wednesday that the move is a sign that the discussion has moved forward, but not that the project is less likely to happen.

“All options remain on the table, as they have always been,” Van Oot said. “Nothing has changed by withdrawing this application for partial findings. All the options are on the table just as they were before.”

The options, Van Oot said, include moving forward with the same project, moving forward with a different project on the site, or withdrawing from the idea of developing altogether.

“We’re just more informed, all the statutory and intervening parties are more informed now,” Van Oot said. “That’s a good thing.”

Sandra Levine, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, on Wednesday characterized the withdrawal as having limited Sammis’ options.

“Once a request is withdrawn, you can’t file the same request again,” Levine said. “Going forward, if there is another proposal presented, we will certainly look very carefully at that. This is very good news in that this specific project will not be moving forward.”

Levine said her organization will now actively seek ways to protect the land from future development.

“We think this opens up good opportunities to really figure out the future of this really important land. It’s a very valuable community resource,” she said. “It’s a very valuable farmland resource.”

Asked if the environmental groups were considering purchasing the property to protect it, Levine responded ambiguously.

“We hope to be able to consider a number of options. We don’t have anything specific,” she said.

The environmental groups issued a joint statement in which they acknowledged the possibility of some sort of development.

In the statement, Brian Shupe, executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, said the group “remains committed to ensuring that any future development at Exit 4 complies with all applicable laws and does not undermine the economic vitality of Randolph Village.”

Van Oot said the development team has benefited from the knowledge gained during the hearing process and the discussions with the environmental groups.

“The significance of the filing is that those discussions have been constructive,” he said. “We want to continue to have those discussions before we go back to the commission.”

The project, as originally conceived, would have included condominiums, a hotel, light industry, apartment buildings and a visitor center. When the project was first announced, Gov. Peter Shumlin expressed support for the visitor center component as a means to promote the state to travelers.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.

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