Last week a study group of housing developers, attorneys and environment groups created by the Natural Resources Board unveiled an Act 250 reform proposal that they say promises to encourage more badly needed housing. It’s being promoted as “modernizing Act 250”.
So far as I know, I am the only surviving and active participant in creating Act 250 53 years ago, and I am keenly aware of where this modernization is going.
A cursory reading reveals the consensus. The Act 250 process is the bargaining chip. Conceived in 1970 as a process where neighbors could sit down in the town hall and work out compromises. The "modernization"" now is to turn the process over to lawyers and experts, far from citizen influence.
The deal is this: Act 250 will become a towering regulatory barrier to building in rural Vermont, where the enviros want no more building. But it will become a shrunken barrier in compact settlement areas with state-approved zoning which will give builders a better chance to build needed housing.
The original Act 250 set forth ten environmental criteria for building most anywhere; the new modernization relaxes the criteria, but retains all the regulatory barriers in places in state-designated highly sensitive natural resource areas where the state doesn’t want you to go And of course the state will decree the zone maps, a requirement that killed the state land use plan in the 1970s.