Chester board hears from neighbors of proposed garden/greenhouse

CCG&G President Cheryl Joy Lipton answers questions from neighbors of the proposed project on Canal Street. Images courtesy of SAPA TV unless otherwise noted

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A project to create community gardens and at some point erect a large, historic greenhouse on town land was on the Chester Select Board’s agenda again at its July 6 meeting as the panel heard from abutters to the 3-acre site that is under consideration for the plan. Most of those who spoke objected to the project and suggested it be put someplace else leaving the large lawn surrounding an old municipal well site undisturbed.

Among the concerns that neighbors expressed were an increase in traffic on Depot Street  Canal Street, that gardeners will cut through neighbors’ yards to get to their plots and that the plots would create a parking problem in the neighborhood. Cheryl Joy Lipton, president of the Chester Community Greenhouse and Garden, and other members pointed to plantings that could keep people from entering the gardens through neighboring yards and noted that there are seldom more than a small handful of gardeners at community gardens like the one in Ludlow.

A conceptual layout of the proposed project

Neighbors also suggested different sites including the Pinnacle Recreation area and the Chester-Andover Elementary School where there is already a garden planted by students.  Garden representatives noted that the rec area did not have a large enough space and that the school is not accessible to the public during school days.

There was also concern that the greenhouse might collapse due to snow load. Lipton said the greenhouse, a steel structure, would be heated to reduce the snow and that engineers have told the group that it could handle the load. Members of the greenhouse group said they plan to have insurance and money set aside for problems.

Town Manager Julie Hance noted that the Select Board’s letter of intent regarding placing the greenhouse on town property also mandates that the group set aside money for decommissioning the structure.

Arne Jonynas, right, explains that this meeting is a small first step.

Board chair Arne Jonynas assured residents that this the project is in preliminary stages, with lots of legal work ahead. He added that before the project even starts, the town would survey driveways and boundaries so the concerns of neighbors are taken into account. Jonynas said creating the gardens first, followed by the greenhouse was a good plan, since plants are easier to reverse than structures.

Saying that the board will make sure that abutters are aware of  what is happening, Jonynas called the meeting a small first step but saying, “My feeling is that this goes forward.”

Board adopts lower tax rate

The board adopted property tax rates that are lower than last year mainly because the state has reduced the education tax. According to Hance, the non-residential tax rate (which includes second homes and businesses) will be $2.3845 per $100 of assessed value. That’s down 6.5 cents from last year. The residential rate will be $2.3263 per $100 of assessed value, down 3.33 cents from last year.

Test for program to rehab junk sites

Hance asked the board for its approval for the town to try out the state’s Hazardous Waste Contamination and Cleanup Program on an Amsden Hill Road property that has been a dumping ground and the focus of neighborhood ire for a number of years.

Tires and a derelict truck at the edge of Amsden Hill Road in September 2017. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

The program helps municipalities manage blighted properties by acquiring them at tax sale, cleaning them up and reselling them. It also provides an exemption from liability for the town. The maximum that the town would have to pay for the cleanup is 20 percent, although Hance said there are so many funding “pots”  to pull from that it would be unlikely that the town would have to pay much. She also told the board that Windsor has cleaned up properties using this program and Windsor Town Manager Tom Marsh says there had been no issues.

If the town buys a property at tax sale, the owner has the right to redeem the property, but under this program, the price would be the back taxes plus the cost of cleanup, according to Hance. Calling it another tool in the town’s toolbox, Hance said the Amsden Hill Road parcel is a perfect candidate since the property owners don’t want it and she expects that they will give the town a quit claim deed.

Board member Lee Gustafson, who has worked in the environmental monitoring and cleanup industry, cautioned asked what would happen if a property was cleaned up but not saleable.

Speaking for a number of neighbors of the property, Gary Rapanotti thanked the board for considering the cleanup, which neighbors had been requesting for years. He also said they would do whatever they could do to help.

The board voted to approve moving forward with the program.

New ambulance on the horizon

A page from a presentation on the design of a new ambulance. Image provided

Hance told the board that ambulance Chief Amanda Silva and crew members Jeff Knisely and Mike Steaue have been with Vander Molen Fire Apparatus to design a new ambulance to replace their 10-year-old truck. According to Hance, a bid of $341,000 would be locked in when the chassis is shipped to the company that builds the ambulance.  Since the process can take 18 to 24 months and the country is in the midst of volatile markets, Hance asked for a clause that will allow the town to back out if a price increase is deemed to be too high.

Hance and Silva said that the new ambulance does not have a lot of new features or bells and whistles. Silva characterized the new ambulance as “bare bones” with the exception of new state mandated features. By the time it’s delivered the current vehicle will be 12 years old but worth more if the town sells it than if it is traded in.

ARPA update, coin drop and open meeting training; Next meeting in August

In other business, Hance gave the board an update on a few items that are being paid for by a $900,000 grant from the American Rescue Plan Act. These include work being done to repair the town’s tennis courts and to finish constructing the boardwalk at the end of the Brookside Trail bridge. She also spoke of using ARPA funds to pay for the fence between the Public Safety Building ($17,000) and rehabilitation of the windows and doors of the Yosemite Fire House ($30,000.) Hance said those two are in the budget, but paying for them with ARPA funds will give the town more flexibility in handling inflation in areas like diesel fuel.

In addition, Hance said that ARPA funds could also be used to pay for Covid related cost overruns in the construction of the Public Safety Building and the rehabilitation of the Town Garage.

The board approved an application by RuckUp to hold a coin drop on Saturday Aug. 7 on Route 103 south near the American Legion with a rain date of Aug. 7. The organization aids veterans with advocacy, counseling and outreach.

Noting that the towns boards and commissions have a number of new members, Hance said she is scheduling a training session on Vermont’s Open Meeting by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns for either Sept. 12 or 14.

With little on the agenda for July 20, the board decided to skip that date and hold its next meeting on Aug. 3.

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  1. Deb Aldrich says:

    The greenhouse project is on Canal St, not Depot St.