Solid waste money to fund planning, wayfinding in Chester; Sunoco proposal returns

By Shawn Cunningham
©2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

With two unbudgeted projects on the horizon, the Chester Select Board, at its Aug. 16 meeting, weighed the use of a couple of pools of money that could pay for them or be set aside as investments. The monies are approximately $31,000 from a contingency fund held by a former two-state solid waste district and a reimbursement of approximately $120,000 from FEMA for work done after Tropical Storm Irene.

Two weeks earlier, the board approved a $10,000 audit of Chester’s zoning regulations without designating where the money would come from. The board also considered a proposal from SE Group for creating a wayfinding plan that involves using signs to help explain the layout of the town to visitors to help them get around town.

Noting errors in the SE Group’s proposal, board member Lee Gustafson asks if there will be a backup to check wayfinding signs for errors. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Such a plan was identified as one of the town’s main goals by the Village Center Master Planning process during public meetings last year. Board member Heather Chase asked whether if SE Group could do any better on its $24,000 bid and the vendor returned with a revised price tag of $17,880.

Board member Lee Gustafson said that the quality of the proposal – including grammar and math errors – gave him pause and asked that there be a process for making sure that information on the completed signs would be correct. Town Manager David Pisha said there would be.

Stating that he did not want to go into deficit spending, board chair Arne Jonynas said he was in favor of using the solid waste fund reimbursement to pay for the wayfinding plan and for the zoning audit.

“People in the community have brought us to this point,” said board member Dan Cote referring to the public participation in master planning. “This is part of that visioning, dreaming, investing.”

“I think we all want to see this done,” said Chase, and the board voted unanimously to use $27,880 from the solid waste rebate for the two projects.

As for the FEMA funds, Pisha told the board that FEMA has three years to audit and reclaim monies after the grant has been closed out. Pisha noted that the grant has not yet been closed out and according to Executive Assistant Julie Hance, the town does not receive the final money until then.

Sunoco returns with new expansion plan

Representing Sandri – the company that operates the Sunoco station on Main Street – Michael Behn renewed his request for a “lease, purchase, easement, whatever.” for town land behind the station.

Sandri’s Michael Behn asks the board to sell his company town land behind the Sunoco station.

Behn told the board that the company must replace its underground tanks by the end of this year and that it plans to move its gas pumps to the west side of the building under a new canopy. The company is planning to purchase a parcel of land from the Country Girl Diner to accomplish the change and, according to Behn, the town land would be used as an exit around the back of the building.

Pisha told the board that town attorney Jim Carroll suggested conveying the property to eliminate the town’s liability. Board members discussed the idea of selling the property and asked what the value of the land is and what the town could expect in property tax income.

Behn had asked for the same land in March of 2016 when he floated the idea of a Dunkin Donuts in the space. The Telegraph asked if that was still part of the plan, since it was not mentioned in Behn’s presentation to the board nor did board members ask about it.

Behn confirmed that the Dunkin Donuts franchisee that his company works with is still very interested in being in Chester.

Comparing the Sunoco to the biblical David, Behn said Sandri is trying to survive “with Goliath across the street,” referring to the new Jiffy Mart. Behn also said the store would have to go through the “design review” process. The plan involves two lanes behind the building – one for exiting gas traffic and the other for a drive-in window.

Chase suggested that Behn work on a New England architectural look.

At the 2016 meeting, questions of the flooding status of the property came up and Behn told the board he would return with more information and engineering drawings, but on Tuesday Aug. 22, Pisha said that those were never provided.

Select Board members questioned the process for disposing of town land. According to Vermont statutes the board can sell a piece of town property subject to 30 days of public posting, during which residents can petition for a town vote on the sale. A town vote could add months to the process as could the Development Review Board hearings and deliberations. Behn said he had until Dec. 31 to get the old tanks out.

Water rates to rise again

The Chester Water and Sewer Commission (a.k.a. Chester Select Board) discuss water rate increase.

The Chester Water and Sewer Commission, which is the Select Board, met before the Select Board and once again raised the equivalent unit rate by $2, from $48 to $50. Users are charged for one equivalent unit for every 18,000 gallons they take from the system. This calculation is based on the average household usage and spreads the cost of maintaining the system out among those — like second homeowners — who often use much less water. In addition to the equivalent unit, users are also charged $1 per 1,000 gallons of water used.

Raising the rate $2 each quarter through the middle of 2018 will get the cost of water to the target 1 percent of median household income that is a condition for the $4 million, negative interest loan for the water system upgrade. Negative interest means that the water users pay back less than the amount borrowed. The equivalent unit rate is intended to top out at $60 per quarter.

In other business

With a scheduled executive session to work on a performance review of Pisha, the board decided to hold a special meeting to continue to work on it’s “visioning process.” The board will meet on Wednesday Aug. 30 at 6:30. At that time, it will also hear from Behn on Sandri’s proposal to buy town land behind the Sunoco station.

Pisha told the board that the quit claim deed that was expected from someone who claims an interest in the Yosemite Fire House had not been received by the town attorney and that he does not know what the holdup is.

Pisha also noted that the Town of Windsor is looking for a part-time assessor – just like Chester – and that the suggestion had been made that the towns create one full-time job. Pisha said that a full-time position would attract more and better candidates.

Speaking during the public comment period, Jeff Holden spoke about having a flagpole at Town Hall.

“The (American) Legion (Post 67) thinks we should have a flagpole,” said Holden, “and they are willing to help take care of the all the expenses except the base.” The Town Hall already sports two wall-mounted flags out front — the American flag and the Vermont state flag. The board discussed placement and thanked Holden.

The board decided to take up the issues of a junkyard ordinance and lowering speed limits on Depot Street at its Sept. 6 meeting. Board member Ben Whalen also asked that the town consider signing off on the Yosemite Engine Company application for a grant to purchase a new tanker for the Chester Fire Department.

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