The Vermont Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill on Wednesday that increases protections for forestland and wildlife corridors as part of an effort that began three years ago to update Act 250.
The bill, which also called for clarification of rules for the development of recreational trails, was far more limited than the comprehensive reform bill passed earlier this year by the House.
That narrower scope of the Senate version of H.926 has disappointed some who had hoped for a sweeping reform of the state's seminal land-use law.
The measure nevertheless won wide support in the chamber. The portion of the bill requiring large development projects to avoid fragmenting forestland and blocking wildlife corridors passed 24-6. The trails piece passed unanimously.
“Act 250 has helped us live in greater harmony with nature and with each other,” Sen. Chris Bray (D-Addison) said. “But Act 250 is not a relic. As we change, and as our use of land changes, so too does Act 250 need to change with it.”
The party-line vote on the forest fragmentation portion reflects the concern that officials in Gov. Phil Scott’s administration have about the bill.
They have expressed disappointment in the removal of exemptions from Act 250 for projects in downtowns. Even Democrats who supported the bill, including Sen. Dick McCormack (D-Windsor), could only muster tepid praise.
“I don’t love this iteration of the bill, either, but I find it something that I, for one, can live with,” he said.
A third, procedural vote is likely to be held later this week before the bill heads to the House. It's unclear whether that chamber will approve it or even take it up before the end of the session. Conference committees can be called to hash out disparate versions of bills, but that process can be time-consuming.