After the District 5 Environmental Commission denied True North Wilderness Program an Act 250 permit to operate its wilderness therapy business on land on Dana Hill in Waitsfield, True North requested that the commission modify and alter its decision to acknowledge that the business is in conformance with the Town Plan.
An abutter to the project responded to that motion urging the commission not to modify its findings. True North responded to that motion with a reply, reiterating its previous points as to why the project should be considered in compliance with the Town Plan.
True North operates a wilderness therapy business 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.
In rejecting True North’s application for a permit in December, the District 5 Environmental Commission found that the commercial aspect of True North made it an incompatible use for the two zoning districts in Waitsfield where it has been operating. True North has been operating on private land on Dana Hill that lies in the agricultural/residential district as well as the town’s forest reserve district. True North also operates on land in the Howe Block of the Camel’s Hump State Forest.
True North, seeking to amend the decision, argued that the fact that the Waitsfield Development Review Board has issued a local permit for the business meant that it was in conformance with the Town Plan. True North further argued that Waitsfield’s Town Plan is aspirational and ambiguous, meant to guide versus have the force of legal zoning laws.
Attorney David Grayck, who represents adjoining landowner Kinny Perot, argued that Waitsfield’s Town Plan is enforceable and further sited legal precedent wherein the issuance of a local permit does not automatically mean that the District 5 Commission must accept that a project is in conformance with a Town Plan. The precedent Grayck cited details how the Vermont Legislature, following a Supreme Court ruling, specifically gave that independent power to review a Town Plan and a project to Act 250 commissioners.
The February 21 response to Grayck reiterates True North’s desire for Act 250 to alter its decision, arguing again that True North received a local permit which was not appealed. A criteria for the local review process is that a project meets the goals and objectives of the Town Plan. The most recent filing notes that True North proceeded with Act 250 permitting relying on the local permit which was granted.
True North attorneys reiterate the contention that Waitsfield’s Town Plan is ambiguous and unenforceable and suggest that the District 5 Commission’s ruling flies in the face of the Supreme Court case (and subsequent legislative action) that results in the commission being able to conduct its own independent review of whether a project is in conformance with a Town Plan.