Chester Select Board mulls offer to accept Yosemite Firehouse

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Ron Patch of the Chester Historical Society offers the Yosemite Firehouse to the town. Photos by Cynthia Prairie.

Ron Patch of the Chester Historical Society offers the Yosemite Firehouse to the town. Click a photo to launch gallery. Photos by Cynthia Prairie.

Saying that it needed an answer sooner than later because it has two other parties interested in the property, the Chester Historical Society formally offered to give the Yosemite Firehouse to the Town of Chester at the May 4 Select Board meeting. The organization included all of the building’s contents regardless of their ownership – even including objects that belong to the organization –  plus the $2,900 balance of its firehouse restoration fund.

Organization President Ron Patch told the meeting that his group’s board of directors had come up with the offer and the membership had voted to make the gift at its April meeting the previous Thursday. Patch said that, for the cost of storing the fire apparatus and equipment in a commercial storage facility, the town could pay for work on other historical buildings and leave the fire house as it is for 10 years.

Select Board chairman John DeBenedetti said he was overwhelmed but had a lot of questions, all of which had to do with money. DeBenedetti said he had read the condition assessment prepared by architect Tom Keefe and understands the significance of the building. He pointed to the $88,000 in stabilization and restoration work that Keefe recommended and noted that Keefe had also recommended that the building be moved.

Board member Heather Chase echoed DeBenedetti’s sentiments, calling the firehouse “extraordinarily important to the community” and calling for a small committee to brainstorm about change of ownership and the many questions surrounding that.

Heather Chase speaks

The firehouse is “extraordinarily important to the community,” said Select Board member Heather Chase.

“We need to talk about what we need to do with this asset that’s been neglected,” said Chase.

“We put $35,000 into it in 2007,” said Patch. “I get a little sensitive about somebody saying we’ve neglected it.” In the past, a substantial amount of work was done to the hose tower, roof and cupola with grant funding from the Preservation Trust of Vermont and the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, Historic Preservation Division and community contributions.

Board member Dan Cote said he thought the group has done the right thing, adding that several organizations could come together with the town to figure out the best way to preserve it. “This doesn’t have to be resolved tonight, or by this board,” said Cote. “There’s a lot of positive energy in this.”

Patch responded that the offer is to the town, not other groups but agreed that no decision had to be made that night. “But we need to get moving,” said Patch.

DeBenedetti said that he was not adverse to setting up a committee to look at taking the building, pointing out that such a committee would be subject to the open meetings law, but said he would like to set up a Select Board meeting to tour the building first.

After several minutes of discussion and comparing calendars, the board decided to tour the building at a meeting warned for 4 p.m. on Friday May 13.

Event filled summer possible

Bill Borger of the Iron Adventure Run speaks about the Harley Davidson event.

Bill Borger of the Iron Adventure Run speaks about the Harley Davidson event.

Three people spoke about summer events that have been either in the works or needed permission to get under way in Chester.

Tom Hildreth gave the board a status report on the 250th anniversary celebration this summer including his application for an F-16 flyover from the Vermont Air National Guard. He told the board there’s still a lot of steps before something like that gets approved, but if it happens the public should know “we’re not under attack, we’re celebrating.” Hildreth also said that while the 250 committee was not going to sponsor a train ride during the celebration, the railroad may be running one of its own out of Chester.

Harley Davidson motorcycles and classic cars from Ludlow will parade through Chester and back to Ludlow in July and August with gubernatorial candidate Phil Scott leading both. Bill Borger of the Iron Adventure Ride — scheduled for Saturday, July 30 — told the board that they might bring  100 to 300 bikes to town depending on the weather. Both Marji Graf of the Okemo Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, which is sponsoring the car show on Saturday, Aug. 27, and Borger asked the Select Board for a police escort for the riders. They also asked that the parking area around The Green be cleared for the motorcyclists and cars. Graf said that having the cars and motorcycles in town for an hour or two would be a draw for Chester and that the chamber would “let Chester come up with an event” to capitalize on the traffic.  The board approved a police escort for the motorcycle event from 6 to 7 p.m. on July 30 and the escort for the classic car event and closing The Green for parking from 3 to 5 p.m. on Aug. 27.

The board approved the Rod & Gun Club’s request to use the town reservoir for its annual fishing derby on Saturday, May 14.  A motion to give permission to the club passed unanimously.

In other action: Dead trees on Green, Journal named paper of record

Marji Graf of the area chamber of commerce speaks about the classic car event that will make a trip to Chester.

Marji Graf of the area chamber of commerce speaks about the classic car event that will make a trip to Chester.

Chester Townscape member Tory Spater Somerville updated the group’s efforts to beautify The Green asking for permission to remove two dying trees next to the gazebo. Spater Somerville told the board that Public Works Director Graham Kennedy had wanted to confirm that it was OK before taking the trees out. DeBenedetti said that the action was not warned in the agenda and Pisha said he wasn’t sure if the trees were planted as a memorial. Spater Somerville said the trees were in bad shape and other trees could be planted as memorials.

As scheduled at the March 2 meeting, the Select Board returned to the topic of which newspaper should be designated for running legal notices. Such a designation is known as the “paper of record,” and both The Chester Telegraph and Vermont Journal had asked for the nod.  In March, Journal owner Bob Miller – pointing to state statute – claimed that it would be “illegal” to put legal ads in the “Telegram.” The Telegraph pointed out that there is no definition of “newspaper” in the same statute. The law was written in 1880 and has not been amended since.

Last Wednesday, Town Manager David Pisha read a letter from James Carroll, a Middlebury attorney who represents the Town of Chester and the Select Board. The letter listed several of the 78 pages in Vermont Statutes that The Telegraph had provided to the board in March. Carroll’s interpretation is that unless the Vermont legislature specifically recognizes online digital news sources as newspapers, the town should play it safe and have its notices printed in a traditional hard copy outlet.

At Wednesday’s meeting, The Telegraph pointed to the decision of the Weston Select Board to advertise in both newspapers, citing that board’s sense that it needed to inform as many people as possible including those who do not have access to or choose not to use a computer and those who do not read the old style papers, which is a growing population.  Speaking for The Telegraph, Shawn Cunningham suggested that if the town got the same $9 per column inch rate that Weston pays the Journal (instead of the $12.50 proposed by the Ludlow paper) it could afford both and still save money.

Miller replied that the $12.50 rate was due to town government’s desire to have ads printed in both the Journal and The Shopper. The Shopper is delivered in Springfield, Bellows Falls and other communities along the Connecticut River as far south as Putney including several in New Hampshire. But the law only requires that the legals of one jurisdiction run in a newspaper that’s in general circulation in the county in which it sits, as opposed to reaching the most people.

On Tuesday, Executive Assistant Julie Hance said that she didn’t know why the town advertised in the Shopper, but that it was doing it before she started with town government more than 10 years ago.

Miller continued to maintain that placing public notices in The Telegraph was illegal and could result in lawsuits from people whose houses were sold for taxes were not properly informed. According to Hance, notice of tax sale is actually done in person, by a process-server, not through a newspaper. The public notice is intended to attract buyers and inform the community.

Miller also said that he was spending money on a new website and introduced Vince West, who praised The Telegraph’s work and expressed a desire to do as good a job in the coming year. “I commend you, you’ve got the pulse of the community,” West told publisher Cynthia Prairie.

Miller also said that the Journal would be live-streaming Select Board meetings via an application called Periscope using a camera-equipped laptop computer operated by a staff member. This would be a duplicate of what SAPA-TV already does. Miller then asked if The Telegraph could do that.  Prairie responded that yes, she could, but added that she would not since it is the news reporter’s job to filter out the small talk, report on the big issues and put it all in context. “I wouldn’t want to subject people to a two or three hour meeting … ” said Prairie.

In the end, three of the four members who voted said that they would prefer to vote for The Telegraph, citing its involvement in the community, but felt they had to vote to designate the Journal as paper of record based on the lawyer’s letter.  Holding up a Journal in which the front page news was given over to an advocacy for legal advertising in that paper, board member Ben Whalen asked Miller, “That’s your headline?” Cote voted no and DeBenedetti, as is his custom, did not vote.

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