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August, 2005 *** Latest Press Release  ***
3/24/05 -- Shelburne News Still Waiting (pdf)
5/18/04 -- Burlington Free Press Housing on Rice Woods Will Destroy Ecosystem

5/20/04 -- Shelburne News

Very Little Right About Rice Woods Proposal

5/31/04 -- Burlington Free Press

Court to Hear Dispute Over Land Development

8/5/04 -- Shelburne News

Letter to the Editor

8/12/04 -- Shelburne News

Shelburnites, Wake Up

8/19/04 -- Shelburne News

Save Rice Woods

9/2/04 -- Shelburne News

The Conflict at Rice Woods: Lessons Learned



















Very Little Right About Rice Woods Proposal      (5/20/04 -- Shelburne News)

This week,* the proposal by the Senesac brothers to build 62 houses on 38 acres of land known as Rice Woods in Shelburne will be heard in Vermont's Environmental Court, a year after the Shelburne Planning Commission issued a subdivision permit.

Rice Woods is a unique example of a Champlain Valley ecosystem with tremendous diversity of plants, some of which are rare or uncommon in Shelburne as well as the state and region, and animals - including a healthy bobcat population. The destruction of this jewel of a forest ecosystem that this development would cause would be a huge loss to the Town of Shelburne as well as the whole state of Vermont.

The court will hear expert testimony about the ecological importance of the forest and how the development does not comply with Shelburne's subdivision regulations, despite its approval by the Planning Commission.

One of the issues that will not be before the court is jobs. The jobs at stake are at Harbour Industries, which employs about 100 people at its site just south of the proposed housing development. The business has been making high performance electronic wires and cables for almost 40 years.

In February, 2002, the President of Harbour Industries sent a letter to the Shelburne Planning Commission expressing concerns about the proposed housing development. "We wish to make sure that when considering this proposed plan approval that the Planning Commission fully consider the ramifications of the placement of a residential community adjacent to a manufacturing facility such as ours."

He further explained that his facility is permitted to discharge emissions and "on occasions, or with the proper weather conditions and prevailing winds, there may be an odor associated with these processes...Unfortunately, if these odors were to drift over a residential community it may not make for a pleasant environment for the occupants till such time as it has dissipated. This must be a factor in any consideration of going forward with the permitting process."

Shelburne residents who attended the Planning Commission's deliberations about the Senesac brothers' proposal report that the Harbour Industries letter was never discussed.

Just what are the emissions by Harbour Industries? Air Pollution data show that Harbour Industries emits between 30 and 40 tons of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) annually. The primary emission is VM & P Naphtha, a solvent that is an irritant of the respiratory system, and may cause coughing, wheezing, and depression of the nervous system.

While the bobcats haven't complained, it is almost guaranteed that homeowners who have paid half a million dollars for their new homes will complain about chemical fumes, and loudly.

Those complaints will be handled by Vermont Air Pollution Control Division. Unlike the "right to farm," industry has no right to pollute. If residents of the new housing development complain to the extent that the emissions are determined to be a nuisance, the state will initiate an enforcement action against Harbour Industries, which will be required to spend money to eliminate the odors. Given the precarious state of manufacturing in the United States, it is not difficult to imagine that Harbour Industries will choose to leave rather than invest in emissions controls, which can be very expensive.

Shelburne's planning commission ignored the clear language in its subdivision regulations requiring the preservation of natural areas. It also ignored the section which requires the determination of "whether the land is unsuitable for subdivision or development due to...features which will reasonably be harmful to the safety, health and general welfare of the present or future inhabitants of the subdivision..."

The Senesac and Carroll brothers would be wise to recognize that spending tens of thousands of dollars to litigate the wildlife, botanical and ecosystem issues in Environmental Court is a foolish waste of money. No doubt there is a lot of money to be made building all those houses. But there is so much obviously wrong with this proposed housing development -- including hundreds of cars a day coming out of the woods onto that already-busy section of Route 7 -- and so much right about conserving it.

We hope that everyone comes to their senses sooner rather than later and negotiates a fair price to preserve this incredibly beautiful ecosystem while also assuring that important jobs are preserved next door.

Annette Smith
Executive Director Vermonters for a Clean Environment


*The Environmental Court's hearing on the Rice Woods proposal has been postponed to July


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Letter to the Editor      (8/5/04 -- Shelburne News)
In the ongoing struggle for balance between the needs of housing for increasing population and the desire of Vermonters to maintain our special rural qualities along with the scenic beauty, it is of vital importance to consider carefully each step of the way as it impacts the future. Much of Shelburne's open space is owned by developers. Once it is gone it is lost forever.

In May, 2003 the Shelburne Planning Commission gave approval to developers to build 62 homes on the 33 acres of Rice Woods property, an area behind Rice Lumber which is now posted. An appeal to the Vermont Environmental Court was immediately brought by a group of concerned Shelburne residents on the basis that the proposed residential development does not comply with the Shelburne Comprehensive Plan and does not meet the Shelburne zoning by-laws.

Rice Woods is located in such an area as to be an important part of the LaPlatte River natural area, a Nature Conservancy preserve which helps to maintain a large, viable ecosystem. As an ecologically important area it is home to a minimum of six uncommon plant species and one rare species. Also uncommon are both a dry Oak-Hickory-Hophornbeam Forest and a Temperate Calcareus Cliff. By logging on to the website www.savericewoods.org residents can see for themselves through the photographs of Arieh Tal evidence of unique geology, uncommon forest, rare wildflowers and critical wildlife habitat. The top of the cliffs provide a sweeping vista of the LaPlatte River, Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks.

There have been 3 days of court hearings so far and they will be continued on August 19, 20 and September 1 as the issues of non-compliance with the Shelburne Comprehensive Plan and the Zoning Regulations are presented. I would encourage residents to attend hearings to learn more. Court costs are high. Shelburne residents wishing to support the preservation of Rice Woods as an intact, functioning, beautiful ecosystem may make tax deductible contributions to VCE, Inc.(Vermonters for a Clean Environment) at 789 Baker Brook Road, Danby VT 05739.

Ann Weathers


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Shelburnites, Wake Up!      (8/12/04 -- Shelburne News)
You are in danger of losing a valuable part of our green space corridor - Rice Woods, to be exact - home of bobcats and a superb example of biodiversity. State-valued trees and plants are in danger of being blasted into smithereens.

Wildflower and tracking enthusiasts have spearheaded action to save the property from destruction by blasting, construction, alien fill and population.

The case is in litigation and, having spent much of three and a half days in court, I can report that it is as exciting as any mystery on the tube. Come and support our cause at 9:00 am, on August 19th and 20th, at the Costello Courthouse on Cherry Street. Parking is easy right across the street; the first two hours are free. Do come and hear two super lawyers presenting a case.

This is about an important green space link. Montpelier has a "green necklace"; Cleveland has one; Charlotte is working on theirs. Shelburne needs to preserve its necklace which is in part privately owned forest land. Please join in the effort to keep our forested areas, and support the linkage at Rice Woods. Come and be a visible support at the Courthouse in the Environmental Court, August 19th and 20th. The bobcats hope their cliffs and home will remain.

Anne August


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Save Rice Woods      (8/19/04 -- Shelburne News)

Shelburne is fortunate in the quality of its setting and surroundings; but if the Rice Woods development goes forward, we will be losing a rich, unspoiled, biologically diverse ecosystem. In and among its rocky ledges are two uncommon natural communities that include five plant species considered uncommon and one considered rare by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. Rice Woods is also an important habitat for bobcats and rare bats as well as other animal species. And it is adjacent to a large Nature Conservancy preserve and thus part of an important wildlife corridor.

Surely destroying these very special woods with blasting and bulldozing and covering up with imported dirt so as to put in a dense, 62-home development is not what Shelburne residents want! Surely there are better, more ecologically appropriate sites in Shelburne for new housing for humans-whose habitat requirements are far less specialized than those of bobcats! And surely this destruction does not conform to Shelburne's Comprehensive Plan and zoning regulations that require developers to pay "due regard for the preservation of existing features, trees, scenic points,. . .rock outcroppings, water bodies, other natural resources."

If you weren't able to attend the court hearings (8/19 and 20) at the Costello Courthouse on Cherry Street to help us preserve our quality surroundings, consider coming on September 1 and/or making a tax deductible contribution through VCE, Inc. (Vermonters for a Clean Environment), 789 Baker Brook Road, Darby, VT 05739.

Lucy Blanton


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The Conflict at Rice Woods: Lessons Learned      (9/2/04 -- Shelburne News)
Those of us who have been attending the Environmental trial in Burlington, to hear the discussion of the proposed development of the forested area behind the Rice Lumber Company on Route 7 in Shelburne known as Rice Woods, are learning that there is even more involved than saving an area that is ecologically important to the town of Shelburne.

Rice Woods contains such a rich and diverse ecosystem consisting of beautiful wildflowers and ferns, known by names such as Bellwort, Spleenwort, Columbine, Dutchman's Breeches and Fragile Fern as well as a rare population of Yellow Oaks. In addition, it is critical bobcat habitat with wonderful rock outcroppings and cliffs that abut the greater natural area of the LaPlatte River, which the Nature Conservancy has already conserved. Without sufficient information about the land in question the town of Shelburne made a mistake when the Planning Commission issued the subdivision permit for 62 houses in these 34 precious acres. When the development proposal was presented to the Planning Commission, only a few residents knew of the potential natural resources and treasures that exist on this land. It turns out that the developers themselves and their experts were unaware of the significance of the site when they presented their application to the Planning Commission. Now many months later, after additional site specific studies, it is clear how delicate and important a resource this area really is. But it has come at a great personal cost to the residents of Shelburne to hire the experts needed to detail these ecological values and present this information to the Environmental Court. The expert testimony provided by the developer has not provided the unbiased data needed to inform the citizens of Shelburne and their elected representatives, because of the direct financial interest the developer has in the outcome.

With all the pressures for development and need for housing in Shelburne, it has become evident that we need to modify the processes used in the town of Shelburne, to assure that we do not lose special places, such as Rice Woods Residents can have positive input into the way change takes place. We realize now more than ever that there is a general lack of information on the natural resources in town, and there needs to be greater attention paid to evaluating and mapping these town resources. As a result of the Rice Woods case, the Planning Commission realized a change was needed in the towns development review process. They have made a proposal to modify the Town Plan so that the citizens of Shelburne will no longer have to bear the costs of natural resource evaluation of a particular parcel. It will fall upon the shoulders of the developers to provide approved, independent, expert testimony. Then the Planning Commission can make a more informed decision about the impacts of the proposed development.

The new Open Space Plan, that the Shelburne Natural Resources and Conservation Committee has proposed at the request of the Selectboard, is a start in making the necessary changes. It has not yet been approved, but it is intended to assure that the environmental and recreational desires and vision of the town residents can become a long-term reality.

It is so clear that with participation of town citizens [as with the overwhelming input in the controversy of the LaPlatte Nature Preserve] positive change can happen. If you would like to voice your opinion on the Rice Woods case, please let the Selectboard know how you feel and also contact Vermonters for a Clean Environment at vce@vce.org. This way you can keep informed about what is going on.

Ellin London


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Housing on Rice Woods Will Destroy Ecosystem      (5/18/04 -- Burlington Free Press)
Permit reform contains some good, some bad, and a lot unknown for all parties, but it fails to address a fundamental problem: compliance with and enforcement of local zoning and planning by-laws. The "permit reform" bill makes improvements to notification requirements, but does not confront these root problems.

Very soon, the proposal by the Senesac brothers to build 62 houses on 38 acres known as Rice Woods along Route 7 in Shelburne will be heard in Vermont's Environmental Court.

Rice Woods is a unique example of a Champlain Valley ecosystem with tremendous diversity of animals and plants. (See www.savericewoods.org.)

Shelburne's Planning Commission ignored the clear language in its subdivision regulations requiring the preservation of natural areas and the section which requires the determination of "whether the land is unsuitable for subdivision or development due to ... features which will reasonably be harmful to the safety, health and general welfare of the present or future inhabitants of the subdivision."

Potential harm to future inhabitants was brought to the attention of the Shelburne Planning Commission in a February 2002 letter from the president of Harbour Industries. He explained that his facility is permitted to discharge emissions and "on occasions, or with the proper weather conditions and prevailing winds, there may be an odor associated with these processes."

Harbour Industries' letter was not discussed. The developer's permit was approved.

When the new inhabitants complain about the smell, the state could initiate an enforcement action. Harbour Industries might choose to leave rather than invest in expensive emissions controls. Harbour Industries employs 100 people.

The failure of the Shelburne Planning Commission to comply with its by-laws is costing the developers and appellants tens of thousands of dollars by permitting a high-density development that would add hundreds of cars a day to an already-busy section of Route 7, destroy an important ecosystem, and threaten residents' health due to chemical fumes from a neighboring industry, whose jobs are now also at risk.

We hope that common sense prevails and a fair price is negotiated to preserve this incredibly beautiful ecosystem, and the jobs next door.

Annette Smith
Executive director, Vermonters for a Clean Environment, Inc.


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Court to Hear Dispute Over Land Development   (5/31/04 -- Burlington Free Press)
By Adele Johnsen Correspondent

SHELBURNE -- The state Environmental Court has been asked to decide whether the town of Shelburne was right to grant approval for a housing development on 33 acres bordering a nature preserve.

In 2003, the Shelburne Planning Commission granted Ethan Allen Holdings permission to build a 62-unit development on the property, which faces the LaPlatte Nature Preserve. Shortly after the Planning Commission OK, a group of Shelburne residents interested in preserving the property as open space launched an effort called Save Rice Woods.

Save Rice Woods sees the property as valuable bobcat habitat and a unique ecosystem, said Becky Wang, a member of the group and a Shelburne Natural Resources and Conservation Committee member. The group was started by botany enthusiast and environmental advocate Arieh Tal, who has been fond of the property for a decade.

"For a long time, we've known that this area is a really special ecosystem. It's got great flora, and the cliffs have a rocky limestone base that provides a special soil strata for the plant communities, which are not really common in Chittenden County," Wang said.

Marc Lapin, an ecologist working with Save Rice Woods, identified two uncommon natural community types -- a dry oak-hickory-hop hornbeam forest and a limestone cliff. Lapin, who specializes in ecosystem science and conservation, also identified one rare plant species, the squarrose goldenrod.

Town subdivision regulations call on the Planning Commission to evaluate "whether the proposal includes due regard for the preservation and protection of existing features." Stephanie Kaplan, an attorney working on behalf of Save Rice Woods, argues that the developer and the Planning Commission are "not showing due regard."

The development, the group fears, would damage the property's ecosystem and frighten away the bobcats, who use a cliff on the property's western edge as a haven from predators. Bobcats live in both the LaPlatte Nature Preserve, which is on the western edge of the Rice Woods property, and on the Rice Woods property. The uncommon plant species are found only on the Rice Woods property.

Ethan Allen Holdings disagrees that its development would have an adverse impact. "I think they've got their facts wrong," said Ed Fitzpatrick, attorney for the developer.

The development would comprise 25 single-family homes and 37 multifamily homes, two of which would be affordable housing units. The development would occupy half of the 33-acre property, Fitzpatrick added. The rest would be left open.

"It's a very carefully designed residential project. We went through extensive review with the Shelburne Planning Commission, and it was approved six to nothing," Fitzpatrick said. The development would be located in an area already zoned for residential/commercial use, he said.

Planning Commission approval contained the condition that Ethan Allen Holdings phase construction with no more than 15 to 22 units built a year, as required by the sewer capacity allocation. Slated to take four years to complete once its permits are in place, the project still needs its land-use permit under Act 250.

Save Rice Woods appealed the Planning Commission approval to Environmental Court. The case was scheduled for May 17, but a later court date opened up, and both sides agreed to postpone the hearing until July 19 to have more time to prepare.

Jim Carroll, who owns Rice Lumber and the property in question, agreed to sell the land to Ethan Allen Holdings after the developers approached him three or four years ago, he said.

Carroll got permits for a development on the land in the 1980s. "We went through Act 250 approval and were ready to do a development, and in 1990, the recession hit, and it didn't seem to be a wise venture, and a lot of permits expired," he explained. "Ethan Allen Holdings tried to pick up where that left off."

He said that he and his brother, with whom he owns Rice Lumber, "don't feel strongly one way or another -- if it's developed, fine, and if it's not, it's fine with us, also." Carroll also expressed support for the development because it would bring needed additional housing to Chittenden County.

"A squirrel needs a nest, and you need a house. Housing is very short in Chittenden County, and this seems like it would provide a fair amount of housing for people," Carroll said.


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