Bristol asks for details on land easement

BRISTOL — Last week, the Bristol selectboard issued a letter of support to the Vermont Land Trust (VLT) for plans to purchase conservation easements on the Farr and Fuller family properties.
These properties border the majority of the Route 116 corridor from the Route 17 turnoff, which leads over the Appalachian Gap, to the beginning of Rockydale, just north of downtown Bristol. With strong support from the Bristol Conservation Commission, VLT has been working to buy these two conservation easements for years. This past year, VLT received $1,000 from the town’s conservation fund to conduct property appraisals.
The project’s intent is to preserve the wildlife corridor, maintain the aesthetics of Bristol’s northern gateway and ensure responsible forestry and agricultural practices.
But to obtain funding from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to help purchase these easements, VLT needs both selectboard and planning commission support. While the Addison County Regional Planning Commission (ACRPC) readily supported the project, the Bristol Planning Commission had reservations at its meeting last week.
The commission’s reluctance, members said, was a lack of detail from VLT.
Although many of the planners supported the idea of the easements, many didn’t feel comfortable endorsing the project with the amount of information they had on hand.
“I don’t know what I’m endorsing,” said planning commission member Kris Perlee. “I’m endorsing a couple of maps and a letter that says trust the VLT and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. I need the details … What are the restrictions we’re talking about? Without knowing that, for any of us to endorse this is blindly endorsing a project solely on concept, not on detail. And from that standpoint, I can’t stand behind writing an endorsement for this.”
Allen Karnatz, Champlain Valley regional director for the VLT, who is overseeing this purchase, said the details of the easements are straightforward. “The primary restriction is subdivision,” he said. “We hold all the subdivision rights.”
The landowner — whether it’s the Farrs, Fullers or another owner — in the future also won’t be able to build additional houses unless they are to support farm needs. Commercial development and all industrial mining activities would be prohibited, as would topsoil extraction. Any sale of rights of way would not be allowed, either.
“In terms of agricultural use, we’ll allow that to continue,” said Karnatz. “They can also still sell timber and do logging.” Any forestry practices would need to follow a forest management plan, which Karnatz said is standard issue these days.
Karnatz said that the easements are far from a done deal, and the families are still deciding what direction they want to go with the easements. The reason VLT is seeking town support now, said Karnatz, is simply “to get all of our ducks in a row.”
If VLT obtains full town approval and the families want to move ahead with the easements, the purchase would likely occur in 2013.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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