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Message From the Director
Supreme Court Decision Clarifies Role of Regional Plan in Act 250
After months of waiting, the Supreme Court finally ruled on a much-anticipated decision, B&M Realty LLC vs. Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission. This case is commonly referred to as the Exit 1 Quechee Highland's case.  There are many issues that were addressed in this decision, but I will limit my remarks to three areas: vested right, definition of substantial regional Impact, and criterion 10.

Background:
  • In 2004, the Town of Hartford joins the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission, and at the time of their entry, the 2003 Regional Plan was in effect.
  • In 2005, the landowner sought and received a zoning amendment for land adjacent to Exit 1 in Quechee.  
  • In 2006, that landowner presented a sketch plan entitled: Quechee Highlands Project" to the Hartford Planning Commission.
  • In 2007, Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission amended its 2003 Regional Plan to include the Towns of Hartford and Norwich, their newest members.
  • In 2012, the applicant sought and received a zoning permit for the Quechee Highland's Project for a commercial and residential project totaling 130,000 square feet.
  • In December 2012, the applicant sought an Act 250 permit.  The District Commission denied that Act 250 project stating that it didn't conform to the 2007 Regional Plan.

The applicant appealed the decision on two grounds: the 2007 Regional Plan didn't apply because they had a "vested right" when they submitted a sketch plan to the Planning Commission in 2006.  The court rejected the argument since the applicant didn't apply for a zoning  permit until 2012.

The second issue was whether the project created a conflict between the municipal and regional plans.   The regional plan would take effect if the project created a substantial regional impact. The applicant argued that the project didn't create a substantial regional impact and, therefore, the municipal plan should have jurisdiction.  The Environmental Court agreed with the applicant and overturned the District Commission's decision. The Environmental Court ruled that the criteria for determining Substantial Regional in the 2007 Regional Plan were aspirational and did not provide clear guidance to the applicant. The court concluded that the project conformed to the Regional Plan.

Supreme Court Decision

Vested Right
The Supreme Court decision was very clear that a vested right is obtained at the time an applicant applies for  a zoning permit and not on the onset of a related permitting process.  The Court also stated that: "A mere suggestion to a municipality that a property owner would like to undertake ill-defined work at an unspecified time is insufficient to vest in a developer a right to rely on the then -existing regional plan for the purposes of an application."

Substantial Regional Impact
The Supreme Court denied the applicant's argument that the legislature improperly gave "complete and utter discretion" to define "substantial regional impact".  The Court denied the applicant's argument without merit, and stated that Title 24, Chapter 117 "provides ample guidance to Regional Planning Commissions in the development of regional plans."  Furthermore, the court stated that the regional plan clearly states the criteria for determining substantial regional impact.

Criterion 10
The Supreme Court clarified the use of a regional plan in Act 250.  Many in the planning profession grew increasingly alarmed over past court decisions that appeared to be trending towards plans becoming less of a policy document and more regulatory in nature due to the degree of specificity asked for by District Commissions and the Courts.  It was particularly problematic for regional plans given their large geographic areas and difficulty in finding consensus amongst board members if policies were too strict and targeted.  This decision threaded the needle between allowing regional plans to continue to be policy documents that guide future land use, public services and facilities, and the expansion of transportation infrastructure, while also  clarifying that Regional Plans must be "sufficiently clear to give a person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is proscribed."

Conclusion
This decision is very well written and provides clarity to all parties regarding issues of vested rights and the definition of substantial regional impact when there is conflict between a regional and municipal plan. The Court also provided clear guidance about the need for a regional plan to be both flexible and broad while providing clear guidance for future development.

Finally, what was not discussed in the decision is the disconnect between local permitting and the Act 250 process. There are many incidences where municipalities and developers do not take into consideration the regional plan in their local permitting process, or a developer assumes that since they have a local permit, an Act 250 permit is a perfunctory requirement. Communication amongst all the parties, with due consideration given to each party, is an important step in making Vermont's permitting process more efficient and less costly for all parties.

Emergency Management
LEPC News
In November, presenters from the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security will present on the development of Emergency Operation Plans (EOPs) for schools and the role that first responders play in the development and maintenance of these plans. They will provide an overview of the Federal Guide to Developing High Quality School EOPs, the Vermont School Crisis Guide, the Vermont School Safety website (http://schoolsafety.vermont.gov), and emerging trends/best practices in school safety. This event serves as a good opportunity for school officials and first response organizations to meet and learn what tools are available to enhance safety in their schools. See the LEPC webage for past and upcoming agenda topics here: http://swcrpc.org/lepc3/
Hazard Mitigation Planning
Both Andover and West Windsor have recently begun the process of updating their Hazard Mitigation Plans. The new, stand-alone plans will identify natural hazards, the people and facilities potentially at risk, and ways to mitigate damage from future hazard impacts. The purpose of this article is to encourage public involvement as a continuous effort throughout the project. The goal is to receive comments, identify key issues or concerns, update and improve mitigation ideas, and to guide the community. The West Windsor and Andover committees will meet again in November and December. Contact Allison Hopkins for more information and to learn how to get involved.
Energy
Enhanced Energy Planning Standards
Act 174 grants regional planning commissions and municipalities "substantial deference" in the Section 248 permitting process for renewable energy generation facilities.  Regions and municipalities only receive "substantial deference" if they have completed and adopted an energy element of their plan that meets the Department of Public Service's standards.  The standards were published on November 1st and may be viewed here.  If you are interested in learning more about the standards, please consider attending an informational session at the SWCRPC's office on Thursday, 12/8/16 at 6:30pm.  Contact Dan Potter for more information.
Land Use Planning
Four MPG Applications Submitted 
Applications for the Municipal Planning Grant (MPG) program were due on October 31, 2016.  Two to three projects from the Southern Windsor County region are funded in a typical year.  This year four applications were submitted from this region.  The project proposals are summarized below:
  • Ludlow municipal development plan update to address inconsistencies with statewide planning goals, specifically including energy, implementation, and land use; for $7,950.
  • Springfield land use bylaws update, including public outreach efforts and addressing changes per the new Town Plan; for $9,000.
  • Weathersfield town plan update including a visioning process for village revitalization and preparing an implementation plan; for $9,210.
  • Windsor is seeking to facilitate a public planning process and develop updates to the zoning bylaws to address conflicts with the 2014 Town Plan; for $9,000.
Transportation News
Better Connections Applications
The Better Connections Program is a funding opportunity for a local planning effort to increase transportation options, build resilience, and strengthen economic vitality in Vermont's community centers.  Approximately $200,000 is available annually, with a 10% local match requirement.  Eligible projects involve providing safe, multi-modal and resilient transportation systems, supporting downtown and village economic development and leading revitalization efforts, and lead directly to project implementation.  

Towns interested in applying should be aware that pre-application meetings are required by December 16, 2016 and applications are due by January 13, 2016.  For more information, see the program website at   http://vtrans.vermont.gov/planning/projects-programs/better-connections .

Last year, this program (formerly known as Strong Communities, Better Connections) funded two projects in this region:


Rediscovering Chester: A Master Plan for Chester Village Center 
This project involves engaging the community to develop a unified vision for Village Center revitalization, conducting a marketing analysis, and developing clear strategies to improve the transportation infrastructure that support local revitalization efforts.  The Town of Chester hired a consultant team (SE Group, Consult Econ, and VHB) to assist with this project.  The project began this fall with a number of outreach events.  See the project website for more information: http://www.chestervt.gov/rediscover.html.
 
 
Streetscape Master Plan in Downtown Springfield
This project is focused on developing a plan for improvements along the Main Street corridor in Downtown Springfield including, but not limited to, pedestrian and streetscape enhancements, wayfinding signage, parking, intersection improvements at Clinton Street/Main Street/South Street/Mineral Street, and the possible reuse of underutilized properties.  A project consultant team, led by Greenman-Pedersen, Inc., is assisting the Town and Springfield on the Move to complete this project.  For more information, see the project website: http://springfieldmp.wixsite.com/springfield-mp/about.

 
 
Preliminary sketch to illustrate a roundabout option for the intersection of Main Street, Clinton Street, South Street and Mineral Street in Springfield (GPI, 2016). 
Save the date - Dec 1st On-Road Bicycle Plan Meeting
Phase 2 of the VTrans On-Road Bicycle Plan is starting this fall.  Phase 1 was completed last year, identifying high, medium, and low priority areas for bicycling on State Highways.  Phase 2 will further help VTrans to prioritize on-road bicycle improvements, such as road sweeping in the spring and increasing shoulder width where possible.  Phase 2 will start with a public meeting on the evening of December 1, 2016.  Meetings will be hosted around the state at RPC offices, including ours in Ascutney.  To get a copy of the meeting details when they become available, contact Katharine Otto or check on http://vtrans.vermont.gov/planning/bikeplan.
Southern Windsor Windham Counties Solid Waste Management District 
How much food do we waste?
Picture buying 5 bags of groceries. Now picture going home and throwing 2 of those bags into the trash. Yes, that's what we're doing every time we shop - throwing out 20% of what we buy - that's a lot of money and resources. For easy ways to cut food waste, visit https://www.nrdc.org/stories/10-easy-tips-meal-planning
Grant Opportunites
Please refer to our Grants Website for up to date information about existing grants relevant for our towns and region. 
Stay Connected
Don't forget about us! 
When there are personnel changes on your boards or in the office, please help us by sending your updates to us promptly.  We use your contact information for a variety of purposes including:   grant opportunities;  upcoming road construction projects (including road and bridge closures);  trainings and events  and many other things! If you have any updates for town staff or volunteers, please send them to Chris Titus .
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The towns of Cavendish, Reading, Weathersfield, West Windsor, and Windsor have all joined. The mission of Front Porch Forum is to help neighbors connect and build community. It does that by hosting regional networks of online neighborhood forums. Common sense and a growing body of research tell us that well-connected neighborhoods are friendlier places to live, with less crime, healthier residents, higher property values, and better service from local government and public utilities.
S outhern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission 
PO Box 320
38 Ascutney Park Road
Ascutney, VT 05030
Telephone: 802-674-9201
Fax: 802-674-5711
General Email: info@swcrpc.org