Scott Milne says a 170-acre parcel of land just off Interstate 89 in Quechee is the perfect place to grow jobs in Vermont.
"And you will look here hopefully in just a few years and say, 'Vermont looks like a great place to start a business,'" Milne said.
The plans show what he's talking about-- phase one of a 10-building development with a mix of residential, retail and commercial space dubbed the Quechee Highlands. The planning commission for the town of Hartford voted unanimously in favor of the development, but the $30 million project recently hit a snag. It was denied an Act 250 permit, largely for one reason.
"Specifically retail uses," said Peter Gregory, the executive director of the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission.
The Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission submitted written and oral arguments against the project, saying it did not meet the necessary criteria.
"We suggest that those are better located in downtowns and villages rather rural areas or interstate interchanges," Gregory said.
Increased traffic was also cited as concern, even though the Vermont Transportation Agency has been working with developers and the town to make the project work.
The news is a blow to Milne, who along with development interests also owns a well-known travel agency.
"In that last three years, I think there has been two million square feet permitted in Lebanon, New Hampshire. That is the next town over. So, talking about significant regional impacts, which is what the regional planning commission used to quash this project, the regional impact is across the river and they are not regulated by Vermont. That is where all the money and all the jobs are going," Milne said.
But Gregory says the Act 250 denial should come as no surprise since he has gone back and forth with developers over the details for years.
"How it was very clear that if he proposed retail he was going to run into some problems," Gregory said. "So, that should not have been a surprise to him or the town or anybody."
Gregory says he is sticking by his commission's findings.
"My board has said we want to keep defending the regional plan and using that regional plan at the next level of appeal," he said.
The appeal process could take a year to complete, but Milne says he's optimistic. In fact, he's already named the three streets for the development.
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