CHARLOTTE — Evergreen Family Health Partners has suspended efforts to bring the Charlotte Family Health Center back to Charlotte.
The company announced its decision on September 15, citing regulatory hurdles, controversy and a lawsuit as factors in the choice.
Evergreen Family Health Partners wanted to build a 4,275 square foot health center downtown, but the project has been a point of contention in Charlotte for years, and in recent months the debate over whether to allow it or not has intensified.
The Charlotte Family Health Center moved to Shelburne in 2019, after Evergreen Family Health found its previous location in Charlotte unsuitable for running a practice. But he wanted to move back to town, and for the past two years has worked to get approval and buy the property at 251 Ferry Road for his new office.
But over the years, a series of obstacles have stood in the way, according to Paul Reiss, senior partner at Evergreen Family Health — regulations, rising building material costs, labor shortages and, more recently, , appeals against the approval of the project by the city. .
At this point, two groups of nearby residents have filed appeals for the city’s approval to locate the health center at the Ferry Road site.
Eighteen residents, led by Conservation Commission member Ronda Moore, filed an August 16 appeal with the Vermont Environmental Court against the Charlotte Planning Commission’s July 29 decision to approve the location from the health care center on Ferry Road.
On August 27, Gene and Rene Kaczka-Valiere, who live just west of the site, also filed an appeal, but did not specify the reasons for their opposition; this could happen if the appeal goes to trial.
Opponents who signed the August 16 appeal say potential damage to wetlands on and near the site is one of their main concerns.
The dispute could take years to resolve in court, according to class attorney Jon T. Anderson of the Burlington law firm Primmer, Piper, Eggleston and Cramer.
The court’s appeal argues that the project would violate a city ordinance, which does not allow development in wetlands or wetland buffer zones, which extend 50 feet from a wetland, a said Anderson. He cited city regulations that “no clearing or grading shall take place within shoreline, surface water and wetland setbacks.”
The city government agrees that the project harms wetlands; the question is to what extent disturbance of wetlands is acceptable and on what quality of wetlands. The callers seem to say nothing at all, but the city government sees things a little differently, according to Charlotte city planner Larry Lewack.
Lewack said the health care center would have minimal negative impact on the wetlands because the center would only cover a small portion of them and the wetlands have already been disturbed.
Lewack also said the center, which would be in a central location, would be a benefit to the community and that many residents would like to have a health care center in town again.
Lewack said he was speaking for himself and Peter Joslin, the chairman of Charlotte’s planning commission, who declined to comment.
According to a Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation reportthe wetland plays an important ecological role in the region.
Tina Heath, the Chittenden County Department Wetland Ecologist, visited the site and labeled it a Class II wetland, meaning it is state protected, has significant value and is n t is neither a pristine nor extremely damaged wetland. Class I and II wetlands are protected under state wetland rules, but Class III wetlands are not.
In its designation, Heath noted that the wetland covers more than half an acre, contains woody vegetation, is adjacent to a body of water, and is home to Gray’s Sedge, a state-listed plant. rare, threatened and endangered plants and animals. .
The wetland is part of a 54.7-acre system that serves as the source of Thorp Brook and includes a section of the Mesic Clayplain Forest, a rare type of woodland that was abundant in Vermont before European settlement, but which has been greatly diminished and modified over the years. years, according to Heath.
Heath wrote in an email that because the state wetland program has not yet received all of the application materials for the project, it’s too early to tell how the project would affect the wetland.
“The Wetlands Program is not prejudging a proposal until all permit application documents are available for review,” Heath wrote. “Our goal is to work with landowners on their project ideas to come up with a design that is most compatible with the wetlands on the property, so that there are no undue negative impacts on the area. moist or its functions and values.”
City leaders agree that there is a significant wetland in the area, but say the proposed location of the health care center is less important.
Lewack noted that the proposed health center site has already been disturbed and that the center would only build on 230 square feet of wetland, which would have minimal impact.
“We’re not talking about high-quality wetlands,” Lewack said. “Most of the urban area of the West Village has been built up, leveled and reclassified so that the wetlands do not perform the functions of wetlands.”
Evergreen Family Health supports the city government in the appeal, in which it argues that its approval of the health care center was the right decision.
Don’t miss a thing. Sign up here to receive VTDigger’s weekly email about Vermont hospitals, health care trends, insurance, and state health policy.