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MALT hopes to conserve land next to Chipman Hill

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday gave its support to an effort by two local nonprofits to conserve a 38.3-acre parcel of land on the eastern slope of Chipman Hill, a wooded parcel once eyed for development that would instead be preserved for public enjoyment.
The property in question is part of an 80-acre tract owned since 1986 by the Co-operative Insurance Co. The tract was recently tabbed for a 40-condominium development, a proposal that was subsequently taken off the table. Ted Davis, senior vice president at Co-op Insurance, said the company is now interested in working with the Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT) and Battell Trust in conserving a 38.3-acre section of the land that is sloped, forested and abuts a large spread of land on Chipman Hill that is already preserved.
MALT is a local land conservation organization that is best known for its creation of the Trail Around Middlebury. The Battell Trust provides stewardship for 130 acres on Chipman Hill and the 90-acre Battell Woods properties that were willed to the town by the late Joseph Battell, who stipulated that the lands be used for public enjoyment.
“As a company, we would rather see the 38.3 acres preserved,” Davis told the board, noting the remaining 42 acres that is on flatter terrain is currently being farmed, and could still be developed for housing someday. The selectboard two years ago noted the land would provide a logical growth area for the village.
The current board reiterated that notion, but acknowledged the 38.3 acres being targeted for conservation does not seem topographically suited for development.
“It is certainly a challenging piece of land,” Davis said.
Story Jenks, president of the MALT board of trustees, said the Co-op Insurance property would be useful in fortifying local trail connections while providing more recreation opportunities for area residents. And he noted the land is quite visible from Route 116 and other major roads.
The 38.3 acres was appraised around a year ago at $335,000 — though that is not a certain indicator of what the property would sell for, officials stressed.
Jenks said purchase of the property would ideally involve a collaboration between the town (which has a conservation fund), MALT and Battell Trust, along with a grant through the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and private fundraising.
Selectboard members encouraged MALT to keep exploring acquisition of the property and report back in the near future.
“I think it does make sense to pursue it,” Selectman Victor Nuovo said.
“It sounds like a great proposal,” selectboard Chairman Dean George added.
Selectman Gary Baker was disappointed to hear the land would be posted against hunting with rifles, but urged that bow hunting be allowed if the land is conserved.
In other action on Tuesday, the Middlebury selectboard:
•  Unanimously approved a final construction contract of $4,798,537 for the voter-approved overhaul of the town’s Seymour Street and East Middlebury fire stations — an amount that provides a savings of $76,463 off the bonded estimate of $4,875,000. The amount provides for a contingency fund of 10 percent of the total project cost, and includes five alternate-add items — including placement of brick and ground face block veneer on the west face of the Seymour Street station and inclusion of radiant heat for the apparatus bay apron and trench drain.
Chris Huston, project engineer with Bread Loaf Corp., said many local subcontractors will work on the project. He said bids came in at “favorable” levels for the project, as construction companies remain hungry in the current economy.
Work will soon begin on the Seymour Street station, which will be expanded and renovated. Work on replacing the East Middlebury station is expected to begin in June.
•  Agreed to seek voter permission before any town land behind Ilsley Library can be conveyed for construction of a future economic development project.
The selectboard is considering establishing a holding company with Middlebury College to market properties the two entities own behind the Ilsley Library, representing a combined total of around 1.5 acres that is being considered for a mixed-use economic development project.
The five small parcels in question were valued in November of 2011 at a combined total of $1.6 million, according to town records.
College and town officials have, for the past few years, discussed pooling the property and selling it to a developer for a retail/commercial/office venture — with parking — that would increase the town’s profile as a shopping destination and also boost Middlebury’s grand list.
In order to make this happen, the land must be placed into a limited liability corporation controlled by an eight-member board of college and town officials, along with an independent member. A 75-percent supermajority vote of the board would be required to sell any of the land assets to a prospective developer.
The selectboard has promised to hold public meetings to further explained the economic development initiative.
•  Agreed to appoint Middlebury College nominees David Donahue and Patrick Norton to the five-member Business Development Fund (BDF) Advisory Board. Donahue currently serves as special assistant to Middlebury College President Ron Liebowitz. Norton is chief financial officer for the college.
Selectman Nick Artim and former Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny will serve as the town’s appointees. Together, the four will pick a fifth member for the panel, which will help oversee the BDF and a soon-to-be-hired business development director who will work to grow existing Middlebury enterprises and woo new ones to the community.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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