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Ferrisburgh inks deal to sell land at corner of Routes 7 & 22A

“It is established businesses that are growing, and I feel like it’s a good spot. I’m optimistic. They said they wouldn’t be trying to do this if they didn’t feel like they couldn’t get it accomplished.”
— Ferrisburgh selectboard Chair Jessica James

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard on Tuesday, April 5, signed a deal to sell the town-owned 34.9-acre parcel at the junction of Routes 7 and 22A to a pair of buyers, one a maker of artisanal shortbread now based in Shelburne, and the other a founder of Caledonia Spirits, who would process and grow grain and could also open a distillery on the site.

The three parties, Douglas Sweets, Champlain Valley Grain Center LLC, and the selectboard, had signed a letter of intent in early March for a $385,000 sale, and the buyers have each made $6,000 earnest-money deposits for a contract that contains finance and permitting contingencies.

Selectboard Chair Jessica James is optimistic those contingencies will be met, and, unlike three earlier potential sales of the property, this deal will close, either late this year or early in 2023.

“I’m pretty sure everything is going to go smoothly for them,” James said.

Of the 34.9 acres under contract, only 9 acres are not conserved. The protected land is mostly open farmland, but includes some woods. Within the 9 acres that are not conserved — which can accessed from Route 22A not far from the Agency of Transportation’s Park-and-Ride lot — there is a 4.5-acre developable envelope.

One buyer is Todd Hardie of Thornhill Farm in Greensboro Bend. He intends to establish the Champlain Valley Grain Center on the site. Hardie supplies grain to Red Hen and a half-dozen other Vermont bakeries, and he plans to build a processing plant on 2.19 acres within the 4.5-acre envelope.

James said Hardie also hopes to plant wheat and lavender on conserved land as well as consider a distillery.

The second buyers are the mother-and-daughter team of Debra Townsend and Hannah Townsend Allain of Douglas Sweets, now baking and selling its shortbread in the south end of Shelburne Village.

They plan to build a production facility with a retail outlet on about 1.71 of that 4.5 acres. A “manufacturing facility” with an “accessory use” is a conditional use in the land’s Industrial zoning district.

Contract contingencies include:

• That the buyers obtain subdivision permits for the developable 4.5 acres.

• That within the next nine months the buyers obtain Act 250, stormwater and any other applicable state and local permits.

• That the buyers obtain financing and the property is appraised to their satisfaction. Hardie’s company, according to the letter of intent, will pay $213,906 of the purchase price, and Douglas Sweets will pay $171,094.

James said the Ferrisburgh selectboard is happy not only to have what looks like a promising deal in hand, but also about the nature of the proposals for the property.

“It’s exciting,” James said. “We’re very excited about it.”

The tandem of Hardie and Douglas Sweets represents the fourth potential purchaser of the property over the past decade-plus. The first was a Montpelier businessman who hoped to find tenants for an office building, but could not arrange financing.

A few years later, in 2014 auto dealer Tom Denecker ran afoul of a new Act 250 provision and withdrew on his permitting contingency. And a 2017 deal with Monkton barley producer Andrew Peterson ended when he triggered the financing contingency in his contract.

James believes this joint proposal is the one that could come through.

“I just feel like this is a smart choice. They’re working together. Todd Hardie is definitely experienced with different ventures,” she said. “I feel like it is established businesses that are growing, and I feel like it’s a good spot. I’m optimistic. They said they wouldn’t be trying to do this if they didn’t feel like they couldn’t get it accomplished.”

At the same time, James said even a nine-month timetable might be cutting it close.

“Realistically, knowing how slow things can be right now, it’s probably going to be at least 10 months before we close,” she said.

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