By Stephen Seitz
Ever since it was reported that the Utah-based NewVista Foundation started buying land in the Sharon-Royalton area for the purpose of building an entirely new community, a lot of eyebrows went up as people wondered, can they do that? Aren’t there rules?
According to the NewVistas website, this is what they have in mind: “A NewVista is a settlement comprised of [sic] 50 diamond-shaped communities of 15,000 to 20,000 people each, which are located adjacent to each other. This larger settlement of adjacent communities, called a NewVista, has a population of 750,000 to 1,000,000 people when fully developed. This urban model drastically reduces the need for an automobile, the cost of housing, the need for separate buildings for residences and businesses, and would locate jobs for many people in close proximity to their residence.”
In other words, NewVista wants to build a fairly large town in the middle of Windsor County. Thus far, the organization has only purchased about 900 acres, according to published reports. However, no Act 250 permits have been filed to date.
Attempts to contact David R. Hall, the head of NewVistas Foundation, were not successful. Area and state officials said the proposal was too new and they haven’t given it full consideration yet.
“It’s not a project yet,” said Chris Sargent, a senior planner at the Two Rivers Ottaquechee Regional Planning Commission. “We don’t know exactly what they’re doing. 10,000 to 20,000 people is what they want. That’s the population equivalent of Hartland.”
Sargent said a project like this would take at least a decade to complete. “Act 250 alone will be huge,” he said. “Plus ANR permits, wastewater and stormwater permits, and complying with local and regional plans.”
Maura Clark, the executive director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, said it was possible, but not required, to incorporate as a separate town.
“We do not know of any statute requiring a project the size of NewVistas to create a separate municipality,” Clark wrote in an email. “As I understand it, since the boundaries of the towns are already in place, there isn’t a process for seceding from each town and creating a new one. There is a possibility of creating another level of government over the existing towns–a village or fire district or the like. Also, to the extent the four towns have zoning ordinances, the development would have to comply with local zoning or other permit requirements.”
Clark said in a later interview that such an undertaking would not likely happen all at once. “It’s really early to think about the specifics,” she said. “It would develop with existing town plans, or they could form a separate municipality.”
If NewVistas wanted to go that route, there is a way, according to Jenny Prosser. She is the general counsel for Secretary of State Jim Condos’ office and deals with municipal questions.
“The selectmen of the towns could form a committee and come up with a detailed plan for consolidation,” Prosser said. “The assistant judges would have to approve that plan, and then it needs voter approval. After that, the plan goes to the state Legislature.”
For more info visit: newvistafoundation.org.