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4 Vermont towns oppose development inspired by Mormon founder

Lisa Rathke, AP Photo

4 Vermont towns oppose development inspired by Mormon founder

By Lisa Rathke, Associated Press | Posted - Mar. 7, 2017 at 10:18 p.m.

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TUNBRIDGE, Vt. (AP) — Residents of four small Vermont towns on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly against a massive development by a Utah businessman that is based on the papers of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, who was born in the area.

The votes in Tunbridge, Royalton, Sharon and Strafford took place on the annual Town Meeting day.

David Hall's family foundation NewVistas has been buying land near Smith's birthplace in Sharon, Vermont, to build — years in the future — what the foundation's website says is an economically, ecologically and socially sustainable development with 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."

Hall has said the community wouldn't be based on religion and would be open to anyone.

Many residents in the rural, mountainous region with a total population of about 6,600 think such a large-scale development would change the character of their small communities, tax resources and limit access to recreational areas and mountain views.

"The NewVistas development threatens what many Vermonters hold most dear, which is strong communities and local control over governance," Michael Sacca, president of the nonprofit Alliance for Vermont Communities, told fellow Tunbridge residents before the vote.

The nonbinding resolution against it "will tell our local, state officials and our neighbors and especially David Hall how we, the voters of our town, feel about this development," he said.


Resident Bob Dunkle, who is also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, warned that he's seen sprawling developments out West and doesn't want that to happen in his town.

"It's more like a family community than anything else, but you will lose that identity if you don't do something quickly and take this guy seriously," he told the crowd. "He doesn't intend to stop. And he hasn't asked for anyone's permission, and he really doesn't care what your opinion is."

Hall didn't immediately return a phone call or email seeking comment. He has said he expected locals to be opposed but hope they will grow more accustomed to the idea as they see other such developments built.

Last year, he said the family foundation was also pursuing NewVistas developments in Nevada, China, India and Bhutan, but he would not disclose the exact locations.

So far, the foundation has bought about 1,500 acres in central Vermont and plans to buy more.

"No actions by any group will dissuade us from continuing to purchasing land as it becomes available and as we have budget," he said in January.

Contributing: staff


This story has been corrected to show that Royalton, not South Royalton, voted on the plan.

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