East Montpelier Democrat Tony Klein says it’s time to bring back an idea from the past.
Klein, who chairs the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said Vermont needs to consider a statewide land use plan that could spell out where development could go.
He pointed out that when the Legislature passed the Act 250 development review law in 1970 it also considered the land use plan.
"And it’s my intention to re-introduce that exact bill with some updating on it," he said. "I think it’s a good time that the state of Vermont has a conversation about what it wants to look like in 50 or 100 years. And I think it absolutely should include our ridgelines, our forest lands, our agricultural lands and our river valleys."
The land use plan was never enacted because of concerns about statewide zoning.
Klein said his idea is for planning that’s driven by the needs of local communities. He says a state plan that outlines where development could occur would be informed by local plans and local decision-making.
"It will not be about the state telling the local folks what to do," he said. "But it’s going to require local folks – and a lot of people don’t like that – to have to have to a town or regional plan.
Most of the recent controversy over development has focused on large-scale ridgeline wind projects. Governor Peter Shumlin has named a commission to study how energy projects are sited and approved.
Klein said the Legislature needs to look beyond energy development. And he said a large, multi-phase development project proposed recently for two Northeast Kingdom ski areas is evidence that the land use plan piece is also needed.
"I think it’s about all development. And I think it’s really been highlighted by this big project in the Northeast Kingdom, which I’m not personally saying is good or bad, but it certainly is of a magnitude that is absolutely going to have an impact on the culture of the kingdom and the environment of the Northeast Kingdom," he said.
Brian Shupe, the executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, said he welcomes Klein’s ideas.
"We have a lot of things on the books that haven’t been especially effective," Shupe said. "We have growth centers laws that were enacted in 2006 that have been of limited impact. So I think it’s a great idea to take a look at the different programs and policies and laws that we have in place and take a look at whether they’re being effective or not."
Both Shupe and Klein said the Act 200 planning law – passed in the 1980s – has not succeeded because of the lack of regional and state oversight.