February 18

I'll be providing VPA comments on the Act 250 bill in the House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee this Thursday (Feb 21).  After much discussion with the VPA Legislative Committee, the VPA Executive Committee is in the process of approving these comments.  Once approved by the Executive Committee, I will forward the comments to members via the listserve.  Many thanks to the Legislative Committee members and others from our Act 250 work group.  Your input and conversation formed the recommendations that the Executive Committee is now reviewing!


Suffice it to say that the big Act 250 bill is moving slowly in the House Natural Resources Committee, and may need input from other House committees (e.g., House Judiciary).  A lot can happen over the next week or two, and a lot will have to happen if this bill is to make it to the House floor to be voted on before the magical crossover date.  Bills must pass either the House or the Senate by crossover, in order to be considered by the other chamber this session. Crossover is generally around Town Meeting, but I don't know the specific date for this year.  We shall see...


New bills introduced since last week's update include:


H.197 - Act 250: Administration Bill.  Introduced by Representative Kimbell (Woodstock), this is the Administration's Act 250 reform bill.  The same bill was also introduced in the Senate as S.104.  It is similar but a bit simpler than the bill that the House Natural Resources Committee has been formulating for several weeks (committee bill 19-0040).  H.197 - 25 pages.  19-0040 - 81 pages.  https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/H.197 H.197's key differences from House Natural Resources Committee bill 19-0040:

  1. Uses the term Unique Resource Value Area (URVA) in place of "critical resource areas", and grants the ANR Secretary the power to designate these areas rather than defining them in statute.  Act 250 review required for development within a URVA, but prohibits the Secretary from designating a URVA in a State designation area - i.e., designated downtown, village center, neighborhood development area, growth center, or new town center.  Interestingly, the bill doesn't address what happens when a URVA is designated first and a State designation area sought later includes the URVA.
  2. Exempts from Act 250 review municipal and State transportation projects supported by any federal aid.
  3. Exempts from Act 250 review improvements or land uses that support an accessory on-farm business as long as the improvements associated with the accessory on-farm business don't exceed three-quarters of an acre in area.
  4. More clearly exempts from Act 250 development in a designated center that has enhanced designation.  Provides lots of detail on how municipalities can request enhanced designation, what the requirements are, and how such enhanced designations can be appealed.
  5. Provides more flexibility and ability for the Act 250 District Commission to waive fees upon request.
  6. Only modifies Act 250 review criteria with regard to river corridors (criteria 1D) and forest blocks and connecting habitat (added under criteria 8).  Does not address greenhouse gas emissions or climate change at all, in comparison to 19-0040 which does.
  7. Adds a host of provisions specific to and in support of forest-based enterprises - i.e., directing and constraining the District Commission's ability to condition forest-based enterprises.
  8. Affords "substantial deference" to ANR permits and technical determinations, and allows these to demonstrate conformance with various criteria in lieu of an applicant submitting other evidence.  Allows these State permits to be rebutted, but only under tightly constrained conditions.  For example, evidence to rebut a State permit isn't admissible if it was, "capable of being discovered by due diligence prior to the issuance of the permit."


H.208 - Digital survey plat requirement.  Requires that surveys submitted to municipal clerks also be submitted in digital form (Adobe PDF) to the VT Center for Geographic Information.  This is to help VCGI keep the statewide parcel mapping program up to date.  Just as importantly, the bill requires that a survey be filed anytime a deed is recorded that changes a property boundary or subdivides a property.  Consistency in parcel mapping- yes.  More business for surveyors - yes.  https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/H.208


H.213 - Act 250: removing improvements.  Allows a landowner to remove improvements within 60 days of notice from the Board or the District Commission that the improvements trigger Act 250 as a substantial change.  Like an "undo" button for construction projects that didn't mean to trip the Act 250 switch.  Kind of strange if construction is already underway or complete, and the impacts that Act 250 would have reviewed have already taken place. https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/H.213


H.229 - Rental housing oversight and data collection.  Identifies the Department of Health as the primary government entity responsible for rental housing health code enforcement, with municipal health officers reporting to the Dept. of Health.  Directs the Department of Housing and Community Development to develop a rental housing database.  https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/H.229


H.232 - Agriculture nuisance suits prohibition.  Changes the right to farm provision in State Statute (Title 12, Section 5752) to simply prohibit nuisance suits against agricultural operations that conform to applicable state and federal law.  Existing statute entitles agricultural operations to a rebuttable presumption that the activities do not pose a nuisance if the operation meets certain requirements.https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/H.232


H.234 - Act 250: jurisdictional release.  Allows release from an existing Act 250 permit if the original Act 250 project no longer exists, and the current use of the land would not trigger Act 250 jurisdiction but for the original permit.  Other safe guards include:  in compliance with original permit and conditions, and located in a municipality with adopted zoning and subdivision bylaws.  https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/H.234


H.244 - Focusing building communities grants.  With the exception of historic barns preservation grants, focus other building community State grants in FY2020 (the upcoming fiscal year) on just the seven counties with the highest unemployment.  The grants in question are listed in Title 24, Chapter 137 - historic preservation, recreation facilities, regional economic development, etc.  https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/H.244


H.250 - Marijuana/cannabis taxation and regulation (2nd House version).  This is the second house bill introduced to legalize the sale and taxation of marijuana (aka cannabis).  This bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.  The first House bill was H.196, which was referred to the House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs.  I didn't do a side by side to ferret out the differences, but the bill descriptions make them sound the same.  Unsure why two House versions have been introduced.  PS - the senate version (S.54) made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee recently, and is now being taken up by the money committees in the Senate before going to the Senate floor for a vote.  https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/H.250


H.252 - Current use:  one-year hiatus and withdrawal freebie.  Prohibits any new enrollments in the State's Current Use program for one year (July 1, 2020 - June 30, 2021), and allows anyone to remove their property from the program during that year without any penalties.  Why?  Because we always have to have a couple head scratchers in the legislative mix.  https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/H.252


H.272 - Current use:  allowing for aggregated parcels.  Allows for multiple small parcels with different owners to be aggregated to meet the 25-acre enrollment minimum for the current use program (for forest management).  Requires an agreement with the involved owners to do forest management for at least 10 years.  https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/H.272


H.273 - Water quality funding: property transfer and estate tax.  Embodies the Governor's funding strategy for the clean water fund - i.e., take 20% of the property transfer tax revenue, and all of the estate tax revenue.  Also lowers revenue from the estate tax by increasing the value of the estate that is exempt from the tax from $2,750,000 to $5,750,000.  Unsure if the property transfer tax use will negatively impact the percentage of that revenue that is supposed to be going to the VT Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) and the municipal planning grant program.  https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/H.273


H.277 - Gas tax increase for electric vehicles.  Increases the gas tax by five cents in order to fund electric vehicle infrastructure and to provide purchase assistance to low income Vermonters for the purchase of electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles, and hybrid vehicles.  https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/H.277


S.93 - Water quality funding:  per parcel fee.  Funds the clean water fund via a per parcel fee that starts at $40, and can be adjusted through rule making for any number of factors - e.g., parcel size, location, amount of impervious surface, stormwater treatment measures, etc.  https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/S.96


S.104 - Act 250: Administration bill (Senate version).  The same bill as H.197 (see description above), but the Senate version.  https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/S.104


For more information contact Alex Weinhagen, VPA Legislative Liaison