Spring/Summer 2014 Business Travel Guide

Business
The Vermont Way

Even well-seasoned business travelers can occasionally find a state’s laws and culture confusing. Here, we explore some of the differences and downright quirks in the Green Mountain State.

Act 250 And Act 200

Act 250, Vermont’s comprehensive land-use law, was passed in 1970 to protect against substandard or shortsighted development and the burdens it places on water, sewer, utility, police, and fire services and on schools and roads. Its goal was to protect air and water quality; promote soil conservation; and preserve wildlife habitats and scenic, archaeological, and historic sites.

Proposals for commercial and residential developments that fall under Act 250 are reviewed by one of nine District Environmental Commissions.

To receive a permit, a development proposal is reviewed against 10 criteria specified in Act 250. The procedure provides a public hearing where abutters and interested parties may voice their views. Most Act 250 permits are granted conditionally; two-thirds are issued within 60 days. Of the thousands of applications processed, fewer than 5 percent have been denied. Decisions may be appealed to the state environmental court. Final appeals may be made to the Vermont Supreme Court.

Act 200, a growth management act, went into effect in 1989 to make sure that regional and local plans are consistent with Vermont’s planning goals. This law addresses agricultural land, forest preservation, and affordable housing.

Vermont’s 251 municipalities must have approved town plans to be eligible for state planning funds. Towns that have adopted a capital budget and program may collect impact fees from developers to help fund municipal projects made necessary by development.

A Day Off

Vermonters observe national holidays — weekdays when there is no mail and the banks are closed — in much the same way they are honored in other states. Many states add at least a couple of days that are special on a statewide or local level. Vermont has few, but they are worth noting.

Town Meeting Day. Vermont law reads: “A meeting of the legal voters of each town shall be held annually on the first Tuesday in March unless the town charter says otherwise.” An amendment allows for an alternate date for town meeting “the first Saturday immediately preceding the first Tuesday in March.”

Some public schools (and businesses) close to honor this expression of participatory government. Sales representatives who are planning cold calls in the state in early March might want to phone ahead. Because voting by Australian ballot must be held on that first Tuesday, many people arrive at work a little late or leave a half hour early in order to vote.

Deer Season. Although not a designated holiday, opening day of Vermont’s main, 16-day deer-hunting season, can probably compete with the day after Thanksgiving as a most-requested day off.

The season runs from mid to late November and attracts the attention of all Vermonters, not just hunters.

Following the 16-day rifle-hunting season is a nine-day muzzleloading season. Archery season runs for 23 days, the last nine of which begin on the first Saturday after rifle season.

Huge numbers of Vermonters (mostly men, but that’s changing) spend at least one of the weekends at “deer camp,” traditionally a cabin in the woods with few amenities. More recently, deer camp might include condos or hotel suites ... and many of the hunters really do hunt.

Bennington Battle Day. Aug. 16 marks the anniversary of the Battle of Bennington (actually fought in Walloomsac, N.Y.) when British troops attempted to capture Bennington storehouses of ammunition and supplies. The British were turned back by the so-called “Bennington Mobb” made up of Ira Allen — Ethan was in jail at the time — the Green Mountain Boys, and (mostly) Benning­tonians.

The closer you are to the Bennington Monument (the southwest corner of the state), the more likely that businesses will take the day off.

Lack of Billboards

Vermont was the first state to outlaw billboards and enact a set of stringent rules regulating all kinds of signage. A 1968 law prohibits privately owned, off-premises signs and restricts the size, height, and distance from the road of on-premises signs. Signs can’t have moving parts or flashing lights, either. All signs are forbidden on the legal right-of-way. Communities may adopt laws more stringent than the state’s.

Local entrepreneurs have found other eye-catching ways to grab attention. In Leicester, a 19-foot concrete gorilla holds a VW Beetle aloft in one hand over the lot of a used-car dealership. Elsewhere, flags or giant objects sprout on buildings and lawns and elaborately decorated trucks and vans are parked in conspicuous spaces.

In the Car

Since 1973, it has been against Vermont law to let your vehicle run while unattended in public. In 2013, the state passed a law limiting the idling of all motor vehicles to five minutes in any 60-minute period, occupied or not. It takes effect on May 1, 2014. There are a few exemptions. Burlington is tougher: The fine is $10 for idling longer than three minutes.

All drivers under 18 are barred from using cell phones while driving. All drivers of any age may not text while behind the wheel.

No Smoking

Vermont’s Clean Indoor Air Act prohibits smoking in public buildings and in the common area of all enclosed indoor places of public access.

No Peeking

In 2005, the Legislature enacted a law that makes it a crime to peep in windows or to use any technology, including cell phone cameras, to spy on people.

Alcohol

In 1991, Vermont lowered the allowance for legal blood alcohol content while driving from 0.1 percent to 0.08 percent. The law imposes stiffer penalties for repeat convictions and requires counseling for offenders.

All hard liquor (anything over 16 percent alcohol content by volume) is controlled by the state. Prices are tightly regulated, so there is no variation among liquor stores. Beer and wine are sold at supermarkets and convenience stores. •