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Lisa Rathke, AP Photo

Group wants towns to take stance on developer's Mormon-founder-inspired plan

By Lisa Rathke, Associated Press  |  Posted Jan 8th, 2017 @ 5:42pm


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MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A group formed to oppose a businessman's plans for a massive development in central Vermont wants residents of the towns where the project is planned to take a stance on it at town meeting in March.

The vision of David Hall, of Utah, who is a member of the Mormon faith, is for what he describes as an economically, ecologically and socially sustainable development, to be built years in the future, based on writings of the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, who was born in Sharon, Vermont. It would include housing for 20,000 people, offices, gardens, 48 basketball courts and 48 Olympic-size swimming pools.

In August, LDS Church officials said they were concerned about the communities affecting existing neighborhoods and the longstanding relationships the religion has with those residents, spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement. The project is not associated with the church in any way, he said.

"The church makes no judgment about the scientific, environmental or social merits of the proposed developments," Hawkins said. "However, for a variety of reasons, we are not in favor of the proposal."

The nonprofit Alliance for Vermont Communities formed in April and is petitioning three of the four towns — Royalton, Sharon and Strafford — to take up a nonbinding resolution, asking whether voters oppose the NewVistas development. The town of Tunbridge's select board has agreed to include it at its town meeting, said Michael Sacca, president of the alliance, which he said has 12 board members and several hundred members.

"We think most people are against this, but we'll find out," said Sacca, who's from Tunbridge.

He said he doesn't know whether the towns' opinions will have any effect on the project.

"Who knows? It can't hurt, I don't think," Sacca said.

The opposition group also has hired a lawyer to look into possible conflicts the proposal may have a Vermont land-use law, among other things, Sacca said.

Hall has said he expected locals to be opposed but hopes that as other such developments are built and become successful, the project will become more appealing. But he said no actions by any group will dissuade his family foundation from continuing to buy land in the area as it becomes available and as their budget allows. So far, the foundation has bought 1,500 of the 5,000 acres it hopes to eventually have.

"We are consolidating and conserving land in an effort to reverse subdividing and rural bedroom sprawl," Hall wrote by email, adding that landowners willing to sell continue to approach the foundation.

"We have more opportunities than we have funds to close," he said.

The Valley News first reported on the group's push for the towns to weigh in on the project.

Last June, residents of Provo's Pleasant View subdivision rallied to protest against Hall's plan to buy and eventually bulldoze their homes to turn the community into a high-density, modernized village.

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