School Board Appeals to Vermont Supreme Court

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Thursday December 12, 2013

Over a year ago, the South Burlington School Board was notified of plans by the HowardCenter to conduct interior renovations to 364 Dorset Street for the purpose of opening a methadone clinic. After a number of public meetings, where parents largely presented their opposition to the location of the clinic due to safety concerns, the Board appealed the issuance of the HowardCenter’s zoning permit to Vermont’s Environmental Court. 

While the appeal process was underway, the HowardCenter’s zoning permit was upheld and the clinic opened in September. 

November 13, the school board was notified that their appeal to the Environmental Court had been denied. The judge presented a number of reasons for rejecting the appeal. These included the fact that the methadone clinic is a medical office, the building renovations were 100% internal and therefore explicitly exempt from site plan review, and that no traffic study is required by the regulation where there is no change in use or physical expansion of the building. Increase in traffic due to the anticipated volume of patients that will be seen is a concern the Board presented in their case and one they continue to have. 

At the November 20 Board meeting, Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald asked the Board’s attorney Pietro Lynn to report back on anticipated costs of taking next steps . At the December 2 meeting, David Young said that the incremental cost of going forward with the appeal would be in the $5,000 range and the entire process would take about 9 months, since the Supreme Court would need time to hear both sides. To date, the school has spent over $70,000 on legal fees and safety measures such as tree removal and enhanced lighting around the schools. 

Given this information, Dan Fleming made a motion, which LaLonde seconded, to appeal the Environmental Court’s decision to the Vermont Supreme Court. The decision was unanimous. 

LaLonde said he views the incremental cost as low. “We owe it to the students and staff to take this as far as we need to,” LaLonde said. Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald added that safety concerns are at the heart of pursuing this option and that while she respects the services the HowardCenter provides to those who require them, “I have not been persuaded that the safety of our students and staff isn’t an issue.”

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent