By Lisa Loomis
As promised, True North Wilderness Program has appealed the Act 250 denial it originally received in December toVermont’sEnvironmental Court.
After the District 5 Environmental Commission issued its denial, True North asked the commission to reconsider, specifically to reconsider its findings under Criteria 10 that the proposed use does not conform to Waitsfield’s Town Plan.
At that time True North noted that, while it was specifically addressing the issue of Town Plan conformance, it would be appealing the denials under the other Act 250 criteria as well, should the Town Plan findings not change.
Act 250 affirmed its denial on March 30, denying True Wilderness’ after-the-fact request for permits to operate its wilderness therapy business on private property located onDana Hill Roadin December. True North, through its attorneys, asked that that decision be reconsidered and argued that Waitsfield’s Town Plan is too ambiguous to have been used by the District 5 Commission to deny the project.
While the commission denied the project on many of Act 250’s 10 review criteria, it was the denial of criteria 10, “conformance with the local Town Plan,” that True North wanted changed.
In a March 2 decision, the commission affirmed its December decision, concluding that the Waitsfield Town Plan is, in fact, specific enough for the commission to have used the Town Plan to rule that True North’s proposed uses could not be defined as traditional outdoor recreation or outdoor recreation.
True North runs a year-round wilderness therapy program for teens and young adults that has students camping in groups of six with two counselors either primitive camping in Howe Block of the Camel’s Hump State Forest or camping in tents on tent platforms with composting toilets on private land on Dana Hill Road.
The District Commission’s December decision clearly defined what True North does as commercial, even though True North has alternately argued it is a school, it is outdoor recreation, or both and, as such, is allowed in the zoning districts in Waitsfield where it wants to operate. The private land on Dana Hill is in the agricultural/residential district and in the forest reserve. In neither district are commercial uses allowed – although outdoor recreation is allowed in both.
“The District Commission concluded that the foregoing examples of ‘outdoor recreation’ are ‘sufficiently clear to guide the conduct of an average person, using common sense and understanding.’ However, True North does not fit among these examples. True North is a ‘commercial development’ that engages in a variety of land uses in the conduct of their business,” the commission wrote in its March 2 decision.
True North’s appeal was filed on April 2 and will be heard by the Vermont Environmental Court.