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Federal laws forbid guns on school property and that puts True North Wilderness’s plans for a school on 650 acres in Fayston in conflict with the public recreation easement that exists on the property, according to the Fayston Citizens Group.
True North is seeking state permits to operate a wilderness therapy program on a 650-acre parcel of land located between the Big Basin Trust Lands and the Phen Basin in Fayston. The parcel straddles two zoning districts and comes with a recreation easement that allows public use of the parcel, including hunting, fishing, trapping and snowshoeing.
The company is seeking permits for 12 permanent campsites, each with two yurts and a composting toilet, a variety of support buildings and permission to camp throughout the parcel during the spring, summer and fall. True North works with teenagers and young adults and wants permission for a maximum of 42 students and 14 counselors to be on the land year round.
True North has received a conditional use permit from the Fayston Development Review Board to operate its school on the parcel. That permit has been appealed by the applicant as well as the Fayston Citizens Group. State Act 250 hearings got underway on September 27. During the Act 250 hearings, the Fayston Citizens Group (FCG) raised the issue of a conflict between the recreational easement and federal laws regarding guns on school grounds.
This week, in separate filings with both the town and the District 5 Environmental Commission conducting the Act 250 review, FCG and adjoining landowners John and Liz Levey provided details about the federal law and the implications for the recreation easement.
“The easement’s purpose is to provide perpetual public recreational access to the property for dispersed non-motorized pedestrian activities including, but not limited to hunting, fishing, trapping and snowshoeing. The use of this property as a school and for continued hunting under the easement would be in direct conflict with federal laws and possibly state laws that forbid or restrict guns on school property. According to federal statute, it is unlawful to knowingly possess a firearm on property that is a school zone,” the Leveys and FCG wrote.
The letters go on to cite federal law 18 U.S. C Section 921 and Section 922 which outline the federal restrictions and define what constitutes a school zone.
The Levey’s letter to the town asked the DRB to determine whether the proposed project is consistent with the character of the area which is one of the DRB review criteria.
True North, throughout the review process, argued that it is a school and it holds state certifications as a school that provides wilderness therapy. If True North is to use the Lathrop parcel as a school, “then by definition, the proposed use of the area is inconsistent with the character of the area, which is a public easement for hunting,” the Leveys wrote.
“If True North were to own the Lathrop parcel and use it as a school, it would effectively shut down hunting in the French Brook Basin, since federal law restricts hunting 1,000 feet beyond any school grounds. When taking this into account, it is clear the purposes of the easement are in direct conflict with the proposed project. In short, the easement and True North cannot co-exist on the Lathrop parcel.
The Fayston DRB will review a request by True North to reconsider the permit it issued as well as the Levey letter at a meeting on November 8. Act 250 has not yet set a date for continuing its hearings on the project.