WESTMINSTER — Former Gov. Peter Shumlin has received approval to subdivide a former dairy farm he owns in Westminster West, splitting off two wooded building lots.
In a unanimous decision made earlier this month, the Westminster Development Review Board approved Shumlin’s plans, which ran into a buzzsaw of opposition from the rural neighborhood. Neighbors raised concerns about the loss of farmland and public safety on their private narrow dirt road, Old Codding Road, where Shumlin’s proposed lots would also be.
The board said that Shumlin’s plan met all the town’s requirements for a major subdivision, and that the creation of two new wooded building lots was done to protect farmland, not destroy it, as opponents had claimed.
The two new lots are 6.8 acres and 13.53 acres, while the remaining farm is 141.27 acres, according to the decision.
The two lots split off from the former Ranney dairy farm will have access via what the town called “a private way,” Old Codding Road, that had been discontinued more than a century ago at the request of abutting landowners.
“The Westminster Development Review Board has concluded with hours of research, legal opinions, testimonies and exhibits that Old Codding Road is a ‘limited access road,’” the board wrote.
Under such a concept, the board noted, “each abutter owns to the center line of this common drive.”
“In the Development Review Board’s opinion, this tradition of abutters having access has been magnified to the point today where 22 lots use this road,” it noted.
“For the Development Review Board to say now that this is not a viable access to the established lots and the lots yet to be established would be unlawful and discriminating,” it concluded.
More than a dozen current landowners along the road claimed that Shumlin had no right to establish his access to the new lots via Old Codding Road, the discontinued town road they all live on.
But the board noted that there are currently 22 homes off Old Codding Road, and Shumlin had just as much right to the road as any of them.
Shumlin had proposed last summer the splitting of a 6-acre and 13-acre lot off the much larger Ranney Farm of 161 acres, saying he was doing his part to address the housing shortage that was particularly acute during the coronavirus pandemic.
Shumlin, who was governor from 2011 to 2017, bought the Ranney Farm in 2004, and later rented it to dairy farmers. The permit was granted to Ranney Dairy Farm LLC.
Last summer, he said the fields were currently rented to a large local sheep farm run by David and Yesenia Major, the makers of Vermont Shepherd cheese.
But neighbors objected, and the town determined that what he was proposing was actually a major subdivision, rather than a minor subdivision.
Two contentious hearings later, Shumlin had his permit. During the first hearing last April, Shumlin said he wanted to be treated “the same as everyone” in creating the two building lots.
The board said it considered adding a condition regarding access of emergency vehicles along the road. But Fire Chief Cole Streeter told town officials that such a condition was not necessary and that his department had no problem accessing property along the road.
Westminster Town Manager Russell Hodgkins, who is also the town zoning administrator, said Tuesday that Shumlin had already submitted a detailed Mylar plan for the subdivision as required by the permit, and paid all fees.
Whether the decision will be appealed is still unknown.
Neither Fletcher Proctor, the attorney for Philip Ranney, the son of the original owners of the farm and a current abutting neighbor, nor Sam Angell, the attorney for Shumlin, returned a request for comment.
Hodgkins said that parties to the decision have until Feb. 2 to file an appeal.