Members of the District 5 Environmental Commission took testimony on 3 of the 10 Act 250 review criteria for True North Wilderness Program (True North) this week.
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 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.
The District 5 Commission met at the Fayston Town Offices on September 27 to take testimony on criteria 5—impact of traffic from the project; criteria 9K—the effect of the project on public investments—in this case on the public recreation easement that runs with the 650-acre Lathrop parcel; and Criteria 10—conformance with the regional and Town Plan.
True North owners Madhuri and Tyler Maves were represented by their attorney, engineer and consultants. The Fayston Citizens Group, a local group with concerns about the project, was present to participate in the hearings. Representatives of the Big Basin Trust were also at the hearing.
True North attorney Rebecca Boucher asked Madhuri Maves about the traffic that the project will generate and Maves reported that it would result in 13 to 45 round trips per day at maximum capacity. Engineer Don Marsh compared those trips with daily trips on Center and North Fayston Roads that were calculated over a three-day period in 2009. Center Fayston, he said saw an average of 330 trips per day and North Fayston, an average of 198 per day.
True North’s contribution to that traffic, estimated at 23 round trips on each road, would be minimal, he said.
Liz Levey, speaking on behalf of the Fayston Citizens’ Group and also as an abutter, said the impact of True North traffic should be considered on the Bassett Hill/Center Fayston Road intersection because it is narrow and dangerous and well used by pedestrians, horseback riders, cyclists and hikers. Marge Keough offered testimony as a mountain biker who uses the area extensively, noting that it is highly used as a recreational corridor.
David Garten also testified. He lives at the bottom of Dana Hill Road in Waitsfield. True North currently operates at the top of Dana Hill Road and uses that Class 4 road for access when students and staff do not hike in from Tucker Hill Road.
Garten noted that True North’s Waitsfield operation is for 24 students, not the projected 42 for the Fayston operation.
“There are only three full-time residences on this road. I’m at one end and True North is at the other. Since True North began operating on Dana Hill, there has been more traffic on my road in the last two years than in the previous 27 years that I’ve lived here. My experience on the property has completely changed. Now every day a car that I don’t know goes by, or I wake up hearing a car honking or tires spinning. My response has been to accept it. But with this project proposed for this neighborhood, I think the traffic will have a major impact on the character of this neighborhood and I think the traffic study that looked at Center and North Fayston Roads was irrelevant. I think the Fayston Citizens’ Group was right to ask for a traffic study of this area, this intersection on this micro-neighborhood. This project will represent fundamental change,” Garten said.
Carl Johnston, chair of the commission, thanked Garten for his testimony but noted that under criteria 5, character of the area is not a consideration. Character of the area, he said, was considered under the aesthetics criteria.
The commission moved on to consider criteria 9K and the applicants presented consultant Mark Cain who provided a written summary of how True North’s proposed use was compatible with the public easement. Maves also explained that the Vermont Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation has provided a letter stating that True North’s proposed uses were not incompatible with the existing public recreation easement on the Lathrop parcel.
Levey raised several issues regarding the easement and True North’s proposed uses. She said that the easement prohibits signage and True North’s application calls for posting signs around the campsites to create zones of exclusion for True North students. She presented testimony by local hunter Don Byrd who said that hunting in the extreme deep woods of the Lathrop parcel would be impacted by the presence of campers moving throughout the tract 365 days a year. Citizens Group member Freddie Graves told the commission that state and federal regulations specifically prohibit firing a gun on a school ground—which could be problematic for True North’s state designation as a school.
Finally, Levey said that the easement specifically restricts the use of motorized vehicles to logging and forestry uses. True North proposes using ATV and snowmobiles to re-provision camping groups, moving staff and supplies.
The District 5 Commissioners took no testimony on Criteria 10—conformance with regional and local plans—noting that they would listen to arguments (written) from both sides but would be using Fayston’s Town Plan to make their determination. The commission is recessed until another hearing to cover the remaining Act 250 review criteria.