For seven years a citizen’s group has been fighting a proposed supermarket in the Chittenden County town of Hinesburg. The battle went all the way to the Vermont Supreme Court and it’s still not settled.
Responsible Growth Hinesburg says it will keep on fighting, and it hopes other towns can learn from its experience.
The group formed back in 2010, when Hannaford applied for a local zoning permit to build a 36,000 square foot supermarket in Hinesburg. Last month the state supreme court effectively revoked that permit as part of a complicated ruling on multiple appeals to the project’s local site-plan approval and its state Act 250 permit.
Alex Weinhagen is Hinesburg’s director of planning and zoning. He says the town is waiting on Hannaford to make the next move.
"I think the important thing to note is that we don’t know if Hannaford is going to pursue this project anymore, based on this ruling," says Weinhagen. "And they’re still weighing their options."
The town has been a relatively neutral party in the proceedings. And Weinhagen says residents’ opinions on the project are divided.
"The community was split back in 2010 and during 2011-12, during our review process, and seems to still be split," he says.
But the residents who oppose the project have been vocal and active. They say their long legal slog could provide a valuable lesson for other towns confronting growth.
The opponents argue the proposed store is too big for the lot, which is roughly four-and-a-half acres and includes a wetland. They also say the store will make an already bad traffic situation on Route 116 worse.
Catherine Goldsmith has been with Responsible Growth Hinesburg since the group formed. She says they’re prepared to keep on fighting, should Hannaford choose to proceed.
"So we have no idea, but we’re going to keep doing the same thing that we’re doing, because we can’t give up now," says Goldsmith.
A Hannaford spokesperson indicated that the company won’t make any public comments on the matter for the time being. In an email Michael Norton wrote: "The court has remanded certain questions in the case to regulatory boards. We respect that process. We will not be making additional public comments outside those forums while the review moves forward."
The state Supreme Court sent the project’s Act 250 permit back to a lower court to reconsider two issues: traffic impacts and drainage measures. Meanwhile, Responsible Growth Hinesburg has also appealed a stormwater permit issued by the state Agency of Natural Resources.
However, Hannaford’s first step may be to go back to the town for a new zoning permit, according to zoning official Weinhagen.
In a parking lot near the entrance to the Hinesburg Commerce Park, where the Hannaford lot is located, Goldsmith says Responsible Growth Hinesburg was hoping for something more definitive out of the Supreme Court. But, she says, her group still sees it as a win.
"We feel that it’s definitely a big victory for us," she says. "Again, the exact way it will play out is kind of unknown."
But in the meantime, Goldsmith says her group has learned that local residents need to advocate on their own for their communities.
"That the process should be open and transparent, not only at the town level but at the state level," she says. "That the people in a town have more to lose and know their town better and have more at stake. And so we shouldn’t just say, 'Oh, the state will take care of that.'"
Goldsmith hopes that by sharing its story, Responsible Growth Hinesburg can inspire other Vermonters to take action.
"We see this as one example of something that’s happening across Vermont," she says. "And the fact that we’ve been able to hang in here for seven years, we hope at some point will be an example to other people in other towns who feel like the ability to decide what happens in their town is being taken away from them – or maybe was taken away a long time ago, but needs to be taken back."
Whatever happens with this particular project, Goldsmith says she hopes Responsible Growth Hinesburg has shown that local citizens can and should have a voice in both the state and local permitting process.