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Sue Bush
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Growth Center Designation, Smart Growth Discussed During Green Mountain Park Meeting

By Susan Bush
06:40PM / Friday, June 15, 2007

Pownal, Vt. - The owners of the Route 7 Green Mountain Park, two town selectmen, a member of the town's Development Review Board and Vermont Forum on Sprawl representatives met for about four hours today at the 144-acre property to investigate the possibility of a park owner-forum group planning collaboration.

Selectmen's Chairman Nelson Brownell said that Progress Partners principals Richard F. Hein and Frank Cantatore were among the meeting participants.

State Rep. William "Bill" Botzow D-Pownal was present, as was Bennington County Industrial Commission Executive Director Peter Odierna, Brownell said.

"There was a wide representation there today," Brownell said.

Forum representatives delivered a presentation about their group and the services offered, he said.

Smart Growth And Sprawl

The Vermont Forum on Sprawl is focused on promoting "smart growth" over "sprawl," and includes in its' mission statement its desire to "advocate at the state and national levels for laws, policies, funding and assistance that promote smart growth."

The entity identifies sprawl as including "excessive land consumption, fragmented open space, commercial buildings surrounded by acres of parking, and a lack of public space and community space."

Strategies for "smart growth" include directing and managing growth and what the group terms "wise use" of resources, for example, leaving agricultural land for agricultural use, according to information at a www.vtsprawl.org Internet web site.

Growth Center Status

According to Brownell and Botzow, a dialogue about seeking state-designated "growth center" status is underway. Growth center status is accompanied by a bevy of benefits, including a streamlined permit process, priority status for state planning grant revenues, affordable housing funds, and other specific grants.

Brownell noted that once a growth center designation is achieved, certain permitting steps that are repetitive or cover the same ground as other required protocols may be skipped.

However, any state or local requirements are not bypassed because of the designation. One example is the Act 250 process; if another required procedure has accomplished specific Act 250 components, those components may not have to be re-done as part of Act 250.

"There is a huge process you go through to get the growth center status designation," said Brownell and added that certain requirements, such as having a town plan, town development bylaws and subdivision regulations, are in place in the town.

Getting Acquainted

Botzow characterized the meeting as an "intro session" that allowed Hein, Cantatore, town officials and forum representatives to meet.

He emphasized that no decisions about the forum or a growth center designation were made during the getting acquainted gathering but did acknowledge there appeared to be interest from all those present.

Interest And People "In Tune"

"I think the forum of sprawl [entity] is very interested," Botzow said. "I think the people were in tune, and I think this could be a good thing, in that you get the right people together to work together sooner rather than later."

The Vermont Forum on Sprawl would have to be paid for any work its staff might undertake, said Brownell and Botzow. Brownell said that he believes grant money is available to help defray the costs and added that property developers have been known to pay some of the costs as well. Botzow noted that the town isn't equipped to tackle such planning work.

"This is a town which is run by volunteers," he said. "It doesn't have the capacity to do this kind of planning."

Progress Partners principals have on several occasions described a vast, ambitious plan for the former horse and dog racing track property.

How It All Fits

A housing complex, commercial space, a large farmers market, a community space with a pedestrian walk near the Hoosic River and other plans have been identified as potential development ventures.

How the village-within-town development might best be accomplished is of significance to all those involved, Brownell said.

"I think that everyone is trying to see how the commercial side and the housing side would all fit," he said.

"I think this whole growth center thing is a good thing," Brownell said. "But it is something new. The forum people have a good understanding of this. They were the driving force for this meeting."

Earlier this week, the dilapidated stables that once housed Thoroughbred racing horses during the former race track's heyday were demolished, and the tote board was taken down.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 413-663-3384 ext. 29.
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