Scott Vetoes Bill That Would Have Changed Act 250 Appeals Process | Education | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Scott Vetoes Bill That Would Have Changed Act 250 Appeals Process


Published June 1, 2022 at 7:25 p.m.

Gov. Phil Scott in Colchester Wednesday - KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
  • Gov. Phil Scott in Colchester Wednesday
Gov. Phil Scott followed through Wednesday on his vow to veto an Act 250 reform bill that legislators knew was doomed.

“I just think we need to go back and start over,” Scott said at a press conference in Colchester, where he had traveled to celebrate the groundbreaking for a new housing project. “We need a clean slate.”

The bill, S.234, became an end-of-session political football. It would have required additional environmental review of large projects that risk fragmenting forests, and it also would have shifted appeals of Act 250 decisions from environmental courts to a professional panel — measures Scott opposed. It would have streamlined permitting processes to spur housing development, too.

To ensure Scott didn't block those housing provisions, lawmakers copied and pasted those sections into a larger housing bill, S.226, that he supported. They passed both bills, and resigned themselves that only one would become law.

Mayors across the state had objected to the proposed appeals changes. Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, a former developer, slammed that proposal as likely to make housing development even harder by complicating the process.

"From my perspective, this bill makes Act 250 even more cumbersome than it is today and it will make it harder to build the housing we desperately need," Scott wrote in a veto message released Wednesday evening. "These concerns were raised by elected leaders on both sides of the aisle, though were not addressed by the Legislature."

Brian Shupe, executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, countered that by rejecting forest protections, Scott had put the state's landscape of compact cities and towns surrounded by green space at risk.

"During COVID we have seen an unprecedented level of real estate pressure that is expected to continue as a result of climate change. S.234 balanced the need for more housing to accommodate these trends while better safeguarding Vermont’s working lands and natural resources," Shupe wrote in a statement. "In scuttling the bill the Governor has placed Vermont at risk of not being able to effectively address these pressures.”

Environmental groups argued the change would have improved the administration of the Act 250. "In vetoing the bill the Governor has actively chosen not to modernize and improve one of Vermont’s most important environmental programs,” VNRC's Jon Groveman said in a statement.

The measures salvaged from the doomed Act 250 bill include doubling the size of priority housing projects allowed in small towns that can be exempted from Act 250 review, speeding up approval. They would also make properties in river corridors that can flood eligible to skirt Act 250. The measures would extend the life of municipal development permits to two years; require cities and towns to respond to Act 250 permit applications within 90 days; and provide additional grants to help towns update their zoning laws.

Scott supported these measures, and said he plans to sign the bill containing them next week.