Four small towns in central Vermont have been placed on “watch status” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation because of what the organization calls a growing threat from a proposal by a Utah businessman to build a vast, planned community there.
The NewVistas proposal by David Hall, who wants to create a futuristic development near the birthplace of the founder of the Mormon church, threatens the character of the Upper Valley towns of Royalton, Sharon, Strafford, and Tunbridge, according to the National Trust.
The four towns “and the historic districts and landscapes in and around their borders are quintessential New England,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the trust, which is based in Washington. “From the stone walls that mark property lines to the scenic barns, fields, homesteads, and landscapes that define Vermont, there are countless elements of New England history within this region that could be negatively impacted by the NewVistas project.”
Hall has bought at least 1,600 acres for approximately $6 million near and adjacent to the Sharon birthplace of Joseph Smith, the 19th-century founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A former Mormon bishop, Hall said he was inspired by Smith’s 1833 blueprint for a self-sufficient community in which residents would lead deeply interconnected lives. The Mormon church opposes Hall’s project, which he has said could take generations to complete. Many Vermonters have mobilized to oppose his vision of a megalopolis of 1 million people, nearly twice the state’s current population.
The Vermont warning coincided with the release Tuesday of the National Trust’s annual list of the country’s 11 most endangered historic places.
Considered at greater immediate risk than locations on “watch status,” the 11 sites on the list range from the Colonial dock area in Annapolis, Md., to historic and cultural resources damaged by last year’s hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
Watch status, however, “is a signal to do something,” said Ruth McBain, spokeswoman for the National Trust. “This occurs for sites where we do see the potential for a solution that could prevent it from becoming severely endangered.”
Hall said Monday that NewVistas would not disturb any historical sites.
“The NewVistas project is way off into the future, if ever,” Hall told the Globe. “I have personally spent a lot on restoring historic sites, and I am a big believer in this. What I am opposed to is the continuing trend in Vermont to subdivision of large parcels.
“I would like to see more effort throughout Vermont in consolidation of parcels like I am doing. Large, well-placed, low-footprint, walkable communities are the future.”
Opponents of Hall’s plan were heartened by the National Trust’s move.
“It’s tremendous that a prestigious national organization that has everything to do with the heritage of people and places is recognizing this threat,” said Michael Sacca, chairman of Alliance for Vermont Communities. “This is yet another reason that David Hall should reconsider this project.”Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.