After five months of quiet, Zaremba Group LLC – the developer of a proposed 9,100-square-foot Dollar General store on Main Street across from the Country Girl Diner – has filed an application for the Act 250 permit (project No. 2S0699-3) it needs to proceed with its plans.
The District 2 Environmental Commission, headquartered in Springfield, has set a pre-hearing conference for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday Oct. 17, at Chester Town Hall, 556 Elm St.
That preliminary hearing will be held in part to establish who will have “party status” at the formal hearing. Anyone wanting to participate in the formal hearing must apply for party status on or before the day of the pre-hearing conference. After the Oct. 17 meeting, party status will most likely be closed, although the commission has the latitude to accept testimony from others.
The formal Act 250 hearing, which will be preceded by a site visit, is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Friday Nov. 9, also at Chester Town Hall.
On April 16, 2012, Chester’s Development Review Board approved the project with 35 conditions on a 3 to 2 vote. Since then, four of the five DRB members have left the board including one veteran of the DRB and Planning Commission who voted against the Dollar General and was not reappointed by Chester’s Select Board.
In response to the DRB’s decision, Smart Growth Chester, which has been fighting the plan since the DRB hearings began, filed an appeal with the Environmental Division of the Vermont Superior Court. That court held a pre-trial teleconference with the attorneys for each party including the town. It has yet to schedule a hearing.
The Act 250 process, which is separate from local zoning laws, evaluates a project based on 10 criteria, including the project’s effect on the environment, local schools and services, aesthetics and compliance with local and regional plans. At the end of the Nov. 9 hearing, the Environmental Commission may adjourn or recess to gather more information. If the hearing is adjourned, the commission must issue a decision within 20 days.
Like zoning decisions, an Act 250 decision may be appealed to the Environmental Division of the Superior Court and, ultimately, Vermont’s Supreme Court. Shawn Cunningham* of Smart Growth Chester said his group is committed to “going as far as it can go” in the process.
On Thursday Oct. 11, Smart Growth Chester will bring attorney James Dumont to Chester to explain party status and help residents who wish to apply for it. Dumont will be in the Community Room of the Whiting Library from 6 to 8 p.m. Representatives of Smart Growth Chester will be available on Monday Oct. 15th from noon to 4 p.m. to help anyone who is not able to make the Thursday meeting, also in the Community Room. For questions or more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Cynthia Prairie
*Shawn Cunningham is married to the writer of this article.
About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor for 30 years, having worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.