Greenhouse siting takes center stage at Chester Select Board meeting

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Board chair Arne Jonynas urged anyone with concerns about the greenhouse project to speak up as the process goes forward

The question of where to put a large greenhouse for community use was once again front and center on at the June 15 meeting of Chester’s Select Board with some questions and and a bit of push back from neighbors at each of the sites under consideration.

While the agenda listed a letter of intent as the focus of the discussion, Town Manager Julie Hance said that other business had gotten in the way of town attorney Jim Carroll drafting the letter. Board chair Arne Jonynas urged anyone with concerns to be addressed in the the letter of intent to bring them up.

The Chester Community Greenhouse and Gardens group has identified two pieces of town property that fit the needs of its historic 32 foot by 100 foot greenhouse. The first is the well site on Canal Street, just off of School Street. The second is the area behind the Academy Building, which was surveyed to provide space for expanding the Brookside Cemetery but was considered less desirable due to flooding.

Board member Jeff Holden says more public input will make the process stronger

Jonynas also said the town would be scheduling a public meeting to get more feedback on the project and to talk about which site should be used. He asked that owners of neighboring properties be notified specifically about the meeting. Board member Jeff Holden said that more feedback would only make the process stronger.

Hance said she had received one email and one phone call about the project and that one of the abutters to the Canal Street site was concerned about her back yard being visible to those using the greenhouse.

During a board visit to both sites on June 2,  Holden had said that there was a 200 foot buffer around the well, which would make the site unusable. However, since that meeting,  the town has found a letter from 2010 saying that the well does not need a “source protection plan” and can be used only in an emergency with a “boil water” order.

Board member Heather Chase noting that both sites are still in the running for the greenhouse

“So both properties are back in play,” said board member Heather Chase.

Holden said he just wanted to confirm that before the town moves forward with using that property.

New resident Tracy Sorensen asked the board what the letter of intent means. Hance said it will be a statement of support but will also state  reservations and restrictions that the town will impose. Part of that would include the public hearing as part of the process and, while the public won’t be voting on it, the board will be listening for objections and support of the residents.

Chester resident Tracy Sorensen asks about the letter of intent

“That statement of support gives (the greenhouse group) some stability as they go forward looking for grants,” said Hance, adding that the letter would be vague on the site until it is selected.

Sorensen also asked how tall the building would be and greenhouse spokesman Robert Nied said it’s fairly shallow standing around 20 feet high.

After the meeting, Sorensen told The Telegraph that she and her family had moved to Chester and purchased the former Hugging Bear Inn, which abuts the property behind the Academy Building.

Later in the meeting, the board looked at a list of properties that the town owns. Board member Lee Gustafson had requested a review of those to see if there were any that could be sold and returned to the tax roll. But the list from the town’s annual report did not contain enough detail about how each property was acquired and whether there are limitations on how it can be used. This this led to a discussion of a policy for accepting donations. The town property list discussion will return with greater detail at a future meeting.

Town to receive $340,000 in Rescue Plan funds

The town will be receiving $340,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act. The funds are for Covid related expenses and Hance asked the board for permission to use about $120,000 of it to make up for some cost overages in the construction of the new emergency services building, which was delayed by three months. The delay made some winterizing work and extra heating necessary.

Hance also told the board that the town received no notification on claiming the money and if she had not found out about it by accident the funding would have reverted to the state. Another pot of Rescue Plan funds was appropriated to states by county but since the state of Vermont does not have county governments it’s uncertain how these funds will be dispersed.

Coin drop limit approved

Board member Leigh Dakin suggested more time between coin drops at an earlier meeting

After discussions at several meetings, the board adopted a policy on “coin drops” for charitable organizations including a limit of two drops per year.  The events, s which slow traffic in both directions to collect spare change from drivers, has had a mixed history in Chester with the Select Board banning them in the village area in 2004 and turning down a request by a Vietnam veterans group in 2015. State highway regulations have also limited where the drops can be held.

More recently, the board has allowed coin drops to take place on Route 103 South in the Mountain View Road area including one by American Legion Post 67 on Memorial Day weekend. But when Ruck Up, a veteran’s welfare organization, asked to hold one on July 10, board members asked the group to do it in August. Members Leigh Dakin and Heather Chase then questioned how many should be permitted in a year and the board decided that would be two per year with at least four weeks between them.

Police advisory committee, new vehicle, other business

The board received a packet of model police advisory committees from several Vermont towns as a stepping-off point in looking at forming such a group in Chester. Police Chief Rick Cloud said he had contacted the chief of the Milton Police to talk about their committee and learned that getting the members up to speed entailed a lot of work on the part of the police force and many meetings with the committee. Cloud said the Milton committee has had two chairs since it was established last October.

Police chief Rick Cloud explains the Milton Police Department’s experience with its advisory committee

Hance told the board that this fall she will be budgeting for a “thorough assessment” of the Police Department as part of the discussion of the advisory committee.

The department recently replaced one of its cruisers, getting a better than expected for the replacement and saving about $17,000. Hance asked the board to authorize buying a fourth vehicle for the department (as it had in the past) using a portion of that money. The idea is that Benson’s Chevrolet would look for a used sedan in the range of $10,000 to $12,000 that Det. Adam Woodell would use. Hance said that would free up a cruiser to do traffic control. The sedan would have lights and other police equipment, but would not have radar or a mobile data terminal. The board approved the purchase.

At the suggestion of Preston Bristow, the town’s new zoning administrator, the board raised the fees for zoning permits. Bristow asked the board to raise the fees for many projects from $160 to $200 but noted that “a goal is to keep minor additions, decks, sheds, barns and detached garages more affordable.” The fee for those types of construction will rise from $35 plus $.05 per square foot of footprint to $50 plus $.10 per square foot.

The board gave the Liberty Players permission to use the Green to present a two-man play called Ethan and Ira: A tale of the Green Mountain Boys at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 29. The presentation is free and open to the public.

Hance told the board that the town is still looking for volunteers to help inventory ash trees along town rights of way ahead of the arrival of the emerald ash borer, which has decimated ash trees throughout the northeast. There is an app available for smartphones and training on its use is available. Hance asked anyone who is interested to contact her, Tim Roper or Frank Kelley for more information.

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