in the State House of Representatives
on May 3, 2022, by a vote of
Purpose: The purpose of S.234 is to promote “smart growth,” affordable housing, healthy forests, working lands, and reorganize oversight of the Act 250 process.
The new permitting process adds “undue adverse impact on forest blocks (or) connecting habitat” to the list of reasons an Act 250 permit could be rejected. This is addition to the other reasons laid out in the old Act 250 process: if the development is in flood hazard areas, interferes with the natural beauty of an area, would destroy or significantly imperil necessary wildlife habitat, among others.
Businesses turned down for their initial Act 250 development permit can appeal their rejection for a $295 fee, with 10-20 appeals expected annually. S.234 creates "Neighborhood Development Areas" (NDA), or areas that already have economic development. Development in NDA areas are exempt from Vermont’s land gains tax, and can receive reduced fees for Act 250 and wastewater permits.
Vermont’s Joint Fiscal Office estimates this will increase state spending by $1,184,000 in F2023, and between $744,000 - $1,394,000 in future years. Much of this money would go fund the salaries of a new “Environmental Review Board,” taking on the duties of the old Natural Resources Board. Beginning in F2024, the ERB full time director and 4 half-time ERB members will earn $480,000 annually and a staff attorney will earn $105,000. The rest of this money will be spent on a $150,000 report in F2023 for studying development in downtowns, and $650,000 for Municipal Bylaw Grants for helping Vermont towns alleviate the cost of updating land use and development bylaws as a result of S.234.
Analysis: Those voting YES believe updating Act 250 will reduce Vermont’s carbon emissions, preserve natural habitat for wildlife and funnel housing and commercial development into downtown areas.
Those voting NO believe S.234 adds more regulatory requirements to an already byzantine process. This will make getting Act 250 permit approval more difficult, making the permitting process even more uncertain and costly of a proposition. The net result being the economic development gets more expensive, making business startups and housing even more difficult to come by.
As Recorded in the House Journal, Tuesday, May 3, 2022: “Shall the bill be read a third time?, was decided in the affirmative. Yeas, 99. Nays, 43” (Read the Journal, p. 1552 – 1591).
Joint Fiscal Office’s Fiscal Note on S.234
Commission on Act 250: the Next 50 Years Report (2019).
Roll Call! House Adds Bureaucracy to Act 250 Development Process (92-49), 2022
Roll Call! Senate Resolves Against Governor’s Act 250 Reform Order (22-8), 2021
Roll Call! Senate Passes Stricter Act 250 Criteria for Development Near Forests (24-6), 2020
Sally Achey (R - Middletown Springs) – NO
Paul Lefebvre (R – Newark) – YES