Chester loses bid for Tomasso land, eyes gravel extraction at water tank property

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The property the town bid on represents about five percent of Chester’s area. Courtesy NEFF

Town properties – current and potential – took up the majority of the Wednesday, May 15 Chester Select Board meeting as Chairman Arne Jonynas told the meeting that he had asked that the Tomasso property be put on the agenda to keep the public abreast of what the town is doing and make the process clear.

Jonynas said that the town has made an offer on the 1,800-acre property in Smokeshire as part of a process to assess all the aspects of buying and owning that land.

But the final decision was actually in the hands of the Tomasso family and on Monday, The Telegraph learned, the Tomassos had accepted another offer for the land. Unless that deal falls through, the idea of a large land reserve with recreation spaces is off the table.

The Tomasso family had the land listed at $3.15 million and a commercial appraisal of the property done last year valued it at $2.89 million.

Jonynas had stressed that the offer has plenty of contingencies to allow the town to back out if it found that owning it wasn’t feasible. But even if everything had lined up, it did not mean that the town would buy the land, because the final decision lies in the hands of Chester’s voters.

Going after gravel

The board considered a proposal from RSG  — an engineering firm — to conduct noise and traffic studies for the Act 250 application to extract gravel and sand from the 139 acre property the town purchased from M&M Excavating for placement of its second water tank. The property has been used as a quarry in the past and has an Act 250 permit on it. The estimated cost of the studies is $8,600 for noise and $5,700 for traffic.

The Chester Select Board meets with attorney Jim Goss in 2017. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

Board members, who have hoped that the town would be able to extract gravel on the site this summer, asked Town Manager David Pisha where the application stood and learned that attorney Jim Goss has not filed it yet. Having participated in Act 250 proceedings, board member Heather Chase cautioned the board that securing a land use permit can be a long process and that excavating this summer seems overly optimistic.

Chase said the last time the board spoke with Goss was more than a year ago, when he estimated the cost of the Act 250 process at about $25,000.

“I would like to have him talk to us directly about the process,” said Chase. “When we spoke, he had not reviewed the file yet and there is a history of the permit that follows the property and the studies might be putting the cart before the horse.”

Members were concerned that waiting even a week to schedule a special meeting to get information from Goss would delay the project.

Chase called the idea that wanting information would delay the process “crazy” and said that she needs to ask the questions to do her due diligence. “It’s a conversation I want and I don’t want to go through David,” said Chase.

Pisha suggested asking Goss for a summary of where he is on the project. The board agreed to get a summary from Goss and then hold a special meeting to hear from him.

Info booth flush with visitors

The town, which now owns the Information Booth next to the Brookside Cemetery wall on Main Street, is looking into adding a sewer connection rather than continuing with a 300-gallon holding tank for its bathroom that must be pumped often.

According to Hance, the tank pumping is amounting to as much as $4,000 during the summer/fall seasons. She added that while this means that there are an increasing number of visitors to town, it raises the question of whether it’s more cost effective in the long run to make a rather complex connection to the municipal sewer for between $21,000 and $25,000. Hance noted that the hookup would pay for itself in a few years.

Members of Chester Townscape upgrade the plantings around the information booth with financial assistance from the town.

“Good news, bad news, ” said Chase, noting that more people visiting is a good problem to have.

Board member Lee Gustafson asked if putting the money somewhere else might provide the service. He suggested the Academy Building, but it was noted that it’s leased to the Chester Historical Society.

“Let me be the other side of the coin,” said Lister Wanda Purdy. “Why does the town even have to provide bathroom facilities?”

Jonynas said when he visits a town and there are facilities provided, it makes him think differently about the place noting a positive impression is good for economic development.

“But I understand your point too,” said Jonynas. “Why even have an information booth, that costs money too?”

Gustafson said another possibility is that it’s cheaper to pump a large tank than a small one so perhaps replacing the 300 gallon tank with a 1,000 gallon tank would be an option.

The discussion turned to the lease on the Academy Building, which expires in 2020 and the board decided it was a good idea to begin looking at the options sooner than later.

No use for Jeffrey Barn

Historic building committee chair Lillian Willis told the board that the group had received an assessment of the Jeffrey Barn. She spoke of the damage done to it in the past and the enormous timbers used in its construction, but because it is so close to the road, there is no land around it for parking its future uses are limited. She also noted that the barn is huge and its timbers are sawn, not hand hewn and thus less valuable.

Willis said the committee concluded there is no reasonable use for the building.

“We have not been able to come up with any use,” said Willis. “We have no ideas. It’s up to the Select Board.”

Board members discussed the problems with the barn and how to deal with it before it falls down.

Ben Whalen suggested asking the Shelburne Museum if they know of anyone who might be interested in taking down an old barn.

Chase asked if the committee would like to search for a salvage solution, but Willis demurred.

“The committee felt that we had done what we supposed to do,” said Willis. The board asked Pisha to look into what can be done with salvaging the barn.

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  1. Scott MacDonald says:

    Just for perspective, when we were house hunting and were enjoying the local shops, meeting people and learning about town, the visitor center taught us a lot about the area by having the information so easily available. The bathroom facilities are certainly important when visitors and residents need them, and it shows that we are thinking about people’s needs.

    Also, during Fall Festival, the summer concert series and other events, people rely on the convenience the bathrooms provide. People traveling through pick up brochures, too. I have received business from folks who went in the visitor center. I think it serves an important role in showing people we are more than a small town to drive past.