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Commission Nears Decision On Exit 4 Development

Steve Zind
Landscape architect Bob White outlines the boundaries of the proposed Exit 4 project as developer Jesse Sammis looks on during a site visit conducted by the district environmental commission, which is currently conducting a partial review.

The District 3 Environmental Commission held a final hearing this week as it considers a large-scale development proposal for Exit 4 in Randolph.

During a visit to the site Monday, commission members tried to imagine where the lines on a map of the development might cross the field of winter rye.  

At the moment the commission’s review is only a partial one, as no actual buildings are proposed.  

Developer Jesse Sammis wants to know if going forward, his mixed-use project meets farmland protection requirements and conforms with local and regional plans.  

Opponents, including a local group, the Vermont Natural Resources Council and Conservation Law Foundation, have attacked the proposal from a number of angles.

They argue that because of the large size of the 1.1 million square foot project, and the presence of prime agricultural soils protected under state law, the commission should reject the plan.

Developer Sammis says his plan takes an innovative, clustered approach to preserves as much prime farmland as possible.

Sammis is asking the commission for permission to preserve prime agricultural soils off-site in exchange for developing on some of the land at the site.Opponents have argued that Sammis hasn’t met the criteria for off-site mitigation.

They have also criticized a plan submitted by the developer that only outlines the boundaries of the project, not what is planned for inside the area. Currently, the area within the boundaries is only described as conceptual.

In Monday’s hearing, Brian Shupe, executive director of VNRC told the commission a map showing the developments boundaries isn’t enough for even a partial review.

“I’ve never seen an application like this before and I’ve participated in a lot of Act 250 cases,” Shupe told commission members. “You are presented with a site plan that the applicants representative said, ‘this is not a proposal, this is not what is going to happen’. You haven’t even seen lot lines to know how these lots are configured to know whether the concepts that Bob White presented are innovative.”

Bob White is a landscape architect hired by the developer in response to a request by the commission to further cluster the development and save more farmland.

White says the boundaries are all the commission needs to determine the project’s impact on farmland. Details will come whenever any actual construction is proposed for a full review under Act 250, Vermont’s development control law.

"This is a hypothetical plan representing how we accomplished the clustering that the board asked us to accomplish...there is no smokescreens." - Bob White, landscape architect for Exit 4 proposal

White took issue with opponents characterization of the plan as insufficient because other than the borders of the project, the layout and sketches provided by the developer are hypothetical.   

“This is a hypothetical plan representing how we accomplished the clustering that the board asked us to accomplish,” said White. “There’s no smokescreens. It’s an example of how the clustering principles were exercised for the board’s benefit to see how we saved more prime (agricultural) soils. That’s what it is.”

A local group called Exit 4 Open Space also gave a presentation at this week’s hearing, arguing that the development doesn’t conform with the Randolph town plan and would hurt downtown businesses. The group gave examples of properties in or near the village center that it said could be used for the light industrial, office, hotel and residential space proposed as part of the Exit 4 development. 

The parties in the hearing have 30 days to file additional documents. After that, the commission will reach a decision on the proposal.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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