hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News May 2015



New Rutland shopping plaza isn’t sprawl, panel rules


A new shopping plaza including a BJ’s Wholesale Club, to be built at the southern end of the Route 7 commercial strip in Rutland, does not run afoul of Vermont’s new anti-sprawl regulations, a state panel has concluded.

The District 1 Environmental Commission ruled April 3 that the project, to be built on an undeveloped lot south of the Green Mountain Shopping Plaza and across Route 7 from the Diamond Run Mall, can proceed to the next stage of review under Act 250, Vermont’s statewide law governing development.

The staff of the state Agency of Natural Resources had argued that the project, which includes a gas station, parking lot and other buildings in addition to the BJ’s Wholesale, would make the area more “auto-oriented” and thereby contribute to sprawl.

But the District 1 commission supported developers’ contention that a project previously approved for the site – before the new anti-sprawl regulations were adopted – would have contributed as much or more to sprawl than would the revised plan that includes the BJ’s Wholesale. The revised project includes about 1,000 fewer square feet of retail space than the original proposal.

The commission’s ruling is among the first tests of anti-sprawl legislation signed by Gov. Peter Shumlin last year. The legislation resulted in new rules, known as the “9L criteria” under Act 250, that are intended to steer development into already-settled areas rather than spreading it out into the countryside. Developers must show that new projects either don’t contribute to strip development or amount to “infill” within existing developed areas.

The Rutland Herald, which has covered the BJ’s Wholesale review extensively, reported that the environmental commission’s ruling drew praise from the project’s developer, Gene Beaudoin, as well as from Thomas Donahue, the executive vice president of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce.

“I think it sets one of the first examples statewide of what they consider infill and allows development that seems sensible in some places,” Donahue told the paper.

The new shopping center still faces a legal challenge from the owners of the struggling Diamond Run Mall, which has lost two of its three anchor stores within the past year. The Herald has reported that BJ’s Wholesale considered opening a store at the mall before deciding it would prefer to build on the undeveloped lot across Route 7.

In other news from around the region in April:


Trustees see damage even after PCB cleanup
As General Electric Co. prepares to start the final season of its $2 billion dredging project to remove PCB contamination along the upper Hudson River, a government panel is laying the groundwork to hold the company liable for ongoing damage to the river’s natural resources.
The Hudson River Natural Resources Trustees issued a report in late April detailing the long-term toll on the river’s fish populations from PCBs, a class of oily compounds GE dumped into the river from its Hudson Falls and Fort Edward factories until the chemicals were banned in the 1970s.

The report concluded that “the public’s use of the Hudson River fishery, whether for a livelihood, a source of recreational enjoyment, or for nutrition, has been and continues to be severely curtailed.”

The Times Union of Albany reported that the new study is adding to questions about how to handle lingering PCB contamination in areas not covered by GE’s 2005 Superfund cleanup agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those areas include a portion of the Champlain Canal at Fort Edward.

GE responded to the report by saying the company is meeting its obligations with the cleanup work it expects to complete this year.

“It’s not news that there are fish advisories on the Hudson River,” GE spokesman Mark Behan said in a statement. “GE is fully engaged in one of the largest and most comprehensive environmental dredging and restoration projects in U.S. history, the explicit goal of which is to reduce the PCB levels in fish. GE is meeting all of its responsibilities on the Hudson, and when dredging is completed this year, 100 percent of the PCBs targeted by the EPA will have been addressed.”


-- Compiled by Fred Daley