City, youth to discuss land

VERGENNES — After hearing a pitch on Tuesday from Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes board member Bill  Benton, Vergennes aldermen agreed to talk further with club officials about selling or leasing land near the city’s recreation area on which the club could build a youth center.
The land in question is an 8.13-acre parcel that runs behind homes along New Haven Road and can be accessed from a right-of-way from that city street. As well as bordering the recreation area, the site lies between Vergennes union and high schools, making it an easy off-road, after-school walk for club members.
Along with the recreation area and the city pool, Vergennes was deeded the land by the Vergennes ID school district when that board dissolved earlier this year.
The Boys & Girls Club now leases space in the Masonic Lodge on School Street for its younger members, and in the rear of a building at the corner of School and Green streets for its teen members; both sites lack outdoor play areas.
Club officials have for years discussed options for building ownership, and at one point had considered an arrangement with the developers of the soon-to-be built senior housing center off Monkton Road.
Benton said on Wednesday the city land would be close to ideal because of its proximity to the schools and the opportunity for outdoor play.
“There are a couple other options, but this one is a great location,” he said.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Michael Daniels said, “the council voted to open discussion” with the club, which at this point is seeking an option to purchase or lease some or all of the land. But he cautioned that it was early in the process and that many questions remain.
“We didn’t want to commit. We wanted to see where they were going, and see what is equitable for both parties,” Daniels said.
Daniels noted that others have approached the council about extending walking trails through the undeveloped area, and he believes both uses could be compatible there.
Daniels said he might prefer leasing land to the club for a facility, a move that would allow the city some say in the future as to what might replace the club.
“We want some control in there,” he said.
Funding will, of course, be an issue. If the city owns the land, block grants are possible, Daniels said. The council appointed a committee of City Manager Mel Hawley and Aldermen Lowell Bertrand and David Austin to work with the club on the sale-vs.-lease, size of parcel, and financing issues.
Benton said a portion of the parcel would probably work better for the club, but that he is not sure if a lease arrangement would be ideal in seeking financing. He is optimistic those issues could be worked out when city representatives sit down with the club committee its board will choose next week.
Benton said his central goal was met when he sat down on Tuesday with the aldermen.
“They seem to be receptive to discussion, and really that’s all I went for,” he said.
In other business, aldermen:
• Appointed Steven Rapoport to the development review board and Morgan Kittredge to the planning commission.
• Heard from Hawley that he is appealing how the Vermont Department of Taxes is assessing Vergennes industrial property. Hawley said industrial real estate is being compared unfairly to the city’s commercial property, costing Vergennes significant tax revenue.
• Were told by Hawley that Verizon Wireless has started construction of a shed that will go hand-in-hand with broadcast equipment that will be installed on the city’s water tower. Verizon will pay the city to install that equipment, improving city revenue and the company’s poor reception in the area.
• Were told by Hawley that the municipal portion of the Vergennes tax rate will be 60.32 cents, not 60.30 cents. Hawley said state regulations require towns to pay back the education fund for lost revenue for tax exemptions granted to disabled veterans in excess of $10,000 and for buildings voters agree to take off the tax rolls. Residents have agreed to exempt from taxation the Masonic building. Those calculations were not included when the council set the rate late last month, he said.
Reporter Andy Kirkaldy is at [email protected].

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