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DRB closes hearings on True North Wilderness permits

After receiving documentation indicating that True North Wilderness requires an Act 250 permit, that it is considered a school by the state of Vermont (and a residential child care facility) and that the Vermont wastewater permit numbers do not match those on the local permit application, the Waitsfield Development Review Board closed the hearings on whether True North can change and permit its uses on 25 acres of land on Dana Hill Road.

The DRB, at a November 9 hearing, heard from Attorney David Grayck, representing Kinny Perot whose property adjoins the land that True North uses. That land is owned by Tom Barefoot and Joni Zweig. True North Wilderness is a therapeutic wilderness program for teens that is run by their daughter Madhuri Maves and her husband Tyler Maves.

AG/RES AND FOREST RESERVE

The 25-acre Zweig/Barefoot parcel is located in the ag/res district as well as in the forest reserve district and also abuts the Howe Block of the Camel's Hump State Forest. Most of True North's activities take place on a small parcel of land in the ag/res district. The rest take place in the forest reserve section as well as on adjoining state forest lands.

At issue before the DRB are several items. First, can the use be accommodated under the zoning that affects the ag/res and forest reserve portions of the property? Second, if the uses can be legally permitted under the zoning, do the changes in use pass the conditional use review criteria, which include, among others, not changing the character of the area and not impacting the environment and wildlife?

NOT UNDUE

At the November 9 hearing, True North presented testimony by ecologist Jeffrey Parsons on the environmental impacts of True North's activities, specifically on the impacts of a proposed alternative tent platform site. True North has two tent platforms and two yomes as well as two composting toilets. Participants camp in tents, on the platforms and in the yomes.

Parsons told the DRB that True North's activities had an adverse impact on wildlife and the environment but said that he could not state that that impact was an undue adverse impact.

After Parsons presented his testimony, the board, the applicant and Grayck discussed ideas about moving the tent platforms and camping sites to various other locations on the 25 acres, without coming to any final agreement.

AFTER THE FACT

During a discussion of moving one tent platform and composting toilet, Madhuri Maves noted that moving the composting toilet could be expensive, costing several thousand dollars. That prompted Grayck to note that the composting toilets and camping sites were constructed before permits were acquired and said that in fairness to his client, the cost of moving the toilets should not be a consideration in an "after the fact permitting situation."

"That's irrelevant," responded Claudine Safar, attorney for True North.

"We meet all the criteria," added Shems.

Grayck also raised the issue of True North being registered by the state of Vermont as a school and asked why the DRB would consider the use as outdoor recreation. Schools are not permitted in either the forest reserve or ag/res districts. Grayck also presented the board with a jurisdictional ruling from Ed Stanak, District 5 coordinator for Act 250, that indicates that the project will require an Act 250 permit. He also presented the state of Vermont wastewater permit for the project which allows for approximately half the number of participants that are currently in the program.

Ron Shems, attorney for Zweig/Barefoot, said that he felt sandbagged by both the new attorney (Perot has previously been represented by Paul Gillies) and the information that Grayck presented.

The DRB closed the public hearing and will issue a written decision within 30 days.



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