Derry board asked to weigh in on Lowell Lake Kuperberg says internal documents show state's intent was always overnight stays

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Londonderry Select Board was asked to “stand with” the town’s Conservation Commission Monday night in opposing plans for overnight lodging and expanded parking at Lowell Lake as internal state documents came to light.

Kuperberg explains the Conservation Commission’s stance on the Lowell Lake project.

Conservation Commission chair Irwin Kuperberg told the board that after studying the Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation’s plans for the popular Derry park of Route 11 and reviewing public feedback, the commission is going on record as opposing plans to reuse existing cabins or constructing new buildings and offering overnight lodging. The commission is also opposed to the expansion of parking at the site and Kuperberg presented a statement from the Windham Conservation Committee that “fully supports” the Londonderry commission’s position.

According to Kuperberg, the FPR has said that overnight lodging was just one concept it was considering, but that documents obtained through a Public Records Request to the state show that overnight lodging was the “goal since the beginning.” He noted that documents show that the rehabilitation of the existing cabins – not including “excavation, utilities, wastewater, etc.” would cost between $1.1 million and $1.4 million. The entire project, according to Kuperberg would cost up to $3 million.

A ‘Plan B’ map for new cabins prepared by SE Group.

Kuperberg also said the state’s documents show that FPR expects that the project will be exempt from Act 250, the Lakeshore Protection Act as well as Londonderry’s zoning bylaws while the department has not conducted environmental impact studies or looked at the “carrying capacities” of the lake or made wetlands delineations.

Pointing to a January 2019 email from Patrick Olstad, a landscape architect working for SE Group, which is designing the changes to the park, Kuperberg said the state is trying to sidestep public opposition to the plan. In the email, Olstad refers to  “vocal opposition from a number of locals” followed by “a negative letter to The Chester Telegraph by the former zoning administrator.

Olstad goes on to say that “as a response, FPR has been actively trying to reframe the conversation.” Part of that re-framing appears to be an online survey to “be distributed to a wider demographic than just the locals who attended the first public meeting.” Kuperberg said he believed that the wider survey was intended to dilute  opposition to the plan.

Acting as Select Board chair, George Mora said that “the Select Board is already on it, but it’s complicated” explaining that she and planning commission chair Sharon Crossman had met with John Bennett of the Windham Regional Commission about looking into the state plan’s conformance with the Londonderry Town Plan as well as the regional plan. Mora said that Chris Campany of the WRC had asked the town to have more direct contact with FPR but that was before they had reviewed all of the information about the project.

Acting board chair George Mora explains the steps she and Planning Commission chair Sharon Crossman have taken with the Windham Regional Commission

Mora said she and Crossman would try to get another meeting with the WRC and suggested that she and Crossman meet with Kuperberg about the FPR documents he was telling the Select Board about.  Mora also noted that it would be best to have the full board present to consider and approve a statement. Two members were absent from Monday’s meeting.

“In general, there’s a lot of support for what you’re asking, but as a limited group (with two Select Board members absent), there’s not much that can be said,” board member Taylor Prouty told Kuperberg.

Kuperberg said he would return to the board for the Aug. 5 meeting. The Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation will hold a community meeting on Lowell Lake at 6 p.m. on Thursday July 25  at the Old Town Hall, 139 Middletown Road in South Londonderry.

Tax rates and homestead penalties

The board received the tax rate calculations from Town Clerk Kelly Pajala. The Vermont Tax Department has calculated Londonderry’s education tax rates of $1.5773 for non-homestead properties and $1.5251 for homesteads.

With a municipal tax rate of $0.38185 added to the education tax, the Select board approved a total tax rate of $1.95915 for non-homestead properties and $1.90695 for homesteads. Non-homestead properties include second homes as well as business and commercial properties. To calculate your taxes, multiply the applicable rate(s) by every $100 of assessed value.

Lister Sandra Clark asked the board to waive the penalty for late filing of homestead declarations for this tax year. Clark noted that 15 taxpayers had not filed declarations for a total penalty of $2,260.52.  She noted that that’s a little less than in the past when the penalties have also been waived.

Clark noted that the penalties are “grievable” and that the board could “sit in grievances all summer” as an alternative to waiving them. The board voted to waive the penalties.

Property record cards

Clark also told the board that the town’s tax record cards have been put online as part of the service the town pays for from the New England Municipal Resource Center from the reappraisal recently done. The information about properties is public and is used by banks, lawyers, real estate firms and others to do their work. Having the information online cuts down on the requests that listers get for such information.

The problem that arose was that the record cards include a photo of the property. According to Clark, the cards had been up online for just a short time, then – without anyone telling her – they were taken down because someone objected to a photo of their house being online.

Clark said she cannot remove the photos herself, but she could ask NEMRC to remove in batches perhaps monthly. “But we’ve paid for this,” said Clark.

The board decided to take up the discussion of the topic when all five members are at the table.

Town office project

Brown and Stromsten discuss funding possibilities for the Town Office project

Representatives of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. came to tell the board about the services the organization provides and to explain how the funds appropriated for it at Town Meeting are used. This included programs through the USDA that could have an impact on the town office project that was on the agenda toward the end of the meeting. Jennifer Stromsten and R.T. Brown decided to through the meeting for that item and took part in the discussion of how they might help the town get funding for the building renovations.

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