Ferrisburgh to test marketing angle for land sale

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard voted on April 7 to pursue a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that could help the town market the 34.91-acre parcel Ferrisburgh owns at the intersection at Routes 7 and 22A.
Acting on the suggestion of resident Tim Davis, who offered to serve as the grant manager, Ferrisburgh will apply for a $50,000 USDA Rural Development Grant that would fund a study to determine whether an agricultural incubator space, also called a food hub, could be successful on the property.
The Addison County Economic Development Corp. has agreed to serve as the grant administrator, and ACEDC Executive Director Robin Scheu will help Davis write the grant for which the town would be the official applicant.
Scheu said such a feasibility study could help the town market the property, which is listed for $375,000. Twice the town has had the parcel under contract in recent years, only to see deals fall through.
“The hope is having a feasibility study and having some of the research done and perhaps some of the pre-permitting done will make it easier for someone who wants to come in,” she said. “And it certainly shows the town of Ferrisburgh wants to do something.”
An agricultural use, ideally with a value-added component, was high on the list of recommendations for the property offered at the March 18 meeting in Ferrisburgh by Department of Housing and Community Development Commissioner Noelle MacKay.
The USDA grant program calls for a 20 percent local match, but the grant will be written in such a way that local volunteers’ labor performing the study will count as the town’s contribution, officials said.
Davis told the board that town lister Carl Cole, also a real estate broker, and Ferrisburgh Conservation Commission member Craig Heindel have agreed to donate their time to the study.
According to minutes of the meeting, Davis also said that car dealer Tom Denecker, who withdrew from a purchase contract for the property because of the expense and uncertainty surrounding his Act 250 permit application, had indicated he would donate the traffic and archaeology studies that he had purchased for that process.
Some board members were concerned the study would end up costing the town unbudgeted money. Chairman Steve Gutowski and Selectmen Red Muir and Jim Benoit supported the grant application, and selectboard members Loretta Lawrence and Jim Warden voted against it.
In a later interview, Gutowski said he understood the worries.
“Obviously there was some concern that the town does not have the monies to go forward with this as far as matching $10,000,” Gutowski said. “It wasn’t budgeted. It’s not there. That was the biggest concern.”
But he said he is confident there would be no cost if the town is awarded the grant.
“There’s a match, but the match is not going to be paid for by the town. It’s an in-kind match from individuals that will contribute their time,” Gutowski said. “We were assured by Tim no money was going to be collected from the town of Ferrisburgh for this study, and my comment was that is fine because no checks will be written for this.”
Scheu said other such grants she has worked on have had cash matches, but the USDA has said it would consider an application with an “in-kind” labor match. She also said the town would bear up-front costs, for which she would then bill the USDA as per the terms of an approved grant agreement, and as long as the town followed the grant outline there would be no cost.
“It’s possible to do it with in-kind, and … you can’t deviate from that if that’s what goes into the grant budget,” Scheu said. “Once the whole thing is approved, you have to follow what is in the grant application.”
That approval is far from guaranteed, however. Scheu said Ferrisburgh would be competing with an unknown number of other applicants for a statewide pot of money that typically ranges between $200,000 and $250,000 a year.
“These are very competitive grants, so this is not a shoo-in,” she said.
Still, Gutowski said seeking the grant is better than just sitting back and waiting for a buyer to show up, especially given there are no concrete leads at this point.
“We’re looking in a lot of different directions at what we can do with this property that is good for the community and good for us as far as selling the property, because we are not interested in being landlords or hanging onto this property and being the developers,” he said. “So this feasibility study will hopefully get us a little closer to finding somebody that is interested in this property.”

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