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By Lisa Loomis
Waitsfield will negotiate purchase options on two parcels of land owned by the Flemer family in Waitsfield Village, one of which is slated for the town’s new town offices and the other which the select board feels is a cornerstone piece of property that the town may want to develop via a public private partnership in the future.
At the select board’s June 25 meeting the board met with the town office task force, which presented the board with a resolution regarding the two parcels of land, and members of the public before voting to negotiate the options.
The two parcels include a one-acre parcel known as the farm stand parcel which will be earmarked for the town offices. For that parcel the town will negotiate an option for no more than $2,500, for one year, which will go towards the purchase price of $100,000 if/when the town moves forward with building town offices on the property. That project would require voter approval of a bond vote for the land and the construction costs. Money for that option will come from funds already set aside by town voters for new town offices.
The second parcel, known as the barns parcel, is 4.75 acres and includes two barns. The board voted to negotiate a purchase option on the piece for a price not to exceed $3,500, for one year, which will go towards the $250,000 purchase price of that land if/when the town decides to pursue it. Money for that option will come from funds already set aside in the town’s recreation, conservation and restroom fund.
While the board was unanimous in its vote on the farm stand, board member Paul Hartshorn voted against the barns parcel.
The board voted on the options after an executive session discussion and after the public hearing during which town office task force members and board members voiced their positions on the projects.
Task force members presented the board with a resolution explaining the public process they went through before recommending the farm stand site for future town offices. The extensive public input they received led them to recommend the farm stand because it is on Route 100, provides access to the town-owned Flemer Field behind it, and keeps the town offices in WaitsfieldVillage.
The task force also asked that the board authorize it to use town office reserve funds to pay for design, engineering and cost study to provide details for a bond vote.
Regarding the barn parcel the task force, in its resolution, wrote:
“And, during the process of site evaluations and public hearings the Flemer’s Barn(s) Site was found to have land and buildings of significant value to the town of Waitsfield and its residents. The Town Office Task Force recommends that the select board enter into an agreement with the present owners to arrange an option to purchase this additional property. The Town Office Task Force also recommends that the select board authorize use of the Conservation, Restroom, Recreation reserve funds to pay for the option on this property.”
“I can’t tell you how excited people get about the Flemer barn option. We were told many, many times how special that site is. The Flemer family is very interested in working with us,” task force member Sandy Gallup told the board.
Board member Hartshorn voiced concern over the town buying either of the parcels when it might be possible to build new town offices on land in front of and between the Wait House and the Waitsfield Fire Station.
Building town offices at the Wait House and fire station would be costly, however, as it would require a new septic system and moving a driveway. Ultimately the projected differences between buying the farm stand property and building town offices, and building town offices at the Waits House is less than $5,000.
Hartshorn objected to the tax consequences of removing the Flemer pieces from the town tax rolls; the farm stand pays $177 a year in municipal taxes and the barn parcel pays $849 a year in taxes.
“We’re running people out of town here with our taxes,” Hartshorn said.
“I can guarantee you that if we end up with the barn parcel and develop it publicly or in a public/private partnership we’ll end up with twice or 3 times or 10 times as much revenue in property tax,” said select board member Charlie Hosford.
Select board chair Sal Spinosa said that while he was mindful of the tax consequences of what the board does, he also felt that the opportunity for the town to purchase those two parcels of open land in the village represented a “once-in-a-lifetime signature moment for the town.”
“For a small amount of money we get to think about, discuss and envision what might be for an entire year. It gives us time to think this out. It is a signature moment for our town,” Spinosa said.
Board member Logan Cooke concurred that is it a good opportunity for the town and board member Bill Parker said he is not concerned about the lost $1,000 in taxes or the 1/28th of a cent impact it would have on the tax rate. He said he supported the town taking options on both parcels, but said he’d be more waiting to move forward with a bond vote until the town finishes its municipal water project and the sidewalk project.
Village resident Mary McKhann said she supported the work of the task force as well as having the town take the two options.
“The opportunity we have at this moment is not going to come along again. If we don’t take it, we don’t know what will end up on that property. It could be anything. Looking long range is important,” she said.