Neighbors take Putney project protest to Vt. Supreme Court

Plaintiffs contend fraudulent process in planned housing development

Less than a month after their third appeal was turned down, two neighbors of the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust's proposed affordable housing community on Alice Holway Drive have filed a fourth appeal - this time to the Vermont Supreme Court.

Laura Campbell and Deborah Lazar have made the appeal, filed by attorney Hal Stevens, protesting the planned 25 units of mixed-income housing in two buildings on land on Alice Holway Drive next to the Putney Community Garden and Putney Farmers' Market.

"We're not surprised by this latest move from the opponents of this project, but we are disappointed on behalf of every person who needs a new place to live and has to wait yet again," said Elizabeth Bridgewater, WWHT executive director.

Bridgewater said that during a housing crisis such as the one Vermonters are experiencing, "every new home created is step toward a solution."

"We are confident that this fourth round of litigation will be resolved in our favor, and we look forward to a groundbreaking on the site later this year," Bridgewater continued, adding that she expects the delay to add a few months to the current timeline, according to which construction would have begun this spring.

After the third appeal was denied in February, Bridgewater said the delay caused by the lengthy appeal process had increased the cost of the project by 14% , from $10.3 million to $11.7 million.

On Feb. 22, State Superior Court Judge Thomas S. Durbin denied Campbell and Lazar's third appeal, stating that "to find that the project is subject to Act 250 jurisdiction, merely because of the presence of a Class III road, would be an irrational and impermissibly strict reading of the statute that stymies the legislature's intent to encourage mixed-income housing in designated growth areas."

In their third appeal, Campbell and Lazar contended that the Trust's lots are not contiguous - and should be. Because Alice Holway Drive runs between the lots, they claim that the site does not meet the legal definition of "affordable housing" vis-a-vis Act 250.

They also contested a previous district commissioner's jurisdictional opinion that concluded that the project is exempt from Act 250 land use review.

This week, Campbell told The Commons that she believes the permit application by WWHT to Town Manager Karen Astley in December 2021 was "fraudulent," as was the Putney Development Review Board's approval of it in March 2022.

"Steamrolled on one hand and stonewalled on the other were we," Campbell said, adding that the WWHT "plans and permit deserve a fair and thorough review to reinstate" the terms "impartial," "contiguous," and "border" "to their true meanings."

She added that her attorney "argues there is a distinction to be made between Lister Dept. interpretation and permitting for land use and construction of PUDs [planned unit developments]," which relates to whether the three lots are considered for tax purposes to be a single parcel or multiple, contiguous parcels.

"We thank housing advocates and community members who have voiced - and continue to voice - their strong support for affordable housing in the community," Bridgewater said.

The project, which is funded by a mix of private equity, grants and loans, has gone to bid.

ReArch Company, Inc. of South Burlington has been hired as general contractor, and the architect is Vermont Integrated Architecture of Middlebury.

This News item by Virginia Ray was written for The Commons.

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