True North’s attempt to obtain state permits for its Waitsfield operations was denied by the District 5 Act 250 Environmental Commission.
The December 30, Act 250 decision rejected True North’s request to permit already existing operations on Dana Hill Road in Waitsfield. True North is a wilderness therapy program for teens and young adults. True North is recognized by the state of Vermont as a school and as a residential therapy facility.
True North works with groups of students and counselors who spend seven to eight weeks camping either on private land or on the Howe Block of the Camel’s Hump State Forest. The program operates year round with students using the tent platforms and composting toilets in the winter months.
True North sought permission to operate on 25 acres of land using two tent platforms, two composting toilets and a 20-foot diameter yome – all of which were in place prior to the application. True North also sought to construct a third composting toilet. The land is located in the town’s agricultural/residential and forest reserve zoning districts.
DID NOT COMPLY
The District 5 Commission found that the project did not comply with Waitsfield’s Town Plan, because its commercial activity is not allowed in either zoning district where it was proposed. The decision also found that the project did not meet standards for waste disposal, water supply, soil erosion, transportation and aesthetics.
Waitsfield’s Town Plan calls for commercial and industrial development to be located in the Irasville Village and industrial zoning districts and the commission found True North’s operations to be commercial and as such not allowable in the two zoning districts where it has been operating.
Regarding land use in those districts, the Town Plan states that “land use and development shall be limited to forestry, outdoor recreation, small seasonal camps and year round residential dwellings below an elevation of 1,700 feet.” The Town Plan limits land uses to agriculture, forestry, residences, land-based uses (e.g., recreation, extraction) and very limited commercial or public facilities compatible with the rural residential character of the district.
True North, in its permit application, argued that its operations could be considered outdoor recreation and thus in conformance with the Town Plan.
The District 5 commissioners did not agree.
“The Oxford dictionary defines ‘recreation’ as: ‘process or means of refreshing or entertaining oneself; pleasurable activity; synonymous with amusement, diversion, leisure, sport, play.’ The Oxford dictionary defines ‘traditional’ as: ‘customary, usual, established, well-known.’ As stated in finding 57, the Town Plan defines ‘outdoor recreation’ within the Forest Reserve District to mean ‘non-commercial recreation such as hiking, hunting and snowmobiling.’ The Town Plan also uses the word ‘traditional’ in conjunction with “outdoor recreation,’” the commissioners wrote.
The decision notes that the commission acknowledged that True North’s program occurs in an outdoor setting but ruled that the project cannot be described as “outdoor recreation.”
“Recreation activities included in the Town Plan, such as hiking, hunting and snowmobiling, are undertaken for leisure, sport, or pleasure, and which the commission notes are all transitory in nature. On the other hand, True North’s participants occupy the project tract continuously, for seven to eight weeks. The commission concludes that True North’s on-going land use is not in conformance with the ‘recreational’ uses described in the Town Plan where ‘traditional outdoor recreation’ or ‘outdoor recreation’ is contemplated as an allowed land use in either the Forest Reserve District or the Agricultural Residential District,” they continued.
The commissioners found that True North’s proposed use is a development for commercial purposes and noted that even if the proposed project was considered commercial outdoor recreation it would still not comply with the uses that the Town Plan allows in either zoning district. Commercial outdoor recreation is not allowed in the Forest Reserve District they wrote.
The commission concluded that the proposed True North project is not an allowed land use in the Forest Reserve District under the Town Plan and in the ag/res district the commission found that only a limited number of commercial activities are allowed including home occupations and certain recreation facilities.
The Town Plan does not define recreation facilities, but the zoning regulations define recreation facilties as “any facility used for recreation, including but not limited to tennis courts, golf courses, ski areas, skating rink, skateboard park, athletic fields, bowling alleys, spas and swimming pools....”
The commission concluded that the proposed True North project does not meet this definition of a recreation facility. Because commercial outdoor recreation is not specified in the Town Plan as an allowable use in the ag/res district, the commission concluded that the True North project is not one of the limited commercial activities allowed in that district.
True North has until January 17 to request a modification or appeal the decision.