Chester board hears sidewalk project concerns Mulls Yosemite use, owning Tomasso forest

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Chester Select Board held a “local concerns” hearing for the Depot Street sidewalk project, which will improve the walk from Town Hall to Bargfrede Road. The project is partially federally funded and such a hearing is a required part of the process.

Engineer Naomi Johnson explains the upcoming sidewalk project. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Dufresne Group engineer Naomi Johnson told the board and public in attendance that the VTrans project has a phased schedule of work – planning, design, construction – noting that it is only at the very beginning of the planning phase.

She described aspects of the project including 2,500 feet of sidewalk with would be 5-feet wide and have a 6-inch curb, greenspace between the sidewalk and the street and pedestrian scale street lights every 100 feet or so. Johnson also said that the planning would include looking at the intersection First Avenue and Coach Road at Depot Street with an eye toward making it safer.

Chester residents Frank Bidwell and Michele Bargfrede each asked about the project ending before the concrete bridge on Depot Street near the back entrance of Austin Antiques. Johnson agreed that the bridge is in “pretty poor shape,” but said the grant for the project stops at the Bargfrede Road.

A portion of the sidewalk along Depot Street looking north toward Town Hall.

Executive Assistant Julie Hance said that the bridge would be very expensive and that there are questions regarding the rights-of-way beyond the bridge. Johnson told resident Dan Wilcox that she did not expect to need to seek any private right-of-way along the project.

Responding to a question from Depot Street resident Carrie King about tree planting,  Johnson said plantings would be added around the newly designed Coach Road intersection.

Bill Lindsey suggested looking at making the sweeping turn at Depot and Maple into a “T” intersection. Johnson noted that there would be further opportunities to see designs and comment as the project goes forward.

Panel urged to go approve fire museum at Yosemite

Select board members Arne Jonynas and Ben Whalen look over the second floor of the Yosemite building during a special Select Board meeting on May 13, 2016.

Lillian Willis of the Chester Historical Buildings Committee asked the Select Board for ideas of what the Yosemite Fire House could be used for while at the same time urging them to vote — sooner than later — to make it a fire museum.

Willis said there was work to be done before winter sets in, including cutting a “man door” in the historic building’s large sliding doors for winter access and installing electricity in the building. She suggested approving the museum as a use at the Aug. 1 board meeting.

Board chair Arne Jonynas asked about the financing of work, noting that if the town is putting up money, it will need to consider it during the budgeting process beginning in October.

Lillian Willis takes a question from the audience

According to Willis, her organization is already looking for and collecting memorabilia for the museum and needs to look into safety and security measures for keeping the things. The group will also need to secure tax exempt status to raise funds.

Board member Ben Whalen – who is also a firefighter and president of the Yosemite Engine Company, which raises funds to support the Chester Fire Dept. –  told Willis he would “like to see it not be super cluttered.”  Whalen said he would like to see the station as it was when it was still in use.

Town Manager David Pisha suggested having a professional curator come in to help with a museum’s presentation while board member Dan Cote said he didn’t want to drag this out for months, but “I just want to see the vision.”

To suggestions that the building be moved, Hance replied that moving it out of its historical context would disqualify it for most historic preservation grants available to it.

The board asked Willis to return with a written vision for a fire museum at the Aug. 1 meeting.

Board mulls town owning Tomasso forest

Pisha asked the board if it was interested in a study to see whether it makes sense for the town to work toward purchasing the Tomasso property in Smokeshire. He noted that there are various funds available to help with a portion of the financing and that with private contributions and timber sales, it might be possible to finance the purchase.

The Tomasso property represents about five percent of Chester’s area. Courtesy NEFF

Last year, the 1,800-acre Tomasso property was the subject of a failed fundraising campaign by the New England Forestry Foundation and the $3.5 million tract went back on the market. Since then, the town has been contacted by the Northern Forest Center and the Vermont Land Trust to consider conducting an 18- to 24-month process to decide if the residents of Chester would be in favor of owning the land. Pisha said that if the deal was not attractive, the town could drop it.

The process would look at the cost of owning and maintaining the land as well as using it for timber harvesting and maple production and the many recreational pursuits  discussed during the NEFF campaign. These included hiking, mountain biking and snowmobiling as well as hunting and fishing.

Pisha pointed to a report prepared for the Outdoor Industry Association showing the economic impact of outdoor recreation and noted that there are recreation areas that are economic drivers for their areas.

Board member Lee Gustafson asks how owning the Tomasso forest would fit in the board’s vision for the town

Hance said that this process would begin with an assessment by a professional who could establish the value of the land. That will cost about $5,000, but that amount could be used as a match for a $20,000 grant that would pay Northern Forest — or another contractor — to conduct the community forest process. Hance said the $5,000 could be taken from the grant fund that is used for such matches.

Lister Wanda Purdy provided some figures to think about in the transaction including the loss of $26,616.11 in property taxes. Whalen said he did not want residents to think that the board is just jumping at every large project that comes along. This prompted member Lee Gustafson to a discussion of the board’s vision for the town.  “We need to make sure we are understanding each other where we want the town to be,” said Gustafson. “The perception may be that we are spending money, but you aren’t going to grow holding on to every penny we have.”

Lindsay told the board they should go ahead with the assessment since taxpayers can’t make a decision without enough information.

The board voted to go ahead with the $5,000 appraisal of the land as a first step.

Whiting Library fundraising; pocket park; Porsche show

Whiting Library Trustee Lyza Gardner told the board that the library is in the midst of its annual fundraising campaign with a goal of $18,000. Gardner said that donations are coming in and may be made on the library’s website via Paypal or credit card.

Whiting Trustee Lyza Gardner updates the board on the library’s activities

According to Gardner, the library’s children’s programs – especially the Lego Club – are well attended. The library is working with the Nature Museum in Grafton to present programs, but they need help bringing adults in for programs and events. She said the library is working to improve its website and looking for other ways to get the word out about its offerings.

Under old business, Pisha said that the town was going ahead with plans to install a pocket park at the end of School Street. Asked if there were plans to use the other side, Pisha said yes, but they would need to delineate boundaries and clear brush.

“It’s a nice way to get down to the river,” said Jonynas. “And it wouldn’t take much to make it happen.”

Pisha also told the board that Lee Whiting and the merchants along the Green had reached an agreement over the Porsche car show planned for Oct. 6, the Saturday of Columbus Day weekend. The Porsche show would move to the Academy Building lawn and along the stone wall in front of the Brookside Cemetery. Pisha said there could be as many as 100 cars being displayed and the overflow could be displayed in the field behind the Academy Building.

This would preserve the parking spots around the Green for shoppers on one of the busiest days of the merchants’ year.

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