Ferrisburgh puts land on market

FERRISBURGH — The town of Ferrisburgh has placed on the market the 35-acre parcel it owns at the junction of Routes 7 and 22A, just outside Vergennes, with an asking price of $375,000.
The price might have been higher for an open site with permitted wastewater capacity, level topography, high traffic volume, easy access to rail transportation and frontage on two of the state’s busiest highways.
But despite those pluses the land, zoned industrial with retail uses conditionally permitted, does come with some baggage for potential buyers.
Of a tract actually consisting of three parcels, about 23.3 acres are subject to conservation easements that allow only agricultural uses; some of that land is also wet. On the remaining 9.7 acres, other easements restrict the building envelope to 4.5 acres.
And, although Ferrisburgh selectmen have a legal opinion that the town is not bound by a 1999 Memorandum of Understanding signed by two trusts, the former land owner and the Agency of Transportation, board chairwoman Loretta Lawrence said selectmen want to honor its intent, which limits uses on the land.
That memorandum — part of a deal in which landowner Bill Pollender traded the parcel for property in Richford and in which the AOT’s adjacent park-and-ride lot and the conservation easements were created — states, “No retail development will be allowed (other than a small retail area in, and related to, the manufacturing facility).”
Lawrence said selectmen have no interest in certain uses, like big-box retail or a Stewart’s convenience store proposed for the site that generated controversy in the 1990s.
“We don’t want a Wal-Mart there … It’s the hope of the board not to have another convenience store there. We seem to have enough of those already,” Lawrence said.
But an opinion from town attorney Jim Carroll said that the memorandum is not binding because it was not attached to Ferrisburgh’s deed for the land.
Still, Lawrence said Ferrisburgh officials are contacting officials from the trusts listed on the memorandum, the Addison County Community Trust and the Preservation Trust of Vermont, to tell them Ferrisburgh hopes to honor that agreement.
“We don’t have to, but we want to,” Lawrence said, “We want to make sure that everyone is satisfied with what goes in there.”
Listing agent Matt Tedder of Burlington’s Pomerleau Real Estate agreed the limitations on potential uses could lengthen the marketing time, but remained optimistic.
“When you’re very specific in what you want to see on the site … it just increases the timing. Can we find this user in six months? Probably not,” he said. “As business improves and the economy comes back … I think you can land the user you want.”
The specific user that Tedder will target and that Ferrisburgh officials would love to see is a Vermont-based light manufacturer with an associated retail shop. As an example, Tedder cited Country Home Products, which at one point considered the site for an expansion and has a factory store.
“That’s who we will target, Vermont users … with primarily an industrial use with related retail,” he said.
It’s also possible that the right buyer for the 9.4 acres could find a secondary use for the remaining land to supplement cash flow.
“If someone wanted to come in and buy the site, they could come in and put a winery or solar panels on the larger piece,” Tedder said. “There’s definitely a strong possibility for that sort of use on that site.”
While Tedder preached patience, he also said the site’s qualities made it attractive.
“We have to limit everyone’s expectations somewhat, but you never know,” he said. “Someone could come on quickly.”
Selectmen hope to use the sales proceeds to complete a $150,000 purchase of a home and 2 acres next to the duplicate Grange Hall that now serves as Ferrisburgh town offices and a community center. That potential purchase is subject to voter approval on Nov. 2.
Town officials said this property could be used for expanded parking, safer access to Route 7, and other unforeseen uses in the future.
The property is owned by Donald and Patience Sisters, who under the terms of the sale would remain in the home indefinitely. They would pay rent that starts at $500 a month for five years.
A mortgage for the property would cost a little less than $10,000 a year, officials said, and the town would pay a small amount for exterior maintenance. The Sisters’ rent would cover $6,000 of those annual costs until the Routes 7 and 22A parcel sold.
Selectmen will hold an informational meeting on Nov. 1 to explain why they believe the town should go ahead with the deal and how they plan to finance it. Lawrence said the board is still discussing other means of getting information out.
Lawrence said selectmen are weighing whether to seek blanket permission to accept an offer on the Routes 7/22A land, or to wait until a specific deal comes along and then hold a special election to seek approval.
Lawrence also said she would have to seek a legal opinion on whether selectmen could apply the sale proceeds from the land deal toward the Sisters property without specific voter approval.
In the meantime, Lawrence said she is realistic about the time it might take to sell the land, but remains optimistic Pomerleau will find a buyer in due course.
“I’m very optimistic that there’s someone out there that wants this property,” she said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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