Chester board passes on reversing course on Mosher land

By Shawn Cunningham
© Telegraph Publishing LLC

Jewett Road passes through the Mosher’s dooryard and would see much more traffic under the single bridge option

At its March 17 meeting, the Chester Select Board heard from project managers who will consolidate the Thompson and Jewett bridges along Route 103 North into one bridge.

Before getting deeply into the design phases of the project, they wanted to see if  Chester would change course and want to remove the Palmer Bridge, in effect leaving one new bridge for access from Route 103, across the Williams River to the homes on the other side. At its April 7 meeting the select board took up the question.

That option would involve taking property through eminent domain from Brian and Amy Mosher and routing traffic from the property now served by the Palmer Bridge through their dooryard.

When the land was owned by dairy farmer Lisa Kaiman, the Moshers envisioned the connection being used by industrial traffic like milk trucks and farm equipment as well as private cars, if a retail use was allowed there.

The Moshers also argued that their property is on the state’s historic register and would trigger a review under Section 4f of the Department of Transportation Act, which prohibits use of land from historic properties unless “there is no feasible and prudent alternative to that use and the action includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the property resulting from such a use.”

Opening the discussion, Chester Select Board chair Arne Jonynas said he didn’t see the board changing its mind unless someone wanted to make a motion. Previously, they had decided that it was the town’s responsibility to repair the Palmer Bridge, which now has an estimated lifespan of 10 to 15 years, and having done that would pass on the idea of having only one bridge crossing the river.

Since no one on the board made a motion, the town will not go forward with eminent domain proceedings, the property will remain in the Moshers’ hands and two bridges will cross the river.

Board approves uses of the town’s Green

Southern Pie Cafe co-owner Scott Blair asked the board to allow him to return the five picnic tables that they placed on the Green last year, which aided restaurant owners who relied on take-out orders only due to the Covid 19 pandemic. He also asked permission to add two more tables, placing those west of the gazebo in front of the Fullerton Inn, bringing the total number of tables to seven.

Picnic tables on the Green in September 2020

The board discussed how to handle the trash and whether the tables are allowed under Chester’s current zoning. In the end, the board agreed to allow the tables but board member Lee Gustafson asked if such things really need their approval rather than having the town manager take care of them.  Jonynas said the board approves the use of town property for events like the Fall Festival and the car and motorcycle show so the question is where to draw the line.

Coincidentally, the next item on the agenda was for the Mountain Valley Climate Action group to set up a table with a banner on the Green from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday April 22. The board approved the request with little discussion.

Act 250 permit for gravel extraction received

The long saga of gravel extraction on the property Chester purchased for expansion of the town’s water system in 2015 may soon come to an end. Town Manager Julie Hance told the board that she had received  the Act 250 permit on Tuesday April 6. But she noted that there are a few issues the town may yet contest, but that would not prevent it from beginning work on installing the necessary roads and culverts and clearing the property to extract gravel starting next spring.

Public safety building, old Jiffy Mart site, Tomasso land

Hance told the board that the construction of the town’s public safety building is coming along, with most of the sheet rock put up and the Fire Department’s overhead doors being installed.

One hitch was that winter heating has taken a large bite out of the contingency fund, which now stands at 40 percent of what was budgeted. But Hance said that there are some savings expected, which would bring the contingency back up a bit.

Improvements to the Pinnacle Recreation Area including signage and off-street parking are being finalized and Hance said, things there are improving. Last year, two abutters complained about noise from people playing basketball but screening is being put in to lessen that and Hance said that the Chester Police are not seeing a lot of issues there compared to past years.

The former Jiffy Mart has been empty since it closed on Oct. 11, 2016

In old business, Hance said that Tony Cairns of Champlain Oil had contacted her about the former Jiffy Mart site at Depot and Main streets.

In November 2019, Cairns had broached the topic of donating the property to the town in exchange for a possible tax deduction. Before the Select Board could decide whether  to accept the offer though the company withdrew the offer and contracted with a realtor to put the building back on the market. With that contract ended, Cairns wanted to discuss a donation/purchase by the town. Hance will speak with Cairns again and come back to the board. Jonynas said he was dismayed with the appearance of the site, especially since it sits right at the entrance to downtown Chester.

Jonynas also suggested revisiting the purchase of the 1,800-acre Tomasso property, off Lovers Lane, which is now in the process of being logged — clearcut,  according to Jonynas. He said that after the work there is done it might be worth looking at the property as a way to meet state land-use goals.

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