A wealthy engineer inspired by Joseph Smith's writing is attempting to purchase 5,000 acres in Tunbridge, Royalton, Strafford and Sharon to create "a network of environmentally and socially sustainable villages, communities, and megalopolises."
Under David R. Hall’s governance, the NewVista Foundation has bought close to 900 acres since October 2015 in the four towns, for a total of $3,600,000.
According to Mr. Hall, president of NewVista, the foundation plans to continue buying properties, for up to a total of 5,000 acres in the four towns. It is planning to buy properties that are available on the market, not seeking sellers actively for now. The foundation will use the properties for a long-term project, the NewVista project, but will rent the houses to tenants until the project is implemented.
According to the foundation's website, the NewVista project is “a concept for achieving global environmental balance by building a network of environmentally and socially sustainable villages, communities, and megalopolises. It combines sustainability with massive scalability to achieve a comprehensive approach to human development.”
Mr. Hall’s vision is outlined in a 23-page document that details everything from community layout to building materials, business structure, agriculture, and governance.
“I am an engineer and scientist,” said Mr. Hall, “and my interest is in solving critical issues like full cycle carbon neutral energy and local food and walkable communities and economic systems that are fair and egalitarian.”
But also, “what drives me, this project,” said Mr. Hall, “are the Joseph Smith documents.” The NewVista project is based on the revised Plat of Zion, a paper dating back to 1833 written by Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint movement. The Plat of Zion describes an ideal society that would host between 15,000 and 20,000 inhabitants.
The NewVista project is based solely on that model. Mr. Hall said that even though it is based on a religious text, this ideal society can be recreated in any environment, anywhere in the world.
So why implement this project in this particular region? “I am LDS and became interested in the area as a very young man because my family who lived in Schenectady NY, where I grew up, would visit the monument on vacations,” Mr. Hall said. LDS references The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons. He has fond memories of spending time in Sharon, Vermont, where he would go with his family to the Joseph Smith Memorial to camp and visit the monument, which marks the place of Smith's birth.
“It was just dirt roads and the monument back then,” he added.
I asked him about the proximity of the property purchases and the Latter-day Saints monument. “The LDS church is not involved with the foundation and is not aware of my foundation nor my interest in the area," responded Mr. Hall.
His father, Dr. H. Tracy Hall, invented the synthetic diamond. He worked for General Electric in Schenectady, then moved back to Utah to do research at Brigham Young University. He later in life founded Novatek, a company that specializes in synthetic diamond technology primarily for the oil and gas industry. In September 2015, Novatek was acquired by Schlumberger, the world's largest oilfield services company. The NewVista project is funded by this acquisition.
I asked how Act 250, a law passed in 1970 to mitigate the effects of development on community and the environment, will impact this large-scale project. Mr. Hall said that the current state of the economy in Vermont is not sustainable. “We don't want urban sprawl, because that is not sustainable either,” he said.
Mr. Hall said he is working with a team of 150 engineers, and is planning to work with professors at the Vermont Law School and local universities to find a way to bring this massive project to fruition.
The timeline for this project is not clear. The foundation started buying properties last October, and will start working with the towns and community organizations to assess what the next steps are. But Mr. Hall said that this is a very long-term project. “We are in early stages of our work with the schools contacting professors about conducting studies for us on environmentally sustainable systems. We hope to build a research center near the [law] school in about 10 years.“
The next stage will “consist mainly of prototyping elements of the community, culminating in both a network of NewVista-supported businesses operating in accordance with NewVista principles and the creation and operation of individual houses, villages, and a district of 800 residents utilizing NewVista housing and one main campus building. Stage two includes arranging the basic financial infrastructure of a NewVista community, selecting sites, and completing detailed engineering and design.”
The third stage of this project would be to replicate the successful prototype, and have a population of between 15,000 and 20,000 participants.
I expressed concerns about the impact a successfully implemented project of this scale would have on the four towns and the local population. Even in the early stage, adding 800 residents to a community of 6,600 (the four villages combined) would have a huge impact on the local economy and the social fabric of the towns. Mr. Hall said he is working with a local attorney specialized in real estate transactions and estate planning, Brooke Trottier, and will also work with local community organizations to address issues that might rise.
“I love Vermont!" added Mr. Hall. "As president of the foundation and its benefactor I hope our efforts in Vermont will be of great benefit to all mankind.”
As of March 2016, here is a list of properties that the NewVista Foundation has bought:
159 Town Farm Rd, house and 15 acres, $325,000
117 Clifford Farm Rd, house and 20.6 acres, $335,000
2293 Fay Brook Rd, house and 123.6 acres, $475,000
116 Clifford Farm Rd, 2 acres, $30,000
1631 Clifford Farm Rd, houses with farm equipment and 159.14 acres, $1,350,000
1631 Clifford Farm Rd, 239.86 acres (part of the Sharon purchase)
1631 Clifford Farm Rd, 50 acres (part of the Sharon purchase)
113 Spring Rd, 63 acres, $140,000
76 Button Hill Rd, 110 acres, $145,000
200 Button Hill Rd, house and 79.7 acres, $265,000
171 Chelsea Street, house and 0.25 acres, $185,000
180 Sugar Hill Rd, house and 10.2 acres, $350,000
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