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Middlebury considers purchasing real estate

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard is kicking the tires on a couple of potential real estate purchases, including a 45-acre tract of forested property adjacent to Means Woods, and the former Bourdon Insurance building at 48 Merchants Row.
The two-story Bourdon building contains around 3,300 square feet of space and is currently assessed at $458,400, according to the Middlebury listers’ office. The Vermont Agency of Transportation acquired the property more than a year ago to facilitate construction of the Middlebury rail tunnel project, and has been using the structure as a field office.
But with tunnel work slated to wrap by Aug. 17 (see story on Page 1A), VTrans will soon have no more use for the building and the agency is interested in “getting the property off its books as soon as practicable after the project is over, (and) time is relatively short for the selectboard to consider its options,” reads a staff memo to the board.
Selectboard members at this point don’t have a specific use in mind for the building, but for now they want to preserve the town’s right to purchase what is a prominent downtown structure that could become part of a future economic development strategy. Some have mentioned the concept of adding 48 Merchants Row to an emerging arts hub, with Town Hall Theater and the former Steve’s Park Diner that’s now under THT ownership.
The board on Tuesday decided to ask Director of Planning & Zoning Jennifer Murray’s input on potential redevelopment scenarios, considered within the larger context of the new Downtown Middlebury Master Plan.
“Jen is fully prepared to respond in short order on potential (redevelopment) scenarios,” Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay told the board.
It’s clear municipal officials would want VTrans to move down from the $458,400 assessed value of the property. With that in mind, Middlebury Assessor Alison Joseph will soon schedule an inspection of 48 Merchants Row.
“My thought was to have our town assessor go in and review if there was any opportunity for what she might see as weaknesses in the building to use as a negotiating approach,” Ramsay said. “She’ll be going out on inspections starting April 1 for other properties, so she may be able to fit that in relatively soon.”
Meanwhile, a representative for the Dutton Family Trust recently contacted the town about its potential interest in acquiring a 45-acre woodlot off Seminary Street Extension. A portion of the lot abuts Means Woods, noted Ramsay, and putting it in public hands would expand passive recreational opportunities for townspeople and visitors.
Middlebury has a conservation fund — currently containing $475,000 — that could be tapped for purchase of the Dutton tract.
The entire Dutton property consists of 134.3 acres and a dwelling and is assessed at $461,800, according to Ramsay.
Selectboard members will gather early next month for a walk of the woodlot. Middlebury Area Land Trust officials — who favor the town’s acquisition of the land and want to play a role in its stewardship — have offered to lead the walk.
“MALT is very interested in working with you on the project,” MALT Executive Director Jamie Brookside told the board.
Selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter appreciated the invitation, saying it “might help form ideas of what that property could become.”
In other action on Tuesday, the Middlebury selectboard:
•  Unanimously backed the Addison County Community Trust’s application for a Vermont Community Development Program (VCDP) grant of $700,000 to help pay for a new communal septic system for the Lindale Mobile Home Park off Case Street.
Elise Shanbacker, executive director of ACCT, which owns the mobile home park, explained the 67 lots at Lindale are currently served by many individual aging septic systems, some of which are failing. The VCDP grant would be added to other grants and loans to cover what’s estimated as a $3 million project.
If all goes according to plan, construction of the new septic system will begin next spring, according to Shanbacker.
•  Unanimously supported the Vermont Rail Action Network’s call for the resumption of Amtrak passenger train service to Vermont this summer, and for Tri-Valley Transit’s request for the funding of four battery-electric buses and related infrastructure. Two of those buses are to be used by Addison County Transit Resources.
•  Approved a series of contracts and purchases that will facilitate a Cady Road culvert project, the flood resiliency project in East Middlebury, and the acquisition of a new one-ton truck for the Middlebury Public Works Department.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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