Ferrisburgh stops talks with Infill

FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh selectmen have followed the recommendation of the town’s planning commission and voted, 4-0, to end discussions with The Infill Group about a proposed extension of Vergennes sewer service into the town.
The decision, made at an Aug. 24 meeting, appears to close some options for the future development of a 32-acre parcel near the Ferrisburgh village.
Infill head Bill Niquette has a deal with Vergennes aldermen to pay $1 million for a two-mile sewer extension that could have served the Ferrisburgh village area near the intersection of Route 7 and Little Chicago Road, including the town’s school and existing and proposed town office buildings. The proposed extension had a capacity of 100,000 gallons a day, enough to handle more than 400 homes and businesses.
Niquette also had an option to buy a 32-acre Route 7 parcel that would also have been served by the sewer line. He said he would pay the cost of buying the service and about $2 million more to build the line if the town would consider allowing an intensive, village-style development on the parcel, which abuts the school.
Niquette also said during the process that he was open to suggestion from town officials about sharing the cost of the extension and then proposing a less intensive development.
Acting selectboard chairman John DeVos said this week that selectmen agreed with town planners — and many residents who testified in three July public hearings on the concept — that the sewer extension could lead to an undesirable level of growth.
DeVos said selectmen agreed with planners that that growth could carry unintended consequences and costs that would outweigh the benefits of municipal sewer to residents and businesses now served by questionable in-ground systems.
“The consensus was that the sewer might have helped a few people along the corridor, but it wasn’t in the best interest of the town to have the … growth that would go with that particular deal,” DeVos said on Wednesday morning.
Niquette said he is not happy with the process town officials used to make their decision. He said he wanted to work with a committee appointed this spring by selectmen to define the town’s needs and wishes and then come up with a proposal that might create acceptable levels of growth and town participation. 
The town’s planning commission successfully lobbied selectmen to instead appoint the planners to meet with Niquette and hold hearings. Niquette said the process then focused on the most intensive possible use of the 33-acre parcel rather than on finding the town’s comfort level.
“The planning commission’s report to the selectmen condemned a development we never proposed and warned against a privatized sewer line concept we never brought to the town,” Niquette said in a Wednesday e-mail. “We have always said that any successful process would come from the town, which is why we implored the selectmen to work with us to develop a proposal before these hearings were held.”
Niquette said Infill was “disappointed by the abrupt nature of the reversal” from selectmen, who he said failed to “honor their commitment … to an open dialogue” about the different ways a sewer extension agreement could be structured.
“The fact is that there were no philosophical differences raised at the hearings or in the report, nor any technical matters that could not have been fully addressed if a discussion had continued in good faith,” he said.
Niquette said he will meet with the Vergennes aldermen next week to discuss the status of Infill’s $1 million deal with the city. 
Meanwhile, Ferrisburgh selectmen will probably be looking again at the 33-acre parcel, which is owned by the Hinsdale family of Charlotte. The Hinsdales have already sold the town septic easements to serve the elementary school and the proposed town office building on the adjacent Grange site. They also have planning commission permission for a nine-lot residential subdivision on the land.
But in 2005 the Hinsdales offered the town the chance to buy the entire parcel, including the septic easements, for $640,000, a purchase supported by several residents at a selectboard meeting. Such a move, they said, would allow the town to control the future of the only major vacant parcel in the village area that has soils suitable for septic systems. Clark Hinsdale III told selectmen last month that the family’s deal with Infill was for that same amount.
DeVos said the future of the land will be probably be on the selectboard’s agenda before long.
“That was one of the options … that we could be discussing relatively soon,” he said.

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