Ferrisburgh talks about land deal, voting sites

FERRISBURGH — A rare joint meeting on Tuesday of the Ferrisburgh selectboard and Ferrisburgh Central School board produced agreements to continue exploring a possible purchase of land that abuts both town and school property, and to evaluate whether balloting should be held in the town office building rather than at the school.
Both boards will sit down at a date to be determined with Charlotte resident Clark Hinsdale III, who has offered 2 acres of land to Ferrisburgh for $40,000. That parcel sits behind the Route 7 town offices and at the northern edge of FCS property.
Officials and residents said it could be used to expand the office building’s limited parking — a move that could allow more votes to be held there — and be preserved as a walking corridor to FCS and proposed recreation improvements there — or for unforeseen future uses.
“There’s nobody in this room who knows what the town’s needs will be in 15 years from now, 20 years from now, or 50 years from now,” said town lister Carl Cole, a real estate broker.
The school board will meet at a date to be announced with the Ferrisburgh Board of Civil Authority (BCA) to discuss the voting question. The BCA handles votes and includes selectboard members, Town Clerk Chet Hawkins, the board of listers, and the town’s justices of the peace.
Questions about the land included whether the land should be bought at all, whether it was worth the purchase price, how it could be used, and, if purchased, whether the town or the school should do so.
“The question is who does it make the most sense for,” said FCS board chairman David Tatlock as the meeting opened.
Tatlock said the school board had considered whether the land could be used to help create a loop that would serve as a second access to Route 7, thus solving some of the school’s traffic flow and safety problems. The board ruled against that idea once the Agency of Transportation announced plans for traffic signals at the intersection of Route 7 and Little Chicago Road, however.
The FCS board also looked at it as parking or recreation field expansion, Tatlock said, but ultimately thought it might better serve the town as more parking for its office building and community center, with voting in mind.
The selectboard had previously declined to act on Hinsdale’s offer, but a number of residents at a meeting earlier this summer, including Cole, urged them to reconsider, and the selectboard on Tuesday agreed to do so.
On Tuesday, almost all of the eight residents on hand suggested the selectboard should think about buying the land, and all recommended the town, not the school, should write the check.
“It certainly doesn’t make any sense to spend any more money out of the school budget,” said resident George Gardner, who later added that if Addison Northwest Supervisory Union ever united under one-board rule that Ferrisburgh would retain ownership of the land if the town owned it.
Resident Bob McNary said the town should buy the land and leave the school to better spend its funds on building maintenance and other needs.
“We have other issues that need to be addressed,” he said.
The question also came up of whether another property the town owns, a home on 2 acres next to and south of the town office building, could meet parking needs.
But residents and selectboard members said the town might have other uses for the property, and resident Bob McNary also noted the lease on the home and yard runs for another 15 years, limiting what Ferrisburgh can do with the parcel in the meantime.
Some questioned the price. Resident and Vergennes Union High School board member Kurt Haigis noted that the land was subject to a sewer easement, a road running across it accesses other lots in the area, and part of the parcel is a wetland.
“You can’t build on it,” Haigis said. “If we’re interested in buying it from him, we should look at a different value.”
But McNary noted it was part of a larger 4.24-acre parcel, and that Hinsdale could simply sell the larger piece of land for more.
And although FCS board member Bill Clark and Tatlock also wondered about the asking price, Cole said it was fair.
“I think it is a good deal, personally,” he said, noting the full price amounted to “less than one cent, one time, on the tax rate.”
Cole also said the opportunity was not likely to arise again.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” he said. “You don’t get it back.”
Clark then suggested an exploratory committee.
“I don’t think we’re all seeing this as 100 percent conclusive,” Clark said.
Selectboard Chairwoman Loretta Lawrence’s recommendation of another joint meeting, this one with Hinsdale at the table, was approved.
“If you’re going to be seeking a discussion, Clark should be part of it,” Lawrence said.
The school board’s voting concerns — regular votes are held at FCS while school is in session, and the school shuts down for Town Meeting Day — came to a head after the fatal school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Board member Chris Kayhart said officials have already installed security cameras and door controls, but there is no good way to secure the building during balloting.
“This all stems from Sandy Hook,” Kayhart said.
As well as logistics for town office building votes, both Gardner and Hawkins objected to the possibility of residents longer being allowed into school on town business. 
“There are a lot more people without kids in the school,” Hawkins said. “Now you’re saying we’re not welcome?”
School board members said they are aware of that issue.
“We want people to come into the building. We’ve discussed that,” Kayhart said.
Clark said officials should consider all the possibilities.
“It would be nice if we had other options,” Clark said. “We should look at the pluses and minuses of both.”
Selectman Jim Benoit put another option on the table — holding Town Meeting at FCS when the school is closed.
“We should be looking at a Saturday or an evening option,” he said. “You’ve got to do something to get more than 200 people to a meeting.”
Again, Lawrence suggested another meeting, this time with the school board and BCA, to consider the related issues of voting, school security and, possibly, a land deal.
“We want to explore it further,” Lawrence said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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