Pierce Woods lots ready to be marketed

FERRISBURGH — About five years after the developers of Pierce Woods first proposed their 21-lot planned residential development (PRD) off Stage Road, they will begin marketing what will be the second-largest housing subdivision in Ferrisburgh.
Pierce Woods, which runs south from Stage Road to Lewis Creek, is owned by Ferrisburgh Realty Investors LLC, known as FRI. Company vice president Pedro Zevallos said after FRI prevailed in several appeals of the permits for the subdivision and in three court cases against a neighbor for breach of contract for filing those appeals, the company is happy to be moving forward.
The last of those court cases came in April when the Vermont Supreme Court awarded FRI $135,000 from neighbor Robert Schumacher for breach of contract and punitive damages. The court ruled Schumacher filed the appeals out of “malice.” FRI originally won $890,000 in Addison Superior Court, an amount reduced to $90,000 on appeal before the Supreme Court increased it to $135,000 last month.
“We’re happy to have a decision from the Vermont Supreme Court,” Zevallos said, “and we’re excited to be marketing these lots.”
The court case hinged on Schumacher’s promise to former landowners John and Irene Pierce, from whom Schumacher bought his homestead, not to oppose further development of the remainder of the Pierces’ surrounding property. That promise transferred to FRI when it bought the 115-acre Pierce Woods property and an adjacent lot.
 The Vermont Supreme Court held that Schumacher filed the appeals of FRI’s permits “out of spite after his own requests to purchase a lot were denied.”
Zevallos said FRI was gratified by the Supreme Court’s decision.
“While FRI may not agree with every one of the Supreme Court’s conclusions, the big picture is what is important, and that’s that the Supreme Court affirmed that Mr. Schumacher had breached the contract that he had, and that his behavior … was found to be malicious and deserving of punitive damages,” he said.
FRI, which includes Ferrisburgh resident David Shlansky as a principal, now can focus on its PRD, which calls for clustered homes and a shared septic system and includes conservation easements on much of its acreage. Pierce Woods earned preliminary town approval in November 2005, and final approval in January 2006.
Zevallos said FRI hopes to begin marketing the first phase of 13 lots this summer. Exact prices have yet to be set, but are expected to range from roughly $100,000 to $160,000 per lot.
FRI is cautiously optimistic about the local real estate market.
“It seems like the contractors are more active. … It seems like our pricing is competitive,” Zevallos said. “It’s hard to tell this early in the year … but we think that the market is sound now and will get better over the next one to three years.”
The lots are smaller than typically allowed in what is mostly a 2-acre zone: 17 of the lots are between 0.4 and 1.7 acres. FRI successfully applied for a lot-size waiver under Ferrisburgh’s zoning regulations, which allow small lots to be clustered if the remainder of a parcel stays open. Pierce Woods is Ferrisburgh’s first PRD under long-standing town law allowing that type of lot layout. 
 A new road will access the lots, and FRI will install power and septic lines to each lot front and build a 300,000-gallon fire pond. A homeowners’ association will manage shared infrastructure and will jointly own another 40 acres that FRI said is ecologically valuable land. Four larger parcels of between 15 and 25 acres will include land that FRI will protect with conservation easements. 
Zevallos and Shlansky said in designing the project they wanted to protect ecologically sensitive areas, including the Lewis Creek river corridor, agricultural land at the north end, and hemlock forest in the middle. Before filing plans they consulted with several nonprofit environmental groups as well as state and local environmental officials. They also hired an ecologist to identify land that should be protected if possible.
Pierce Woods buyers will be asked to accept limits on the use of their lots. Each lot will have a building envelope in which homes and other improvements must be located. Homeowners will also have to get approval from FRI for landscaping plans and the size and appearance of their homes.
Zevallos said FRI believes Pierce Woods will be a welcome addition to Ferrisburgh.
“FRI has worked hard to create a sound, environmentally based residential development … and is committed to this project for the long term,” he said. “FRI can and will adapt to market conditions and cycles, and we are confident that the Pierce Woods development will be a success from a design, environmental and business perspective.”
Reporter Andy Kirkaldy is at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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