Chester board looks at possible greenhouse locations

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Select board members and greenhouse advocates gather at the Canal Street well. The stakes in the ground approximate the size of the proposed greenhouse. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

The Chester Select Board took a field trip before its meeting last Wednesday night, visiting two town-owned properties that have been proposed as possible sites for a large public greenhouse and gardens project that has come before the board in the past.

Identifying the sites follows a long selection process carried out by a group of residents that has incorporated as Chester Community Greenhouse and Gardens Inc. and acquired a 40 32-foot by 100-foot Lamb Lord and Burnham greenhouse dating to the 1930s. A number of that group’s members were on hand for the visits.

One advantage of the well site is the proximity to water and electricity

They gathered at the 3-acre Canal Street well property and then behind the Academy Building, discussing the pros and cons of each site. At each, the members of the greenhouse group had driven stakes into the ground to approximate the size and shape of the reassembled structure. Both have enough room to place the 4,000 3,200 square foot building along an east/west axis to give it a southern exposure. The well site is substantially larger and has the advantage of more space for parking, a ready source of water and sight lines that would make the greenhouse visible from both Main and Grafton streets.

At the Academy Building site, Tim Roper explains the location of the building away from trees that might damage it

On the downside, the well property has a number of neighbors some of whom may be unhappy with the traffic and activity in their back yards. Also, while the well is no longer used, it remains a backup water source and state regulations say there must be a 200-foot radius around it in which there can be no building. Board member and Water Superintendent Jeff Holden said the town has been trying to find a backup well with greater capacity. At that point, he said, the Canal Street well could be decommissioned and even serve as the source of water for the greenhouse.

Speaking for the greenhouse group, Robert Nied answered the board’s questions

While the Academy building site has fewer abutters, it has flooded in the past and it does not have existing access to water, sewer or electricity. And unlike the Canal Street site, it does not have good sight lines to the street although it is nearer to the Green and easier for many to find and reach.

At the meeting that followed the tours, Robert Nied told the board that either property could work, but that the group’s preference would still be the field behind the Academy building. The group envisions a three-season operation offering small allotments in the greenhouse for Chester residents to grow their own vegetables, flowers or whatever they want although he did note that the growing of invasive species would not be allowed.

Board member Lee Gustafson asked Nied if pot would be allowed to be grown at the greenhouse

Board member Lee Gustafson asked whether people would be allowed to grow marijuana in the greenhouse and Nied said that the group has had that discussion and that growers would be subject to the terms of a user agreement.

Recognizing that the property where the greenhouse may be erected will still belong to the town, The Telegraph asked about how public access (including tourism) would be handled. Nied said they would have to find a balance between being open while looking out for the privacy and security of the people working there.

“We want this to serve the people of Chester … anyone who lives, works or goes to school in Chester can request space to grow. But we want tourists who come to town, visitors who come to town to be interested in the greenhouse and enthralled with the possibility and view it as a destination,” said Nied.

In response to board member Heather Chase’s question about the next steps and timeline, Nied said that is up to the town. “In terms of the time frame, we defer to you,” said Nied, adding that the town will have to consult with its attorney. However, he added that the grants they have applied for indicate those funds would have to be spent within a year or so.

Board chair Arne Jonynas said that this was just a discussion and that no decision would be made at that meeting. He added that so far he has been getting positive feedback from residents.

Discussion on police advisory panel postponed

The meeting’s agenda listed a discussion of forming an advisory committee for the Chester Police Department and Town Manager Julie Hance had supplied the board with information about a panel that the town of Milton had formed. But Hance was unable to attend the meeting and board members decided to hold off on talking about the idea until she was able to participate.

This comes on the heels of a determination by the Vermont Civil Rights Commission that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe the town had discriminated against a Black motorist in a traffic stop involving a “be on the lookout” from Bellows Falls Police. The board held an executive session at the end of the regular meeting to talk with attorney Jim Carroll about the matter.

Gustafson questions amount of town-owned property

Board chair Arne Jonynas said he would like to see the Historical Society continue to have some use of the Academy Building

At the end of the meeting, Gustafson questioned the amount of property the town owns and whether it needed all of them. While saying he understands why the town has the Yosemite Fire House, the Academy Building and the Jeffery Barn, Gustafson said, “I think there’s a lot of property the town owns that we don’t need to or we shouldn’t because it’s taken off the tax rolls.”

That led to the question of whether there should be a policy for donations of property.

Chase asked the board to begin looking at a how to get to a vision for the Academy Building, which is currently used by the Chester Historical Society whose lease has expired. In the past few years, a number of ideas for using the first floor have come up in several venues including the Village Center Master Plan process. Among the suggested uses was an information center and public restrooms.

Board member Leigh Dakin agreed with Jonynas saying ‘let’s start using it.’

Jonynas said he wanted to be sure the society continues to have use of some of the building and board member Leigh Dakin said she remembered in the 1980s that the rooms on the first floor were available.”Let’s start using it,” said Dakin, “Let’s start having exhibit rooms and having some historical information available to us.”

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