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We are members of the Fayston Citizens' Group who are
concerned about the True North Wilderness Program LLC's expansion onto the
Lathrop parcel in North Fayston's Shepard Brook Basin/Big Basin.
Some residents and landowners have been here for generations enjoying the privacy, peace and quiet, and proximity to wild places that this basin area has offered. Others who have moved here felt right away the sense of home this area provides, living on the edge of wilderness, full of wild sounds with little traffic noise—our sanctuary from the world; it is why we chose to make our homes here.
Currently the 651-acre Lathrop tract is a wild pristine example of well-managed forest land which provides all manner of food, protection, wildlife habitat, headwater streams and vital wildlife corridors from high elevations along the spine of the Green Mountains down French Brook into Shepard Brook and on to the Mad River. The Lathrop tract is in between Phen Basin's critical wildlife habitat, Big Basin's carefully managed forest land and Huntington Gap's access to lands on the west side of the Greens. The Shepard Brook has been noted to be one of the most pure in the state. This block of state and/or protected land stretches from Route 17 to Route 89. It is a huge, un-fragmented, contiguous block of vital deep forest land with the Lathrop parcel jutting through the middle.
True North's proposed development size and scope for the Lathrop tract are significantly out of character for this area. If this proposal is allowed, this entire parcel will be full of human activities on a permanent basis, causing significant disruption to the natural resources and the wildlife seeking refuge from humans. Plans to build 12 permanent campsites, three structures each totaling 512 square feet, include a composting toilet but no septic system. These permanent structures are planned in an arch around the tract, effectively circumnavigating the French Brook basin. Clients and staff will also be camping outside of these permanent sites across the entire parcel during non-winter months, cooking on open campfires daily and digging cat holes instead of using toilets. Formulas have shown this proposal to produce approximately 32 tons of human waste annually—all in the headwaters area of French Brook.
The Lathrop parcel has a public access easement on it from the state that allows access for non-motorized, non-mechanized travel in perpetuity. The True North plan includes servicing campsites by ATVs and snowmobiles when needed.
The easement allows public access throughout the parcel, not confined to the trails alone. Imagine hiking, hunting, snowshoeing or skiing in the woods and coming upon an open-air therapy session, not something either party would want.
For locals, the economic viability of living here often requires using public lands and low- or no-cost recreational opportunities. Our neighborhood contains many entrepreneurs who work out of their homes, taking breaks and making frequent use, day and night, of this tract and many others. We value the places to which we have public access and/or landowner permission, and feel safe being alone in nature to walk, run, ski, snowshoe and bushwack.
The easement also allows the owner to create zones of non-interference. We have yet to hear figures for these zones. Do they include all open-air sites also? The resulting public easement could look like Swiss cheese.
The proposal asks the development review board to allow mixed use on the property, with True North operating as a school in the Rural Residential District, and as an outdoor recreation facility on the Soil and Water Conservation District, despite the fact that mixed use is not allowed in either district. In order to skirt occupancy limitations in the yurts, they are building 70 percent more structures in their permanent campsites than they need for the occupancy indicated, further impacting the forest. At full build-out there will be a total 20,000 square feet of structures.
The True North development brings a large influx of transient people into this quiet and lightly populated residential part of town. The proposal for 42 clients and 14 guides along with other staff and therapists which change weekly has a client population change every six to eight weeks. This will effectively triple the year-round population of the immediate area. True North has been permitted to expand their age group (currently 14 to 17) to include 18- to 22-year-olds as well. With that age group comes the legal ability to buy alcohol and cigarettes, and to walk away at free will, bringing even further concerns about safety which we have heard many express.
The scope of the proposal will add thousands of one-way car trips to and from the Lathrop tract annually. The traffic alone will adversely affect the character of the area. Imagine having the traffic on your street increase 100-fold during several years of construction!
We applaud owners of True North Wilderness Program LLC for their entrepreneurial spirit and their mission to help troubled teens. We have no personal grievance with the developers or their mission but feel at the end of the day that True North is a business that does not fit this parcel. This business could be sold at any time and stands to make millions at full build-out with very little benefit or compensation to the town of Fayston or surrounding residents.
This complicated, challenging proposal deserves the close attention of all of Faystons residents for Town Plan and zoning issues, and all members of the public regarding the access easement. Through long hours of study and review, we have found many ways the proposal is not in keeping with our Town Plan or our land use regulations.
The Fayston Development Review Board has a lot to consider and will benefit from a process that includes your voice. To get up to speed quickly and have your voice heard, we encourage everyone to attend the July 12 Fayston DRB meeting at 6 p.m. at the Town Hall.
The authors live in North Fayston.