Bristol commission supports conservation corridor

BRISTOL — The Bristol Planning Commission at its Tuesday meeting grilled Alex Wylie, agricultural director of the Vermont Land Trust (VLT), for more than an hour about the ins and outs of proposed conservation easements along the Route 116 corridor north of Bristol.
The goal of the proposed sale of development rights is to preserve the wildlife corridor, maintain the aesthetics of Bristol’s northern gateway and ensure responsible forestry and agricultural practices.
At the end of a lengthy discussion, the commissioners supported the easements by a vote of 7-2, with only Chair Chico Martin and Kris Perlee voting against the project.
The planning commission’s letter of support for the project comes after letters of support issued by the town selectboard, conservation commission and Addison County Regional Planning Commission. Furthermore, the selectboard allocated $1,000 from the town’s Conservation Fund to conduct property appraisals for these easements this past year.
The Farr and Fuller families own the 600-700 acres that would have conservation easements placed on them. These properties border most of the 1.6-mile Route 116 corridor from the Route 17 turnoff, heading over the Appalachian Gap, to the beginning of Rockydale, which is just east of downtown Bristol.
The easements would sell the  development rights to the Vermont Land Trust. The landowners of these properties would not be able to subdivide or build additional houses unless they support farm needs. Commercial development, industrial mining activities and topsoil extraction would be prohibited as well.
But these easements would only go into effect if the Farrs and Fullers sign a contract to release the land’s development rights.
Planning commissioner John Elder was the most vocal proponent of the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting. He previously sat on the VLT board and owns land in Starksboro with VLT conservation easements.
“This is a chance to conserve one of the key corridors in Bristol … in ways I’m astounded we have the opportunity to see,” he said. “I’m a very, very strong supporter of this … it is so good for Bristol.”
Planning commissioner Bill Sayre was skeptical of the project. He challenged Wylie throughout the evening, scrutinizing legal language used by VLT. He told her he didn’t like the restrictions placed on subdividing and building on land. He also indicated that VLT’s legal language might be bent to serve purposes contrary to VLT’s intent in the future.
But, in the end, Sayre supported the proposal.
Martin, on the other hand, was vehemently against the easements. His main concern is that VLT receives the bulk of its funding from governmental agencies, both state and federal. In the future, he’s worried that land, which was originally in private hands, could become subject to a government takeaway.
“It’s a lovely view when you drive into town that way,” said Martin. “That, to me, though doesn’t overcome the essential wrong-headedness of this approach. Specifically, as an economist, I believe that the market will allocate resources more efficiently than the state. This is an approach to worthy goals, which is entirely reliant on the state for its implementation (and) for its funding … to a point where down the road it (could) be the state … who will decide who owns the land and how they can use it … I would have to say that is not in the best interest of the citizens of Bristol.”
Martin also said that if he could go back to the writing of the proposed town plan, which Bristol citizens will vote on in the November General Election, he would move that “no more town land could be allocated to any sort of use that would be restricted by federal or state governments.”
The proposed town plan, however, promotes such restrictions.
Under policy five in the recreation section (section eight) of the proposed plan it states: “Encourage Conservation easements, which do not unduly restrict agriculture or forestry, where public money is involved.” 

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