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New Land Use Clinic Tackles Social, Economic, Environmental Issues

October 4, 2010

SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt. -- Vermont Law School has opened a new Land Use Clinic to train the next generation of land use lawyers and policy-makers who will work on a growing array of social, economic and environmental challenges across the global landscape.

"The level of planetary crisis due to human impact demands preparation of land use lawyers and policy-makers versed in progressive strategy and methods," said Associate Professor Teresa Clemmer, the clinic's acting director. "The clinic will teach students how to address these issues locally but with the global ramifications in mind. The clinic has the potential to engage innovative NGO, academic and governmental partners here in Vermont, across the country and internationally."

The clinic started with one student clinician during the summer and has grown to five students this fall. The clinic defines "land use law and policy" in the broadest sense, embracing not only traditional planning and regulation but all human activity that affects land use. Thus, affordable and energy-efficient housing, sustainable agriculture, pollution prevention and healthy land-use lifestyles may fall within the clinic's mission. Land use decisions should be aimed at creating and maintaining healthy communities using the three E's: sustainable environment, economic development and social equity, Clemmer said.

Associate Professor Sean Nolon, director of VLS's Dispute Resolution Program, said the land use clinic is a great resource for students to get a front-row view of local government and how decisions are made behind the scenes. "The skills they acquire through this program will help them negotiate favorable results for clients," he said.

Peg Elmer, the clinic's associate director, said Vermont is a leader in the land use world, devising innovative strategies to encourage vibrant downtowns, a creative economy, compassionate social programs, stewardship of working landscapes and natural resource systems. "Students learn to apply these skills here and bring those skills back to the communities where they make their home," she said.

The clinic gives priority to projects that meet one of the following goals: to encourage compact settlement in rural villages; to maintain the vitality of historic downtowns; to maintain a viable working landscape such as supporting sustainable agriculture and forestry operations; to mitigate negative human impacts; to plan for healthy natural resource systems; to improve the quality of the land use plans, regulations and decision-making at state and local levels; and to improve the capacity of volunteer rural land use decision-makers.

Sample Projects

  • Amendment of the Vermont Municipal and Regional Planning and Development Act: The wholesale reform of this enabling act in 2004 left a number of key technical corrections in its wake needing cleanup. The clinic will work with the legislative liaison of the Vermont Planners Association to ready a bill for this session and find sponsors.
  • Transportation-Floodplain Management: The clinic will work to identify environmental and transportation laws and regulations shaping transportation-floodplain management networks in Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. The results will be used in modeling to improve decision-making to anticipate impacts from climate change.
  • Fish Friendly Culverts: Clinic students will draft an innovative conservation easement to protect fish-friendly culverts on the edge of the Connecticut River.
  • Development Review Training Modules: Student clinicians will develop training materials for municipal land use decision-makers.
  • Researching Innovative Ways of Supporting Local Agricultural Economy with Community Planning: Clinic students will research community planning practices nationwide, finding key resources, comparing effectiveness of local implementation measures and assist in developing a graphically-rich presentation for a national training webinar.

CONTACT: John Cramer, Associate Director of Media Relations

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