Residents in Central Vermont towns are concerned about Utah engineer David Hall’s plans to buy 5,000 acres to build a community of 20,000 in their area. There's also opposition in a Provo, Utah neighborhood where Hall is buying property for similar ends.
“I wouldn’t be for it if I were them, either. Because it’s too new and it's unproven,” he said recently at his NewVistas Foundation headquarters in Provo, Utah.
Hall is convinced that people will come around to his ideas. Many in Vermont don’t think that will happen, and they’re not alone.
Just across the street from Paul and Jaelyn Evans’ house in Provo, Utah, two six-story towers are going up that will block their view of the rugged Wasatch Mountains.
The buildings are part of a training center for missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But Paul Evans is fine with the project.
“It’s noisy for the next year and a half. After that, LDS missionaries are pretty quiet,” he says.
What bothers Evans instead is a less visible project underway in his neighborhood.
“What we’ll do is walk back around to the areas that NewVistas is buying and wants to eventually tear down the homes and put in a mixed use, high-density area,” Evans says as he walks a guest to the area just beyond his house.
So far, Hall has purchased 15 homes. He says his plan is to buy 45 houses in this area and someday replace them with a prototype of the kind of community he wants to build in Vermont.
Evans’ neighborhood feels like the set from a 1950s sitcom. Most of the houses are modest mid-20th century structures.
“It’s a great neighborhood. People know each other, look out for each other,” he says.
It’s quiet enough that you can stand in the middle of the street and wait for curious residents like Marilyn Chapman to stop as they drive by.
“I’m against David Hall and I’m not selling my house ever to him. If we all hold out and don’t sell, he can’t do what he wants to do anyway,” Chapman says.
Elaine Duke, who is at the wheel of another car that comes by, has a similar opinion of Hall’s plan.
“I don’t like it. I want to preserve the neighborhood,” says Duke.
Both Duke and Chapman have lived in the neighborhood for more than half a century.
“We’ve got people who are in their 70s and 80s and 90s. That’s why so many homes are available, because the original owners are moving on,” says Evans.
Hall’s plan to replace the homes here with a NewVistas community may be years off – and it would require major zoning changes by the city.
He can only achieve his goal if there are willing sellers, and he says he’s helping them by purchasing their homes at a good price.
In the meantime, Hall is renting the houses he’s bought.
Evans says Hall’s properties are well cared for, but he’s worried about a neighborhood of homeowners turning into one of home renters.
“You expect to have transition and some percentage of homes that are rentals and some homes are purchased by a new family that moves in. They create the constant diversity in a neighborhood that contributes to the vitality and civility,” says Evans.
Carolyn Wright, a former Provo School Board member, stops as she’s passing through on her way to her own neighborhood.
Wright is concerned about David Hall’s long-range plan.
“This kind of neighborhood is the kind of neighborhood that identifies Provo. It’s the reason people have come to Provo, it’s the strength of the schools in Provo. It’s this kind of neighborhood,” she says.
David Hall grew up in this neighborhood. He owns his family’s old home, which is now a rental property. He’s aware of the opposition to his plans.
“It’s just that some people can’t stand it that somebody is buying their neighborhood out,” Hall said in an interview with VPR earlier this year.
He pointed out that the neighborhood of older homes is close to the university where he says there’s already been a lot of change.
He sees it as an ideal place for a NewVistas community that, like the one he proposes for Vermont, would house 20,000 people.
“There’s plenty of room there. It would be replacing single family urban sprawl,” he says.
For Paul Evans, the problem with Hall’s vision for his neighborhood is that it can only be realized at the expense of others who have a different view of their future here.
“You have a dream, yes, but so do the other hundreds of people,” he says.
Evans' is one of two Provo neighborhoods where Hall is buying property.