Gov. Phil Scott announced on Tuesday that he objects to proposed changes to Act 250 included in S.234, a bill that has cleared both chambers in the Legislature, due to concerns that it doesn’t go far enough to address Vermont’s housing crisis. Scott said he plans to veto the bill.
“The current Act 250 bill would actually make it much more difficult to build homes at a time when we need it most,” he said.
Scott spoke at his weekly press conference on Tuesday alongside Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and Ted Brady, executive director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, both of whom shared his concerns.
Act 250, Vermont’s sweeping land use and development law, requires developers to obtain permits for certain commercial and industrial projects. Passed in 1970, it was designed to preserve the rural and wild character of Vermont, but many developers have said Act 250’s red tape has made building much-needed housing projects more difficult.
The bill proposes a suite of changes to Act 250 that both expand and limit its jurisdiction. It also would restructure the Natural Resources Board, which oversees Act 250. Lawmakers’ goal was to make the process more citizen-friendly, taking the Act 250 appeals process out of environmental court.
But Scott and others expressed concerns on Tuesday that the effort to restructure the board would require developers to go through both the environmental court — where local zoning appeals take place — and the newly formed board created in the bill.
“In short, this gives obstructionists to housing projects yet another way to throw sand in the gears of needed new homes,” Weinberger said. “This is the opposite direction that we should be going, especially the opposite direction that we should be going right now, in the midst of an acute housing crisis.”
Meanwhile, environmental groups lauded lawmakers’ efforts to reform Act 250 and said the bill puts the law on the right path. Members of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, a group that was involved with the creation of Act 250, said some claims by the governor and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, which wrote a letter opposing S.234, mischaracterize the bill.
“In particular, VNRC notes that — contrary to VLCT’s claim that there will be a significant effect in sending Act 250 and zoning appeals to different tribunals — it is rare that Act 250 and zoning appeals are heard at one trial,” the Vermont Natural Resources Council states in an opposing letter.
While Scott, Weinberger and Brady said they’re looking for the Legislature to exempt designated downtown areas from Act 250 entirely — many already have robust land use regulations — the Vermont Natural Resources Council wrote in a letter that such an exemption “was not under consideration by any committee of jurisdiction.”
Scott said even if the exemption for downtowns is added back into the bill, he still plans to veto it.
“There's too many other bad things in that bill,” he told reporters on Tuesday, adding that lawmakers need to “focus on the crisis at hand right now.”
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