Commentary

Diane McElhiney: A nightmare for Exit 4

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Diane McElhiney, a resident of Randolph Center and a member of Exit 4 Open Space.

Respect Mother Earth / and her giving ways / or trade away /our children’s days.” This lyric is from Neil Young’s “Mother Earth” which he performed in Essex Junction for his Rebel Content Tour. Nationally, Mr. Young is making everyone aware of farmland being demolished by GMOs thanks to the big conglomerate, Monsanto. His stop in the Green Mountain State was significant in his acknowledgement of Vermont’s fight to retain GMO labeling. Know what you eat; eat what you know.

And just an hour south of Mr. Young’s concert venue, there is a local struggle to save 172 acres of the best that Vermont has to offer in prime agricultural soil. Until recently, it was land that has had non-GMO cornstalks waving in the gentle mountain breezes. This jeopardized land, which Mr. Young expounds upon in his lyrics, needs to be a saved working landscape once again.

Randolph is under siege. In no less than a year, and no thanks to the Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission, Randolph has been targeted for new development: from Vermont Technical College’s partnership to have a state lab built on their agricultural soil to Gifford Medical Center preparing the second construction on what has now been mitigated agricultural soil. Now comes even more of an atrocity that not only threatens deeply rich agricultural soil, it threatens the fabric of a small town.

One man’s vision is going to be the demise of downtown Randolph. If Jesse “Sam” Sammis has his way, the lush greenery at Exit 4 will become an obscene monstrosity of 1.15 million square feet of concrete and steel, plus the equivalent of that in asphalt. Sammis is determined to build his own version of Pottersville. He grand nightmare is a disjointed, scattershot of illogical light industrial, offices, and three types of residential units of senior housing, four-unit townhouses and apartments on both sides of Route 66 on I-89 South. And how about a 180-room hotel and recreation center? For his crown’s jewel, for which he has continually lobbied Gov. Shumlin’s office for partnership and received agreement, is a Visitor Center and Product Showcase. This showcase is essentially a museum of local Vermont products since Randolph zoning laws don’t allow for retail at an interstate interchange. Sammis believes he is providing a service to Randolph locals to put directional signs and a kiosk for online ordering. Really? Some locals are being duped that this showcase is a good marketing strategy for them.

Where does all this awfulness leave downtown Randolph? Picture a town slowly turning into more abandoned buildings.

 

He has made grandiose statements to the effect that up to a million people will flock to the Green Mountain Center development and subsequently to the village of Randolph. Really? In your travels of America’s byways, when for safety’s sake you take a break, chances are you exit, load up with super-size snacks, and within minutes you are merging onto the interstate. Randolph will not benefit from anyone’s curiosity as to what is down the road as they rush from the visitor’s center, merely glancing at the products in the showcase.

During the most recent Act 250 hearing of July 17, Sammis’ counsel team was questioned as to why current properties owned by Sammis in downtown Randolph were not being considered as replacements to what is being proposed at Exit 4. No clear answer was given, prompting the commission to suggest Sammis’ team regroup on the topic. Sammis has at least three vacant downtown commercial buildings and 55 empty residential lots at Green Mountain Stock Farm. Yet he continues to push for more development. What he fails to realize, and apparently so do the select and planning boards who approved this project, is that he is putting undue pressure on a small town to support municipal services and fend outside influences to any criminal activity that comes with growth.

Where does all this awfulness leave downtown Randolph? Picture a town slowly turning into more abandoned buildings. Randolph currently has too many vacant buildings, homes for sale, and land that can be used to cultivate light industrial and office space. What Randolph is starting to lack is farmland to support those farmers who have chosen to stay and come to Randolph to raise crop and livestock. If Sammis’ nightmare is granted the permits and he chooses to develop rather than sell subdivisions of the land, no one is going to spend the time to go downtown. Randolph disappears; Sammisville lives. A vital reminder that greed, wealth, and ego trumps mountains, grass, open space, and the vital primary agricultural soil.

“Oh, Mother Earth / with your fields of green / once more laid down / by the hungry hand. / How long can you give / and not receive / and feed this world ruled by greed.”

This commentary is provided by a grassroots group consisting of concerned citizens of Randolph and surrounding towns banding together to assist the Conservation Law Foundation and the Vermont Natural Resources Council in their effort to protect farmland and support the economic vibrancy of downtown Randolph. To support our efforts and to learn more about Exit 4 Open Space, please visit exit4openspace.org.


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