PUTNEY -- An environmental judge has denied a Putney resident's appeal of a Development Review Board's decision to allow an 83-space park and ride near Exit 4.
Environmental Judge Thomas Walsh said Daniel Hoviss failed to prove that his proposal to have motion-sensing lights for the park and ride would meet the safety requirements for the facility.
The Agency of Transportation wants to build the park and ride on land it owns near the Putney Fire Station. The land is on the Putney-Dummerston town line and half the parking spaces will be in Putney, while the other half will be in Dummerston. Both towns approved the project.
Hoviss appealed the Putney DRB's decision, saying that the 105-watt LED lights, that are going to be on all night, violate Putney's zoning regulations for lighting. The Putney zoning regulation says that site lighting should be kept to the minimum necessary for safety and that except for the lighting necessary for safety, lights should be extinguished after the close of business hours.
Walsh, in a seven-page ruling, said the Vermont Agency of Transportation's lighting plan provides the minimum lighting required for a safe park and ride facility during all hours of operation, and therefore did comply with the town's zoning regulations. The judge's decision now clears the way for VTrans to continue its work in Putney on the new facility.
Hoviss originally appealed the DRB decision on a number of points, including the size of the facility and its failure to adequately provide for pedestrian and bicycle use.
The two sides were able to reach a settlement on most of the other issues during a mediation session on March 21. But the state refused to make any changes to its lighting plan and Hoviss would not drop his appeal so the case went before Judge Walsh, who decided on April 22 that the project could proceed.
"The case was not successful in many ways, notably in reducing the size of this inappropriate project and in reducing the quantity and light output of the lighting," Hoviss wrote in a statement he released Monday.
In the court decision, Walsh said the proposed VTrans lighting design is based on the 2004 American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials publication "Guide for Park-and-Ride Facilities," which serve as VTrans' minimum safety standards for park and ride lighting.
Walsh said that while Hoviss offered lighting alternatives, those options, at a lower level, did not meet the minimum safety standards. The state argued that the proposed lighting was necessary to prevent vandalism and ensure a safe and secure facility, and that dimmed lights would affect the safety and use at the facility. Lighting engineer Maegan Crowley, who was called by the state, said that if Hoviss' lighting plan was used they would not meet the minimum required for safety as a matter of law.
Though Hoviss argued that the motion-sensing lights would be just as safe, the judge found that, "The only evidence Appellant provides to support this claim is the description of alternate lighting plans and his assertion that the facility will be safe."
The state sent work crews out to the site in early March, before the mediation date, and then ordered work to stop after Hoviss complained about the tree cutting that was going on while the appeal was still outstanding.
The state has been planning the Putney-Dummerston park and ride for more than 10 years and Project Manager Wayne Davis said Tuesday that he was looking forward to moving ahead with the project.
Davis said the park and ride should be opened by the end of the summer.
"We're happy about the judge's ruling and we are glad that it is over," Davis said. "It has been a long time coming."
Davis said the state and Hoviss were not able to reach an understanding over the lighting because Hoviss contended that the motion-sensing lighting would be just as safe as the proposed lights that will remain on all night.
"His ideas make sense in some applications, like when a parking lot is not used at night when a business closes, but the problem with a park and ride is that it is open 24 hours a day," Davis said. "People have different thresholds of personal security and safety and for a lot of people, driving into a dimly lit facility does not make them comfortable. It would go against our purpose, which is to encourage use."
Hoviss from the start argued that the process was unfair and that Putney residents did not have enough opportunities to comment on the project. The project has been under discussion for years, going back more than six years to when the fire station was built, but there was only a single public hearing when the DRB considered the application. "I believe that there is a fundamental problem with the process for projects of this nature in that the state should be required by law to hold more than one public meeting for state projects, and that if there is anyone that contests a local decision such as a Development Review Board decision, then some local process should be the first step," Hoviss wrote. "Having to mount a legal defense for a wrong headed project like this is not only a waste of time and energy, but clearly results in no real gains."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.