Voters in the four towns affected by a large planned community development passed non-binding resolutions opposing the project on Town Meeting Day, sending a strong message to the developer.
Utah resident David Hall, of the New Vistas Foundation, has been purchasing thousands of acres of property in Sharon, Strafford, Tunbridge and Royalton for a "sustainable community" of 15,000 to 20,000 people.
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At the Tunbridge Central School on Tuesday, Michael Sacca, the president of the Alliance for Vermont Communities, opened up the discussion.
“I just want to get a show of hands. Is there anyone here that hasn't heard of the New Vistas development? Please raise your hands,” he asked the crowd.
No one at the Tunbridge Town Meeting raised their hand. Just about everyone in town knows about the proposed project, and many feel it would damage the town's rural character. Most people in the crowd were wearing "Vote yes to opposing New Vistas" stickers.
And when the townspeople cast their paper ballots, most people voted that way, too. Ultimately, 165 people opposed New Vistas in the Tunbridge vote; only four people favored the development.
The resolutions that passed Tuesday are non-binding, meaning they do not directly affect Hall's immediate plans.
But Jennifer Hayslett of Tunbridge thinks having a unified and official voice is a step towards stopping the project.
“This is a democracy,” she said, “and if we don't stand up and say what matters to us and what's important then, the legislators and lawmakers aren't going to know what is important to us.”
Proudly wearing her anti-New Vistas sticker, she continued: “This is about letting people know what we want in our communities.”
Most of those in attendance were longtime residents of Tunbridge. But not everyone.
Jay Miller is from Compton, Rhode Island, and drove to Vermont for Town Meeting Day. He is considering moving to the area.
During the discussion of the New Vistas vote, Miller got permission from the Tunbridge community to speak as an outsider.
Like many, he worries New Vistas would ruin the pastoral beauty and culture of rural Vermont.
“Vermont is a very special place. The people here are special,” he said into the microphone. “This is place that still is what other places have lost. And that's what I fear being lost, as it has in so many other places."
However, not all voters felt that way.
“You know, change is going to happen, and I don't want someone telling me what I can and cannot do with my land,” resident John Blakeney said after the ballots had been counted. “I'm not even going to try to tell someone else what they can or can't do with theirs.”
Blakeney is one of the four people who did not vote to oppose the New Vistas development. He thinks people should be free to do what theyw ant with their land, and thinks that right should be extended to everyone –including New Vistas developer David Hall.
“I don't think it's as big a deal as it's being lead on to,” he said while members of the community took a break to eat lunch. “When Royalton Farms came into the area, that was the whole hoop-ra for a year and a half, two years. They've adjusted, my life didn't change any – it went on. Real Vermonters, you survive no matter what.”
Royalton also passed the resolution, 123 to 16, as did Sharon (100-16), and Strafford (on a voice vote), sending a message that the community, in general, opposes the building of the New Vistas settlement.