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Ferrisburgh signs deal to sell land

FERRISBURGH — After months of talks, Ferrisburgh selectmen and a corporation with a Montpelier mailing address have struck a deal for the sale of the town’s 34.9-acre parcel at the junction of Routes 7 and 22A.
The purchase-and-sale contract between Ferrisburgh and Eastern Development Corp., signed Aug. 1, is for the full price for which the property was listed in September 2010, $375,000, and the buyer paid a $15,000 deposit to take the land off the market.
The deal, which was reached in talks between Eastern Development and selectmen that began in the spring, does have major contingencies that are not unusual for the purchase of commercial property.
To start with, Eastern Development has 45 days to conduct a feasibility study for its plans for the property; the contract states “If Purchaser determines that development possibilities for the Property are not feasible,” Eastern Development can walk away from the deal and get its deposit back.
Selectboard chairwoman Loretta Lawrence said the company has not disclosed the exact nature of its plans, but she is optimistic based on discussions with Eastern Development officer and legal representative Frank von Turkovich that the town and neighboring Vergennes will be happy.
Those discussions have included passing along feedback from former stakeholders and Vergennes about what might be acceptable on the land, Lawrence said.
“We’re extremely excited,” she said. “I think he sees potential there for our town and neighboring towns. It’s going to work for everyone. We just don’t know what that is right now.”
Von Turkovich on Thursday said Eastern Development wasn’t yet ready to discuss its plans, but was optimistic the outcome would be acceptable and workable.
“I’m hopeful this will turn out to be something that is feasible,” von Turkovich said.
If that contingency is met, Eastern Development has another two months to market the plan. If during that period the company determines the plan is not marketable, it may back out of the deal.
Assuming the company proceeds after those 60 days, it then must apply for permits within 30 days. The final sale is contingent on Eastern Development obtaining permits and financing for its project, and on the land passing environmental and engineering muster.
Lawrence said selectmen are optimistic about the contingencies.
“We’re very hopeful for the developer,” she said.
Even if for some reason the deal falls through, Lawrence said selectmen are encouraged that within six months of listing the land a buyer emerged who eventually made a full-price offer. 
“The location is a prime location,” she said. “I think it’s very marketable.”
The land boasts 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. It is zoned industrial, with retail uses conditionally permitted. 
But of the land’s 34.9 acres, 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 its 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, selectmen have said they 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 Agency of Transportation’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).”
When the land was listed with Burlington’s Pomerleau Real Estate, 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. 
Selectmen hope to use sale 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. Under terms of that sale, former owners Donald and Patience Sisters are remaining in the home indefinitely. They are paying rent that starts at $500 a month for five years.
The mortgage for the property is costing a little less than $10,000 a year, officials said, and the town is paying a small amount for exterior maintenance. The Sisters’ rent is covering $6,000 of those annual costs until the parcel that is now under contract is sold.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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