Former gubernatorial candidate and travel business owner Scott Milne has won a court battle in his attempt to develop a large parcel of land in Quechee on Route 4. Opponents say the mixed use project would snarl traffic and cause sprawl, but Milne says that part of the 167-acre property is ideal for offices, retail, and residences.
Milne wants to develop a cluster of buildings at the center of the 15-acre "Quechee Highlands" that mimics Church Street Marketplace in Burlington. But the Two Rivers-Ottaquechee Regional Commission says Milne’s project violates its land use guidelines. The regional plan says that principal retail establishments must be, quote "located in town centers … to minimize the blighting effects of sprawl."
Milne counters that his project will not include big box stores, and will be good for the local economy, creating 300 jobs.
“The town of Hartford told us they wanted retail as part of this project so that it would be vibrant and it wouldn’t be dependent upon on this business or that business. So that is what the town of Hartford told us they wanted,” Milne said.
But the District 3 Environmental Commission denied the Act 250 permit. Milne, who says regional plans should not trump town zoning, appealed.
Last week, he won in Environmental Court, which concluded that increased traffic from the project will be properly mitigated. The decision also says that Milne’s development does not violate any quote, “mandatory or unambiguous provision in the 2007 Regional Plan.”
But Peter Gregory, director of the Two-Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission, says the plan clearly prohibits retail uses on sites like this.
“And our regional plan is clear that those uses must be directed to downtowns and village centers rather than sprawling along the highways or at interchanges of the interstate,” Gregory said.
Gregory says the commission is deciding whether to appeal the case to the Vermont Supreme Court. Milne says that would create costly delays but might help resolve the conflict between regional and local zoning powers.
Milne is pondering a challenge to Sen. Patrick Leahy, but says he would not let this project or the larger debate about regulation create a conflict of interest.
"So if we look forward, making sure if I am a candidate next time, that this is moving forward in a way where it's not going to be a conflict with the priority of doing the people's business,” Milne said.
Milne says he will decide by February whether to run against the long-serving incumbent.