NEWARK – Hawk Rock Holdings, LLC – the owner of the about 2,600 acres of land, much of which is being leased by Seneca Mountain Wind (SMW), LLC, for that company’s hoped-for eventual wind project here – has sued the town of Newark, claiming the amended town plan is unconstitutional to property owners and should be invalidated.
In a statement released through the attorneys who brought the suit, Stackpole & French of Stowe, they stated, “Hawk Rock Holdings, LLC is a family-owned real estate holding company that owns approximately 2,600 acres of land in Newark, Vermont, much of which is subject to conservation restrictions and managed in accordance with a Forest Management Plan.”
“Between April and June of 2012 the Newark Planning Commission set out to develop amendments to its Town Plan for the sole purpose of preventing Seneca Mountain Wind, LLC from installing a temporary meteorological tower on land leased to that company by Hawk Rock Holdings, LLC,” the press release notes.
“The tower is one of four proposed in three towns in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom to measure wind energy potential. Newark’s amendments to its Town Plan specifically target the land of Hawk Rock Holdings, LLC and their impacts extend well beyond restricting the development of wind power.”
“The litigation initiated by Hawk Rock Holdings, LLC is not intended to be a referendum on the merits of wind power, but is intended to ensure that as Newark and other communities around Vermont debate, discuss, and react to controversial projects, private property rights and the municipal planning process are not trampled in a rush to act, as we believe occurred here,” the Hawk Rock Holdings press release stated.
The owners of Hawk Rock Holdings, according to the suit, are Barbara and Steven Watson, and the company has no full-time employees. HRH leased a portion of its lands to SMW in March of this year, and shortly after, SMW filed its application with the Public Service Board (PSB) for a Certificate of Public Good (CPG).
“Upon receiving notice of SMW’s application to the PSB, the Town of Newark Planning Commission (Planning Commission) took steps to oppose the proposal, first by moving to intervene in the PSB proceeding on behalf of the Town of Newark without authority to do so, and then by amending the Newark Town Plan in specific response to the pending application,” the suit states.
“The efforts of the Planning Commission to amend the Newark Town Plan culminated on Sept. 17, 2012, when it presented a series of proposed amendments to the Town of Newark Selectboard (Selectboard), which voted to approve the adoption of the amendments to the Town Plan.”
“The record of the Planning Commission’s activities and deliberations reveals a pervasive bias against SMW’s project, troubling conflicts of interests, and a plethora of failures to comply with requirements of State statute which set forth the process for amending a Town Plan,” the lawsuit alleges.
“Prior to filing its letter with the Public Service Board opposing SMW’s MET Tower Application the Planning Commission did not conduct any type of polling or attempt to hold any town-wide referendum on SWM’s proposal; instead, it relied upon NNU’s representation that over half of Newark’s registered voters signed a petition opposing SMW’s project in Newark,” states the suit.
The lawsuit, starting at page 10 of the 24-page document, and going to page 13, notes parts of the amended town plan and is critical of changes.
The lawsuit seeks to invalidate the town plan, “because the Newark Planning Commission violated (state statute) by failing to base its 2012 amendments to the Town Plan on a comprehensive planning process,” it claims.
“Planning, by definition, is forward looking and anticipatory, not reactive or responsive,” it cautions. “The Planning Commission did not engage in ‘planning;’ it engaged in activism at the behest of and in solidarity with a special interest group, co-opting the Commission for personal use, and undermining the Town’s long-range comprehensive planning process.”
It states in count six in the suit, “The 2012 Newark Town Plan should be invalidated because the Newark Planning Commission has effectively implemented zoning for the town by amending its town plan, rather than adopting zoning bylaws.”
The Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment against the town, declaring that the 2012 Newark Town Plan is “invalid, void, and unenforceable; and such other relief as the Court deems just and proper.”
Michael Channon, the chairman of Newark’s Select Board, said Monday he could not comment on the lawsuit, and said it has been forwarded to the town’s insurance handler, who will be representing the town in the suit.
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