Panton says farmers need a permit before cutting trees

The town has issues with right-of-ways, and, again, we have to be equal, fair and consistent. That becomes a slippery slope for any town.
— selectboard Chairman Howard Hall

PANTON — The Panton selectboard has requested that the Vorsteveld Farm LLP obtain a permit before cutting down any trees along what is known as South Road trail, which runs eastward from Jersey Street to Dead Creek through farm property.
Hans Vorsteveld, one of the brothers who are partners in the farm, met with the board on Dec. 10 and said the farm would like to clear-cut trees along the trail.
One resident and Panton Planning Commission Chairman David Raphael came to the Dec. 10 meeting and objected, and the board on Dec. 26 voted to write a letter to the Vorstevelds stating that “you should not proceed with cutting any of the trees until you have gone through the required processes.”
The town of Ferrisburgh took Vorsteveld Farm LLP to court after the farm clear-cut about three-quarters of a mile of trees along Arnold Bay Road in that town in April 2017. That case is pending.
The Vorstevelds maintain they had the right to cut trees in the road right-of-way on land they own and farm. The town maintains it controls land in the town’s three-rod right-of-way and the farm acted illegally. Attempts to mediate and otherwise settle the dispute failed.
A rod is a unit of measure used by surveyors; it is equal to 5.5 yards, or 16.5 feet.
South Road trail, according to the Panton selectboard, is subject to a three-rod (49.5 feet) right-of-way as a former town road still owned by the town.
Furthermore, noted Board Chairman Howard Hall, Panton this past August adopted a comprehensive ordinance covering rights of way.
“Anything that’s in a right of way, there’s some sort of position on that,” Hall said. “It would definitely apply to the South (Road) trail.”
Contacted on Monday, Hans Vorsteveld said he had not yet talked over any response to the town’s request with his brothers, Gerard and Rudolf Vorsteveld.
Last week Hans Vorsteveld declined to comment on why the farm wanted to cut the trees that run the length of the South Road trail. There are open fields on either side of the trail. Along the east side of Arnold Bay Road in Ferrisburgh the farm installed tile drainage to improve the land’s crop yield.
According to Dec. 10 Panton selectboard minutes, Vorsteveld “stated that they are trying to clean the mess up.” In the brief conversation with the Independent last week Vorsteveld referred to South Road as “a discontinued trail.”
But resident Sharon Ashcraft on Dec. 10, per the minutes, “presented the board with some documents relating to the trail and added that she believes it is not a valid discontinuance.” She added she and others walk or drive on the trail, calling it, per the minutes, an “amenity to the town” and “a recreational public use.”
Raphael added the trail is “memorialized in the Town Plan as a route or trail that residents use.”
On Pages 51 and 52 of the plan, this language can be found:
“The town should support the development of additional nonmotorized trails and/or recreational vehicle trails while respecting private property and wildlife habitat.”
“Currently a route exists called South Road, which extends across Dead Creek at Third Bridge and connects to Jersey Street. Travelled by bikers, hunters, ATV users and others, it is a valuable recreational resource for the town and should be formally recognized as a Class 4 road or trail, so that it can be maintained as such.”
The selectboard letter to the Vorstevelds reads, in part, “South Road is classified as a legal trail, and the entirety of South Road is therefore a town right-of-way subject to applicable town ordinances.” It also cites Vermont’s Shade Tree Statute, which can impose substantial fines — technically the Vorstevelds could be assessed up to $1 million in Ferrisburgh based on $500 per tree.
Panton’s “Use of Public Right-of-Way Ordinance,” adopted on Aug. 12, gives the Panton selectboard, tree warden and road foreman oversight over work in road and trail rights-of-way, creates a town permitting system, and establishes fines for non-compliance.
One provision requires a permit from the road foreman or selectboard for any “person, firm, utility or corporation” that will “disturb the ground or pavement in any street, sidewalk, curb or greenbelt on any town highway or within the right-of-way of the town.”
The law also requires consultation with the Panton Tree Warden before removal of any “shade trees” within the right-of-way, and replacement of any that are proposed to be removed.
Hall said the selectboard would be protective of what the town owns, in this case a right of way he said dates back to 1761.
“Anything the town has as an asset, the town will make sure we protect that asset,” he said. “The Panton selectboard will determine what is our right to protect any of our assets.”
Hall said the board has also dealt with other rights-of-way issues, and is wary of setting a precedent with how it handles any individual case. 
“The town has issues with right-of-ways, and, again, we have to be equal, fair and consistent,” Hall said. “That becomes a slippery slope for any town.”
And he hopes the Vorstevelds will appreciate the board’s position.
“We’re going to have to have a conversation with them about this,” Hall said. “Hopefully they are understanding they shouldn’t be removing any trees at all, or doing any work in the right of way, without a permit. And they have to have approval for removing shade trees, or anything like that, or they’ll face a substantial fine.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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