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Representatives from the town of Waitsfield are continuing the town's efforts to purchase land for the town's municipal water system from two landowners while the town has simultaneously begun the process of taking the land by condemnation.
Waitsfield is in the process of constructing a municipal water system. Water for the project comes from a well drilled in the right of way of Reed Road. The town drilled the well on the assumption that Reed Road was a town road.
Last month, the Vermont Superior Court ruled that the town had not
proven that the road was a town-maintained road. That requires the town
to take the land or purchase the land for the project to continue.
CHALLENGED THE TOWN
Landowners Virginia Houston and Jean Damon/Toby Richards challenged the town's claim to the road.
At issue is an estimated acre of land and a portion of the traveled way on Reed Road. Houston owns land on one side of the road and Damon/Richards own the other side of the road.
The select board, at a December 30 meeting, passed two motions. The first calls for the town to pursue acquisition of the land "by means of negotiated agreements and that Kate Williams represent the select board in such negotiations." Williams is the chair of the select board.
The second motion, passed on December 30, calls for the town to "commence proceedings to acquire the property it needs from Virginia Houston and the Damon/Richards family for the Waitsfield water system project by means of condemnation, as authorized by statute 19 V. S. A. Chapter 7 and 24 V.S. A Chapter 89 and issue notice of commencement of such proceedings. . . ."
HOPING FOR AGREEMENT
Williams, in an interview this week, said that she was hopeful that an agreement could be reached with the two landowners without having to condemn the land. She said the initial conversations with the landowners had been productive.
"This is not something we entered into lightly," Williams said, underscoring the town's desire to settle the issue without condemnation but reporting that the town is firmly committed to providing the town with a much needed water project.
While Williams negotiates with the landowners, town attorneys are at work on the condemnation proceedings which require an appraisal of the land the town needs as well as an initial public hearing to take public comment and testimony on the condemnation.
That first hearing is set for January 31. It starts at the Waitsfield Town Offices at 4 p.m. and will immediately adjourn to a site visit on Reed Road before reconvening at the town offices for comment. At that hearing, the amount of money the town will pay landowners for taking the land will be discussed. A state judge will ultimately hear the condemnation request and will fix the actual amount the parties will be paid.
Regardless of how Waitsfield acquires the land, either by direct purchase or condemnation, funds for the purchase are built into the project loan/grant package.
Williams stressed the need to move both the negotiation and condemnation processes along swiftly, with an eye to construction on the project beginning again next spring. Work got underway on the $7.6 million project last fall.