Optimism seen in Ferrisburgh for sale of land
FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard met in executive session on Tuesday to discuss an offer to buy the town-owned, 34.91-acre parcel at the junction of Routes 7 and 22A.
According to Chairwoman Loretta Lawrence, members are optimistic about a sale of a property that the town has marketed for $375,000 since September 2010.
Lawrence said she could not discuss specifics of negotiations, but that the board did make a counter-offer to potential buyer Andrew Peterson of Monkton. Peterson met with the board along with real estate broker Carl Cole before the board met behind closed doors for an hour.
“I think the board is very optimistic about the whole project, and is hoping we can work something out soon,” Lawrence said, adding, “I think we’ll know within two weeks or less.”
Cole also said he was hopeful an agreement could be struck for a property Ferrisburgh has twice had under contract, only to see the deals fall apart, most recently in 2014.
“I think it’s a very good possibility this could work out,” said Cole, the potential selling agent.
According to Cole and Lawrence, Peterson has been supplying malt to the growing Vermont micro-brewing sector from his Monkton property, but needed more room to satisfy increasing demand.
The centerpiece of Peterson’s plans for the property, according to Cole, is a “malt house” of almost 10,000 square feet. That structure would be built on what is a 4.5-acre building envelope with the larger parcel — the rest consists of wetlands, a wooded outcropping and, according to Cole, about 15 or 16 acres of tillable land.
Peterson would use the malt house to process malt from barley, only a small portion of which could be grown on the property, to then be sold to Vermont’s brewers and possibly some distillers, Cole said.
“Microbrewing has become a big segment of the Vermont economy these days, and there are two things that are in short supply in Vermont. One is hops, and the other is malt, which goes into the brewing,” Cole said.
“The potential buyer is operating a small malt house in Monkton, and he’s the only one in Vermont, and he can’t even begin to meet the demand of the Vermont brewers. And he has done his homework and come to the conclusion the time is right for a much larger operation.”
Cole said the building should fit into the landscape.
“In the exterior it would look like an agricultural building,” Cole said. “It would look like a barn.”
The warning for Tuesday’s selectboard meeting listed, “Peterson Proposal for a malt house, bakery and microbrewery on Route 7 and 22A Parcel.” Cole said the malt house would be Peterson’s top priority, with the others future possibilities.
“His primary goal is to develop the malt house. The others would be companion projects,” he said. “I think it would all tie in nicely with the future visitor center there at the park-and-ride, the old (train) station. And if they ever do get passenger service up and running again it could all fit together.”
If all goes well in negotiations with the selectboard, Cole is confident in the permitting process: He and Peterson took a preliminary meeting with District 9 Act 250 Coordinator Geoffrey Green that Cole said went well.
Act 250 officials’ opposition to car dealer Tom Denecker’s proposal for a dealership on the site led to his November 2014 withdrawal from a $350,000 deal to buy the property. But Cole does not foresee the same issues this time given the agricultural component to Peterson’s proposal.
“In terms of the project, I don’t see any real issues in terms of the permitting,” Cole said. “I think it’s the type of project that people had envisioned would work well at that site.”
Lawrence — who sat on the Ferrisburgh Zoning Board of Appraisal when a Stewart’s convenience store was proposed for the site in the early 1990s, a proposal that sparked an Act 250 fight that led to Stewart’s application withdrawal — said she was encouraged by the potential for a smoother permitting process.
“That’s what they had stated again last night, that Carl and Andrew had met with Geoff, just had a face-to-face meeting, and they said Geoff thought this was a great plan,” Lawrence said. “The scope of the project seems to fit in with that they (Act 250 officials) wanted. It’s not sprawl.”
If a deal is struck and all goes well, Cole said Peterson could be in business by next summer.
“He’s hoping to be ready to start processing malt a year from August,” Cole said.
The property was deeded to Ferrisburgh in complex negotiations in which the Agency of Transportation ended up with land for the former Vergennes rail station and its park-and-ride lot and much of the remaining land was conserved through the Vermont Land Trust and local partners.
Those negotiations eventually grew out of the Stewart’s situation and several other dead ends and included a trade of downtown state-owned Richford property to the local owner in exchange for the Ferrisburgh parcel.
It took years for the state to deed the land, as promised, to Ferrisburgh in 2010. Before the Denecker deal fell through in 2014, in 2011 the town signed a $375,000 contract with Montpelier’s Eastern Development Corp., but that firm cited financing contingencies in backing out of the agreement in July 2012.
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