Vermonters plan to protest Friday against a Utah man’s proposal to turn small towns in the state into a self-sustaining community of a million people.
The protest will be from 5 to 7 p.m. at the South Royalton bridge. The town is in the area where David R. Hall is planning the first Vermont community in his NewVistas Project, based on Mormon principles of design and organization.
Randy Leavitt, of South Royalton, said the plans for the protest came about in a Facebook group called “Stop the ‘NewVista’ project,” of which he is an administrator. People exchanged comments, wanting to do something about Hall’s plans, Leavitt said.
Hall presented his plans June 2 to the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission in Woodstock.
Leavitt said the entire community is in solidarity on the issue. “It’s the large community here against one guy who doesn’t even live here,” he said.
“It’s insane that he actually thinks he will get Vermonters to go along with this,” he added.
Hall said it’s sad to see such a response. “I think it’s primarily a misunderstanding” of people thinking the development will happen right away “when it’s more long term,” he said Thursday.
Hall said his communities will be mostly in the middle of cities and blend in with existing stores and buildings.
One of the perks of building a community in South Royalton is the proximity to Vermont Law School, because it is well-known in the environmental law field, Hall said.
“Not many people understand that I am a radical environmentalist,” Hall said.
Vermont’s process of getting plans like this in place is “long and laborious,” which is a good thing, Hall said, because there will be time for plenty of dialogue. “I would be (against it) too at this stage,” he said.
Hall’s says his plan is to build about 20 NewVistas in Vermont. Each would comprise about 50 communities of 20,000 people. That would increase Vermont’s population to about 20 million. Currently it is less than 700,000.
Although Leavitt said he isn’t focusing on whether the communities would be religion-based, he said the plans are “clearly based on Joseph Smith’s original Plat of Zion.” (The birthplace of Smith, founder of the Mormon church, and a monument to him are in Sharon and Royalton.)
According to Hall, the Plat of Zion may be a starting point but isn’t what the communities will be. “They will be something new — the NewVistas,” he said.
Hall also emphasized that the communities would not be religion-based, because communities set up like that often fail. “I’m a Mormon, and I know what a disaster it would be if it were only Mormons in the community,” he said.
Leavitt said the point is not religion but the fact that it would be a development on top of a mountain where there’s currently nothing. “(Hall) says the rest of this state will be wilderness, and that’s where I live,” he said.
The project is ahead of schedule in purchasing land in Vermont, Hall said, because of a flood of requests from Vermonters and real estate agencies to sell property. “So we went ahead and spent next year’s budget,” he said.
“We’re just trying to make Vermont better, and using Vermonters to do so.”
The original plan was for Hall to spend $2 million a year purchasing property in Vermont. He has said his wealth originally came from the fossil fuel industry.
Hall said he’s sorry he can’t be at the protest Friday to help people understand his intentions. “We’re just trying to make Vermont better, and using Vermonters to do so,” he said.
Vermont isn’t the only state where Hall plans to build NewVistas communities. He has purchased homes in the Provo, Utah, neighborhoods of Spring Hill and Pleasantview and plans to build communities there as well.
Provo residents have planned protests too. R. Paul Evans, chair of the Provo City Pleasant View Neighborhood, sent out a press release June 8 about a protest there.
“David Hall does not have the support of Provo City to rezone existing residential neighborhoods for commercial venture,” Evans said in the news release.
Evans said the general feeling about the NewVistas Project in Provo is “no.”
“Hall is attempting to achieve his dream for the future, and by doing so, disregarding the dreams of the hundreds of people who live here now,” he said.