Vermont Act 250
Vermont Act 250 Handbook by Cindy Corlett Argentine (1998).
To order the Act 250 Handbook, write or call Putney Press at P.O. Box 430, Newfane, VT 05345. Phone: 800/639-6074 or 802/365-7991 or Fax at 802/365-7996. The book costs $32.95 + $3.00 shipping & handling. For moreinformation on environmental research tools, go to http://www.envirosource.com.
Overview of Act 250
What are the goals of Act 250?
One regional planning commission recently
explained them this way:
The goals of Act 250 are to protect the environment; balance development with local, regional and state issues; and to provide a forum for neighbors, municipalities and other interest groups to voice their concerns.
And as the Vermont legislature formally stated in 1969, Act
250 was necessary "to regulate and control the utilization
and usages of lands and the environment to insure that, hereafter,
the only usages which will be permitted are not unduly detrimental
to the environment, will promote the general welfare through orderly
growth and development and are suitable to the demands and needs
of the people of this state...."'
What mechanism does Act 250 establish to achieve its goals?
It requires developers to obtain a land use permit to construct
a development or subdivision. One step in the process of obtaining
many perm its is to have a public hearing to discuss potential
impacts of the development.
What is the history that led to this legislation? In
the 1960s, the interstate highway system reached Vermont, making
trips from Boston and New York possible in two to four hours.
Vermont communities, especially southern ones near ski resorts,
began to face rapid secondhome development. Traffic increased
and the traditional settlement pattern began to erode. In an effort
to exert some control over this expansion, Vermont legislators
started to think seriously about state landuse planning.
Small towns did not have the resources to manage all of this growth.
With the support of Governor Deane Davis, the Vermont General
Assembly passed Act 250 in 1970 to fill this need. Its name comes
from the fact that it was the 250th bill passed by that legislature. Since then it has become
the subject of national attention.
Does Act 250 create more than a permitting system? Act
250 initially called for a state landuse plan to be
drafted. Statewide planning was to accompany the permitting
system created by the Act. The state plan would provide a larger,
statewide perspective, and the permitting system would allow
specific, local impacts to be considered
As discussed in the chapter on Criterion 9, a state land use
plan has not been adopted to guide the permitting system. However,
state interests are incorporated into the review process by the
participation of state agencies. Regional interests are incorporated
through a requirement that development comply with regional plans.
(A related law, Act 200, has subsequently provided tools for strengthening
locale regional, and state planning.) Nonetheless, municipalities
still have considerable authority to shape their own futures through
the Act 250 process. Criterion 10 requires that proposals comply
with municipal plans, and Criteria 6 and 7 require that projects
not place undue burdens on municipal services. In addition municipal
officials have a right to participate in all criteria as automatic
parties to permit applications.
Does every development or subdivision need a permit? No.
As is the case with several seemingly ordinary terms, "development"
and "subdivision" have specific, legal meanings as defined
in Section 6001 of Act 250. These definitions are the basis of
Act 250 jurisdiction. Generally speaking, a project requires an
Act 250 permit if it involves any of the following:
In addition, there are some important exceptions: construction
for the purpose of farming, logging, or forestry does not require
a permit when it occurs under 2,500 feet in elevation. (See Chapter
3 on jurisdiction.)
What should applicants do before submitting an application
for an Act 250 permit? The key to submitting a strong application
is understanding what Act 25 0 requires before planning a project,
often even before buying the land for it. The Act's requirements
for projects are expressed as 10 criteria. These criteria are
listed generally below and are discussed in "Chapters 10
through 38. Another important step applicants can take is to acknowledge
the rights neighbors and interest groups may have to voice their
concerns. Understanding these parties' concerns and opening a
dialogue for discussing them may save much time and money in the
long run. (See Chapter 4 on beginning the process.)
What rights do neighbors and other citizens or groups have
when a project is proposed which concerns them? Anyone may
attend hearings, but only persons with party status may present
evidence. Whether a person receives party status depends on such
things as whether the individual 's land borders the project's
land, or whether the person is directly affected by the project,
or whether his knowledge will significantly help the District
Commission with its decision. Persons should ask the District
Commission for party status at the prehearing conference,
if one is held, or at the first hearing if there is no prehearing
conference. For information on who automatically has party status,
who must request it, and what a request entails, see Chapter 5,
Participation in Act 250 Hearings.
What are the 10 criteria that developments and subdivisions
must satisfy to obtain a permit? The majority of this book
explains what information is relevant to these criteria and how
the Environmental Board and District Commissions have interpreted
their sometimes vague language. Stated in simplified form, the
criteria require that the subdivision or development:
Where can I get a copy of Act 250? How can I learn about changes to Act 250 in the future?
"The statute and board rules are also electronically accessible
via the Vermont State home page at http:
//www.state.vt.us." Photocopies of Act 250 and
of the Environmental Board rules are available from District Commission
of Officers. To monitor changes to the law, you can call the Environmental
Board and request the most recent proposed amendments. The Board's
staff will also make available copies of rules the Board proposes
and inform you of hearings on these proposed rules. Newsletters
and other publications also cover the Act 250 process.
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