On December 28, 2023

Hartland Select Board adds $10,000 for planning commissions legal fee

 

By Curt Peterson
Dan Jerman, vice chair of the nine-member Hartland Planning Commission, approached the Select Board during review of the FY2025 municipal budget, on Dec. 18, to ask for additional funding for “possible” legal fees, which might be incurred during the commission’s appeal of the Environmental Commission’s grant of an ACT 250 permit to Sunnymede Farm for a proposed farm stand on vacant land on Route 5/12 at the end of Rice Road.

The property in contention is part wetland, and formerly included deteriorating farm buildings, which were cleared in preparation for the farmstand. A local farmer harvests a small amount of hay, and drivers-by use the lot as a trash receptacle. 

Sunnymede proposes a professionally designed farmstand that will have at least 60% of their offered products directly produced on their farm, a couple of miles from the site. They believe theirs is an allowed use within the “rural” zone designated by the Planning Commission in the 2022-adopted Hartland Town Plan.

Apparently, the Environmental Commission agrees with Sunnymede.

Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission (TRORC) filed an appeal based on ACT 250 criterias 10 and 9L of their regional plan,  which, executive director Peter Gregory told the Mountain Times, cite “Conformance to and [sic] duly adopted Local or Regional Plans”(10) and “settlement patterns”, or “sprawl” (9L).

The Hartland Planners’ separate appeal is also based on Sunnymede’s proposed non-conformance to criteria 9L. They consider Sunnymede’s “a retail store,” a prohibited use in the “rural” zone.

Select Board chair Phil Hobbie was taken aback by two aspects of Jarman’s request — first that the Planning Commission planned to use $19,000 specifically budgeted for professional help with the town survey, which remains unspent, for totally unrelated legal fees. Second, Hobbie recalled that the planners were going to join in support of TRORC’s appeal, not start their own redundant legal action. 

If they joined TRORC, Hobbie said, there would have been no legal fees.  Hobbie felt the unspent survey money should automatically return as part of any FY2024 budget surplus.

Jerman professed ignorance on the commissioners’ part — “We didn’t realize there were strings attached to the money,” he said. “It was a miscommunication.”

The town survey was completed, and the data presented at a public meeting on Dec. 6.

As part of his argument for support from Select Board and taxpayers, Jarman cited the large percentage of survey respondents “who want our town to remain a small, rural community.”

Hobbie pointed out that a similar percentage indicated a desire to “encourage commercial development adjunct to the villages, and on the state highways.” The Sunnymede site is on Route 5/12, less than a ¼ mile from Interstate 91, and adjacent to the Three Corners village perimeter.

Jarman said the commission has no estimate of the total legal fees the appeal might incur, but guessed it could run to $30,000. He referred to the State Supreme Court as a possible final confrontation arena. 

Kennedy said that could be “years away.”

Selectman Jim Rielly made a motion in favor of increased funding for the commission’s legal fees, which was amended multiple times. The final motion awarded the planners $10,000 in anticipation of appeal legal fees. Kennedy, Rielly and Clyde Jenne voted in favor of the motion, and Hobbie voted “nay.” Selectwoman Mandi Potter was not in attendance.

 

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