“All politics is local.”
Speaking of shopping, the Vermont Supreme Court last week ruled in favor of construction of a Walmart in St. Albans. Developer Jeff Davis expects the store to be open for business by the end of next year. The unanimous decision, the high courts second in the case since 1997, upheld a 2010 decision from the Vermont Environmental Court. The Vermont Natural Resources Council had opposed the development.
Vermont was the last state in the union to receive the Walmart blessing; the first store opened here in 1995. Some Franklin County residents have fought off the megaretailer for nearly 20 years. We didn’t need Wally back in ’95 because we had Ames but Ames closed its retail stores here in 2002. Since then, pretty much everyone in Northwestern Vermont has had only a couple of choices for sox and underwear: buy them at the supermarket or the Dollar store or pay the I-89 tax to drive an hour to the big box center in the next county.
The Vermont Environmental Court decision had already granted Walmart permission to build the 147,000-square-foot store in Franklin County over VNRC objections. The court required Wally to pay the Town additional “public service costs” (such as for fire and police) that its presence cause the Town to incur.
That’s not unusual. Municipalities often charge developers impact fees before allowing them to build houses and stores.
And now the Supremes have upheld it. Again.
“This is such a bad decision for the governance of Vermont,” VNRC spokesman Jared Margolis told WPTZ News. “Really gives the green light, opens the floodgates to local boards to act however they want because the Supreme Court has condoned pretty awful behavior.”
Atty. Margolis ain’t from around here or he would know that local control is the governance of Vermont life.
Former Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, also a Democrat, wrote, “…One-size-fits-all solutions from the state will not work as well as allowing our cities and towns to develop their own responses to local problems… Over the years our legislature has given us local control over many issues — from animal control to zoning.”
Ms. Markowitz got some of that right. Citizens and their local boards do have control over issues ranging from animal control to zoning but not because the legislature in its beneficence granted it. Citizens and their local boards do have control over issues ranging from animal control to zoning because we kept those rights while constitutionally ceding some affairs to the legislature.
Creepy, crawly, encroachment. That’s the way erosion works. Take a little here. Take a little there. Pretty soon the legislature grants us leave to shop for the little parts of our little lives.
Sooner or later they’ll notice that a local board might act however it wants and the sky falls down.
This is not the first time the Vermont Natural Resources Council has come down on the side of interference. They support major property tax increases on private lands to punish bad land uses, unremittingly denounce anyone who might allow a (gasp) snowmobile to cross his farm, and oppose the planned Lowell Mountain wind project.
I’m thinking the elected local boards might think VNRC’s self-appointed behavior pretty awful.