Sandri floats idea of purchase, lease of town land;
historical society says Yosemite will have new owner

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Sandri President Michael Behn asks Chester's select board if it is open to a sale of town land

Sandri President Michael Behn asks Chester’s select board if it is open to a sale of town land

The president of Sandri Cos. asked the Chester Select Board last Wednesday if it was open to selling town land so the company could add a Dunkin Donuts franchise to the convenience store and liquor outlet that it already runs at its Sunoco gas station on Main Street.

Michael Behn told the board that the his request to buy the land did not require an action that night, but rather he was looking for a sense of the board before Sandri spent money on engineering studies. According to Behn, the land would be paved to create a drive-through that would be entered onjust west side of the building.

The area behind the Sunoco station that Sandri wants to buy

The area behind the Sunoco station that Sandri wants to buy. Chester Telegraph photos.

Board chair John DeBenedetti questioned how much of the land shown in the tax map Sandri submitted was still there in light of floods in the past five years.

Behn said he would be able to come back with more information after getting the select board’s opinion in principle.

“So you’re taking a pulse,” said board member Heather Chase.

“Your dumpsters may already be on town land,” noted DeBenedetti pointing to an aerial flood map. “It would behoove you to get an idea of the position of your building.”

The Sunoco station with the area in question flooding on July 28, 2014

The river behind the Sunoco station over-ran its banks during rainstorms on July 28, 2014. This photo was taken from the westside of the building.

Board members told Behn they were not opposed to a sale in principle, but they needed to know more about the land. Board member Arne Jonynas said that regulations coming from Act 64, Vermont’s new clean water act, may have an impact on impervious surfaces near rivers.

Behn told the board that his company didn’t need to buy the land, that an easement for the company to use the property was sufficient and that Sandri would continue to allow firetrucks access to the river to fill up with water as they had in the past.

Board member Ben Whalen, a firefighter, asked when the fire department used that area to get water.

“Never in my time have we drawn water over there,” replied audience member Harry Goodell, former Chester Fire chief who retired from the department last year after 45 years of service.

“I’d be more willing to sell than give an easement,” said Jonynas.

Town Manager David Pisha said he would put Behn together with the Vermont officials who handle floodplains and river management.

Yosemite ‘will have new owner by September’

Chester Historical Society President Ron Patch appeared before the board to address a March 2 request by Whalen that Patch explain what is happening with the historic Yosemite Fire House.

Chester Historical Society President Ron Patch

Chester Historical Society President Ron Patch

Patch told the board that because discussions of the issue “got ugly” the decisions would be made by the society’s board in executive session. “You can’t share with us what you intend to do, you’re keeping it amongst yourselves,” asked Jonynas.

“Same as you do,” answered Patch.

Saying that the building was not an asset but just an expense for the society, Patch told Jonynas that he would not say what the board has in mind, but that the Select Board“will probably be very happy with it.”

“The contents are the town’s business,” said Patch noting that the society had lowered the coverage to get better premiums. “In a way, it almost doesn’t matter if it’s insured. If it burns, it’s gone,” said Patch. “If it’s insured, the historical society would get a couple hundred thousand dollars, and I’m sure there’d be people in this town who would be opposed to the historical society getting that money.”

Resident Frank Bidwell rose to say that this had been an issue since January 2015 and that he was concerned that the town would lose both the historic building and the fire department-related contents. “If we can’t do anything with the building or move the contents before it catches fire or falls into the river, there must be some place to display this stuff. Other towns use their old fire engines in parades.”

Asserting that the status of the building is not the town’s concern, Patch told the board that there is no question that the society owns the building and that it would make the decisions about it. “The firehouse will have a new owner by the (historical society’s) annual meeting in September.”

Chester 250 brings tentative schedule, seeks funding;
Music series asks to move for one night

Frank Kelley and Tom Hildreth introduce the event schedule for Chester 250

Frank Kelley and Tom Hildreth introduce the event schedule for Chester 250

Chester 250 Committee co-ordinators Frank Kelley and Tom Hildreth  reported on a tentative schedule of activities for the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the New York charter, which changed the name of New Flamstead to Chester.

The celebration will kick off on June 4th with a float in the Alumni Day parade and continue through the weekend of July 16 and 17 when there will be walking tours, a barbeque, games and contests, a car show and fireworks. Kelley and Hildreth asked the board to consider an amount that the town would put toward the weekend. DeBenedetti recalled that the $2,000 to $3,000 figure had been discussed. Pisha said he would look in the budget to see what’s available

Bill Dakin appeared on behalf of the Chester Music series to request the use of the area to the east of the information booth for the July 28th concert since the Chester Historical Society is holding a meeting that night. Jonynas told society President Ron Patch that he was disappointed that it couldn’t be worked out for the concert to be held where it normally is.  Patch said that the society had hosted the concerts for years but that he and did not want the distraction of 150 or 250 people outside and  coming into the building to use the toilets.

Town seeks to fill positions, several are paid

DeBenedetti said that a number of town positions are open including one lister job, two auditors, six budget committee members and a representative to Connecticut River Transit. He urged anyone who is interested in town government to get involved. The lister and auditor positions are paid, the budget committee is volunteer.

Development Review Board chair Carla Westine added that the board that looks at development projects has had a vacancy for three years and that this summer it will lose an alternate who has been filling in. Westine promised “two fun nights out a month” to those who step up to work on the board. Anyone interested in any of these positions should contact Town Manager David Pisha at 875-2173.

In other action

  • The board began it’s long postponed discussion of a conflict of interest policy for itself. Using a model policy from the Vermont League of Cities and Town, members discussed what a conflict of interest is and how to deal with one. It was agreed that this will be an ongoing discussion and members asked that attorney Garrett Baxter from VLCT be asked to give a presentation on this and on the open meetings law for the board.
  • During public comment, Lister Wanda Purdy told the board that she had recently driven over Route 35 toward Grafton and characterized it as “the worst road in Chester.” Purdy asked when something was going to be done about it. Executive Assistant Julie Hance said that paving that road is done when the state makes two-to-one matches for Class 2 roads but, in the meantime, the town is using a grant to do engineering for stabilizing the substrate that makes the road deteriorate rapidly.
  • Jonynas asked that a future agenda item be a discussion of a capital fund for the upkeep of town buildings. Patch told the board that the Academy Building – which the historical society leases for $1 per year – has a serious roof leak on the westside with water running into the “office” and damaging papers. Patch said he had emptied a 5-gallon pail two times since January.
  • Due to a trip scheduled before his election, board member Dan Cote attended the meeting via Skype. Vermont’s open meetings law allows for attendance at public meetings by electronic means.
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  1. Lisa says:

    When is the Academy Building open to the public? I never see any indication of hours open and the public welcome. Years ago it seems I remember the doors being open, and folks using the front lawn for painting, etc. It was one of the reasons I thought Chester would be a nice place to live.

  2. Michael says:

    I am in agreement with Rachel. I don’t really understand Mr. Patch’s hostility either. I feel that there is a whole community willing to get behind saving the Yosemite Firehouse (and fixing the Academy roof), but he has created a situation where people are intimidated to even offer a suggestion as to how that might happen. I appreciate that he takes offense to some, what I would call snarky, reporting on the his activities. But, please, it is time realize that this is the platform, along with a supportive select board, that can bring people and funding together to achieve our daunting historical preservation goals.

  3. Rachel says:

    Why does Ron Patch have to be so rude when discussing the Yosemite Firehouse issue with the Chester Select Board? It does not make sense why he has to be so hostile toward people who want to save the historical pieces and structure of that building just like he does. There has to be a way where someone can stand up to him and finally ask him to work with the people versus being selfish and decide everything without the town’s approval.