Planners Call Meeting on ‘NewVista’ Mega Settlement Proposal

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/9/2016 12:04:02 AM

Royalton — The Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission this month will broker a meeting of the four White River Valley towns where a Utah engineer is planning a large settlement.

Members from the selectboards and planning commissions in Royalton, Sharon, Strafford and Tunbridge, where Provo, Utah, developer David R. Hall plans to build a community of thousands, are scheduled to meet on April 25 in Royalton to discuss their response.

“We’ll be talking about the town plans and Act 250 and implementing bylaws,” the Woodstock-based regional commission’s executive director, Peter Gregory, said on Friday.

“It’s certainly spurred on by the proposal that has been floated by the developer up there,” he said, but the meeting also could apply to other projects.

Vermont’s Act 250 land-use law governs large developments statewide, evaluating a project’s effect on transportation, stormwater and local aesthetics, among other criteria, along with its conformance to town and regional plans.

Hall, who is calling his idea a “NewVista” community, envisions a 20,000-person self-sustaining city on roughly 5,000 acres of land near the Joseph Smith Memorial. Smith, the Mormon prophet, wrote of a similar idea in the 1830s.

Gregory has said that Hall’s project likely would trigger a review under the law.

And by “bylaws,” the regional planning director referred to the possibility that those towns may enact zoning ordinances in response to the NewVista idea.

Strafford is the only municipality of the four to have such regulations, aside from flood-plain precautions.

Though zoning is a topic on many residents’ lips, whether or not the three other towns will implement it is hard to tell. Hall has been on a buying spree in past months, scooping up more than $3 million of land in the four towns, but he has cautioned that his dream is decades away from execution.

In Tunbridge, Selectboard Vice Chairman Mike McPhetres said some residents had made “passing comment” about such regulations at a recent meeting of the panel, but added that the board had decided to pass the issue along to the town’s planning commission.

“I think that’s something we’ll have to look at carefully” before enacting, rather than make a “knee-jerk” reaction, McPhetres said of zoning. “It’s been tried, past zoning laws, before, and it’s always been voted down. I don’t know if it would be different now or not.”

Royalton Planning Commission Chairman Tim Dreisbach said his board likely would discuss the NewVista project at its Monday meeting, and invited the public to attend. 

He said he, too, had heard people mention zoning in Royalton.

“There have been several attempts over the year to bring in zoning,” he said, “and frankly I’ve heard from people already saying, ‘This is why we need zoning: not to stop things like this, but to have more control and say over it locally.’ ”

Dreisbach said he hadn’t met with Hall or had any contact with him, and, given that the discussion was so preliminary, said he couldn’t say anything representing an official position of the town.

Members of the Royalton Selectboard, in contrast, said they hadn’t yet heard concerns from the public — in fact, Selectwoman Sandy Conrad said, one resident had asked about selling his property to Hall.

“We’ve really not had huge discussions about it,” Selectwoman Joan Goldstein said, “and people aren’t coming to us all worried.”

Speaking together in a conference call, the board members said they weren’t worried either, citing such regulations as Act 250.

Goldstein, who is also commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic Development, noted that Hall’s plan was in line with many of the state’s values: It is a compact, walkable settlement that is ecologically sustainable and offers a community-based model of living.

“When you look at it that way, it’s like, what’s to complain about?” she said.

“What I find really interesting,” Goldstein continued, “(is that) someone who is really willing to plunk down money and invest money in Vermont is meeting with so much opposition.”

The April 25 meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the Royalton Academy Building.

Gregory said the gathering will be open to the public, though he noted that there will be limited space and the discussion will be fairly technical. The Two Rivers commission will likely arrange a subsequent meeting focused on public comment, he said.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.




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