Ferrisburgh considers $40,000 land purchase

FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh selectboard members said last week they are nearing a $40,000 deal to buy 2.2 acres of land behind the town office building and next to Ferrisburgh Central School. The deal will be subject to Town Meeting Day voter approval.
Town and school officials have been talking for months about the property with landowner Clark Hinsdale III, but at their Oct. 7 meeting, selectboard members said a purchase-and-sale agreement has been written and could be signed soon.
Board chairwoman Loretta Lawrence confirmed the next day the town is proposing to meet Hinsdale’s asking price and is just working out contract language.
“We have a draft of a purchase-and-sale agreement. We have to iron out a few things,” Lawrence said.
Board members at the meeting said feedback from residents about the purchase, which has been discussed for months, has been positive, but that they should be ready in March to tell voters why the town should move forward.
“We should have something prepared for the voters to explain why we want this and what we plan to do with it,” said Selectman Steve Gutowski.
Board members and meeting attendees have discussed several possible uses, including parking, building expansion, improving traffic flow for the town office building and/or school, and providing septic capacity for either building or both. They have also said it would be wise to preserve the land for now unforeseen needs.
Board of listers chairman Carl Cole, a real estate broker, has told the board the land is fairly priced. Last week he also spoke about one of the issues remaining to be ironed out, the possibility the land could tap into available in-ground septic capacity elsewhere on surrounding land also owned by Hinsdale. That capacity could increase its value.
“I just wanted to make sure that door was open,” Cole said. “Presumably the lot we’re acquiring would have the capacity for a four-bedroom home attached to it.”
In the past Hinsdale said he might take less than $40,000 if a plaque honoring a relative was placed on the parcel. But according to Aug. 19 selectboard minutes he took that option off the table because of a pending donation to the Middlebury Area Land Trust, which is raising money for a project that would honor another Hinsdale relative.
Hinsdale first offered the property to either the school board or the town, and discussions among both groups resulted in a May 2014 decision to have the selectboard talk to Hinsdale. One reason was that future Addison Northwest Supervisory Union consolidation could complicate ownership of the land if it were school-owned.
According to minutes, the town could use proceeds from the pending $350,000 sale of town land at the junction of Routes 7 and 22A to Denecker Chevrolet to fund the purchase. Ferrisburgh also recently received about $72,000 from VELCO in back taxes (see story in this edition) that the selectboard said will not be spent until voters weigh in on Town Meeting Day.
After some debate on Oct. 7, the selectboard agreed to a five-year lease with the Crossroads Chapel for the town-owned Union Meeting Hall, which lies on Route 7 across from the former town clerk’s office. Crossroads Chapel had rented the building for 10 years, but left two years ago when its previous lease expired and has been meeting at another Ferrisburgh church.
The deal will pay the town $400 per month for the first two years and $450 per month for the next three years, with either party having the right to cancel the agreement at the end of each year.
The board had discussed that deal back in June, and had given Crossroads Chapel minister Charles Paolantonio a key to the property early in September to allow church members to do work there necessary to host services for up to 60 attendees and other functions this month.
But that was before, as Lawrence said last week, the town’s attorney said the church should not receive more than a one-year lease. The attorney argued that the property had not been properly advertised to other possible tenants, particularly nonprofits, and that the town was exposing itself to liability by signing a long-term deal with Crossroads Chapel.
About 15 church members and Charles and Linda Paolantonio came to last Tuesday’s meeting to protest that position. They noted there was essentially a verbal agreement, that they would have to do and already had done too much work to the building for a one-year commitment, that the town would be risking almost $26,000, and that the one-year cancellation clause answered the objection.
“We love the building and we really do take good care of it,” said Linda Paolantonio.
One church member, Adam Broughton of Bridport, said as a businessman he paid for legal counsel, and then chose whether or not to listen.
“You don’t have to take all their advice,” Broughton said.
Most selectboard members took the church’s side.
“Nobody’s beating our doors down to rent this building,” said Selectman Jim Warden.
A resident in the back also chimed in.
“Give them the g*d-d**n building. This is stupid. You’re wasting time,” he said.
The board voted 4-1 to accept the lease as proposed by Crossroads, with Lawrence voting against due to the liability question.
In addition to discussion of a land purchase and rental agreement, the Ferrisburgh selectboard on Oct. 7, also:
•  Approved in concept adding sprinklers to the new highway garage that will soon be built on Little Chicago Road. Road foreman John Bull said he expected the cost of the sprinklers to be around $40,000, and that amount was affordable due to savings elsewhere on the $1.05 million project. Board members said they would back the proposal if final estimates came in as expected. Bull said ground would be broken in November, with a January completion date.
•  Heard from Town Clerk and Ferrisburgh Day Committee member Gloria Warden that the Sept. 20 event at a Robinson Road property was a success. Town officials estimate between 150 and 200 residents and friends attended the event that featured a picnic, games and food-judging contests.
Warden said the committee is recommending to the selectboard that the event become an annual fixture on Ferrisburgh’s calendar.
“People felt welcome at the event and felt it was a great way to meet with people they hadn’t seen for a year or more,” she said. 

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