Addison hopeful on complex joint septic, town hall work

ADDISON — The multi-year effort to build a septic system that would serve Addison’s town clerk’s office, fire station and former town hall — a project sparked by a move to restore ownership of that former town hall to Addison — continues to chug forward with at least all deliberate speed.
On Oct. 24 the Addison selectboard and members of Addison’s Town Hall Committee, including longtime chairman John Spencer, discussed purchase negotiations for an easement on the land needed for that in-ground septic system, which in 2010 was estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $500,000 to build.
That land belongs to the Gosliga Farm and lies to the west of the clerk’s office and the nearby Addison Central School off Route 17 just west of Route 22A. 
The selectboard at the meeting countered an offer from the farm owners with a $120,000 proposal, and according to Spencer, is waiting to hear back from the Gosligas’ attorney on that number and on several other details.
The land is conserved through the Vermont Land Trust and Vermont Housing Conservation Board and is also in Vermont’s Current Use Program, which means it is taxed as farmland. Withdrawing it from that program will mean a penalty for the farm, and the nonprofits involved have to sign off on releasing the land from its conserved status. The town is offering to pay both the legal costs involved in that release, up to $8,000, and the Current Use withdrawal penalty.
Spencer expects progress on the negotiations soon.
“I think it will all work out,” he said.
But Spencer said that, like everything else in what is now about a decade of discussing Addison Town Hall, those talks will take time. The building lacks septic service and its current owner, the Addison Community Baptist Church next door needs a new septic system. The church is willing to exchange the town hall building for being allowed to hook up to the proposed system.
“It’s a whole domino thing. Once one thing gets agreed to, then some other things can be done, like the Vermont Land Trust and all that,” Spencer said. “We’re communicating with the Vermont Land Trust, and they’re for the project, but there are a few I’s that need to be dotted and T’s crossed.”
There is another party involved in the larger effort: Addison Central School. The town hall parcel alone would not conform to Addison zoning laws, and the selectboard also struck a land-exchange deal with the central school board to add enough land to make the town hall lot legal and also make the school parcel more friendly for parking.
Even that deal ran into what Spencer called a “little complication”: The successful unification of area school governance means an agreement reached with the Addison Central School board now must be confirmed by the Addison Northwest School District board.
But Spencer expects no problem tying up that and the other loose ends.
“We’ve already done the work with transferring property with the town, the church and the school board,” Spencer said. “We just have to do deed work and get it all signed up.”
Meanwhile the easement deal the Gosliga Farm and the selectboard are discussing wouldn’t close until November 2019 and would eventually require some sort of public approval, either as an annual on-budget item or a separate article at a town meeting.
“We’re only agreeing on the price now. There won’t be any closing on it until 2019,” Spencer said. “We’re getting a sales agreement and locking it in now before something else changes, like current use or something else. And to come up with the money it’s either going to be put in the budget or voted on by the town. You can’t spend money without the voters.”
The entire process started when church and town officials started talking about the roughly 150-year-old former town hall, which reverted to church ownership when Addison stopped using it as a town hall decades ago. It is deteriorating, but Spencer said the structure has been evaluated as essentially sound.
The fact the building has no running water or septic, while the church’s system is less than ideal, as is the fire station’s, triggered the process about a decade ago. In 2007 Addison formed its Town Hall Committee to work with all the parties involved and advise the selectboard.
“That’s how this whole project started, how we were going to make use of this building? And that started the sewer discussion,” Spencer said, adding, “You can’t build a town hall without a place to put the sewage.”
In 2010 the land was tentatively identified, and the preliminary price tag of $500,000 was unveiled. Spencer said at this point a final design is before the Agency of Natural Resources and its cost is not pinned own.
In 2014 Addison residents at town meeting backed $55,380 to fund a septic study and supported the concept of “taking ownership and responsibility of the Town Hall and the land it sits on from the church by an agreement to supply the church a connection to the waste water system for the Town Hall? (Taking ownership enables the town to apply for grants toward the restoration of the building into Town Offices and meeting space.)”
In March 2016 they voted to give the selectboard the authority to borrow $50,000 to fund the next phase of developing the joint septic system.
The long-range goal of a renovated Addison Town Hall is out there, but Spencer said the septic effort can also stand on its own given the needs of the buildings involved.
“The first thing would be the wastewater project. The wastewater project would come first, and the town hall would come second,” Spencer said. “The town needs the wastewater project done no matter what is done with the town hall, and the town has invested quite a bit of money in this project already.”
The Town Hall Committee several years ago obtained a $1 million estimate for a complete renovation of and addition to Addison Town Hall that would create a new community meeting space as well as a town clerk’s office.
Spencer cautioned residents against sticker shock because without owning the building town officials have never been able to explore grant funding for town hall’s restoration, while also any renovation work could also be done in phases to keep ongoing costs in check.  
“We’ve never done any work on grants for the project. It sounds like a big lump, and if the town had to pay the whole thing it would be pretty hard to swallow,” he said. “But we haven’t been able to do any of that because we don’t own the building.”
Meanwhile town officials agree the current town clerk’s office is increasingly inadequate because it has never had enough meeting space and is running out of storage.
“The town certainly needs a town clerk’s office. There’s no doubt about that,” Spencer said. “The town clerk has told me she’s almost at the point where she’s going to have to take some of the records out of the vault and put them up in the attic because she doesn’t have any room any more.”
In the meantime, Spencer hopes Addison can continue its steady progress towards long-term solutions to what he sees as its needs.
“I think the sewer thing is going to happen. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” he said. “And I’m hopeful the town hall thing will follow right along. It will really be up to us to see how fast we can get some grant money and money toward final construction so we can at least start something and secure the building, put a new foundation under it or whatever, so we can move forward.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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