A Utah man who has been buying land in Central Vermont to create a self-contained community of 15,000 to 20,000 residents that would produce its own food and energy has also been purchasing property in the city of Provo, Utah, where he lives.
Just as in Vermont, some people in Provo aren’t happy about it.
When news broke that David Hall's NewVistas Foundation had purchased a total of 900 acres of land in Sharon, Tunbridge, Royalton and Strafford – and had plans to buy thousands more acres to build his community — people in those towns had a lot of questions.
Hall answered some of them over the phone from Provo during a crowded meeting at the Tunbridge Library last Thursday.
Meanwhile, in Provo, where he grew up, Hall has been purchasing homes in two neighborhoods.
He now owns 15 houses in a section of one neighborhood and plans to buy all of the roughly 45 homes in that area.
Some residents in Provo would like the opportunity to question Hall in the same way Vermonters did last week.
“You’re telling your Vermont neighbors you’d be happy to meet with them. How about you come meet with your Provo neighbors?” says Paul Evans, the chairman of the Pleasant View Neighborhood.
Evans says as Hall has continued to purchase houses around them, the remaining homeowners are confused about his plans and want answers.
“People have become fearful; just high levels of concern and anxiety,” he says.
Evans says Hall has not accepted invitations to attend a neighborhood meeting similar to the one in Tunbridge.
But as far as Hall is concerned, a meeting called by Evans would be a "circus" that wouldn't be productive.
“I’m OK meeting citizens groups if the leader of that citizen group is willing to respect my point of view,” Hall says, adding that he has spoken directly with many of the residents in the neighborhoods where he's purchasing homes.
Hall says his plans are clear. In the short term, which may be 10 or 20 years or more, he will simply rent the homes he’s buying.
Eventually he hopes to replace all the single family homes with multi-family dwellings and create a version of the NewVista community he envisions in Vermont. He says instead of 2,000 people living in the 5-acre area, there will be 20,000.
Evans says even in the short term, Hall is altering the area by turning all the homes into rental properties where residents live short-term and don’t put down roots.
Hall is also buying homes in another Provo neighborhood called Spring Creek, where he’s purchased 20 of 25 homes on one street. Eventually he wants to build a sustainable community there as well.
“Similar situation,” Hall says. “There’s one neighborhood chairman who’s really opposed to it all.”
Mary Millar is the chairman of Spring Creek Neighborhood.
“When I think of David Hall the two terms that come to mind are capricious and mercurial,” she says.
As a 35-year resident, Millar says there have long been issues with Hall and a nearby manufacturing business he owned that she says has been a source of round-the-clock noise.
In 2014, the Provo City Planning Commission unanimously recommended that the city reject an application by Hall’s company to rezone some lots it owns in the area from residential to industrial, citing concerns the company had not met past requirements to minimize noise in the neighborhood.
Since Hall started buying residential property on her street, Millar says he has made changes to the homes that have altered its character.
“He has destroyed this part of the Spring Creek Neighborhood. Absolutely,” she says.
As far as Hall is concerned, he is rescuing neighborhoods that are in decline and giving people a chance to sell their homes.
“This family needed to move, they needed the money. They got their best offer from us. What’s the problem?” he says.
Millar and Evans say Hall’s efforts are a threat to their well-kept, vibrant neighborhoods.
Hall acknowledges that his long-range plan to build sustainable communities in the neighborhoods where he’s buying property will require rezoning and approval from the city, but just as he has said in Vermont, those plans are too far off for it to make sense to start the process anytime soon.