Chester board OKs Canal St. site for town gardens Group will work under Rec Dept. for community grow plots

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2023 Telegraph Publishing LLC

After two years of back and forth discussions, the Chester Select Board voted last Wednesday to allow the Chester Community Greenhouse and Gardens group to use a portion of town land at the end of Canal Street for public garden plots. Rather than signing a lease or a license agreement as previously discussed, the group will work under the auspices of the Chester Recreation Department.

Select board members and greenhouse advocates gather at the Canal Street well in June of 2021. The stakes in the ground approximate the size of the proposed greenhouse. Telegraph file photo

The road that’s led to this arraignment has been long and winding. In July 2020 the group was given a 3,200 square foot Lord & Burnham greenhouse dating to the 1930s and approached the Select Board about whether it would be open to siting it on town land within walking distance of downtown if a suitable private piece of land could not be found.

CCG&G’s search for a home for its greenhouse identified the area behind the Academy Building and the Canal Street Well site as preferred places to put the greenhouse in the spring of 2021, the Select Board visited both properties.  The group made presentations showing where it would place the structure and outdoor gardens as well as an orchard and plantings to buffer the view for neighbors.

After the site visit and presentations, the board gave the group a “letter of support and intent,” outlining some of the terms and conditions under which it would lend the land, including money set aside for removing the 100-foot-long greenhouse and its concrete base in the event that the group sponsoring it went belly up. And, in addition, neighbors around both sites spoke in favor of the project, but not near their homes.

By late summer 2021 the six-member board had split over its plans and three members had resigned. As the organization regrouped, it shelved the greenhouse project in favor of offering garden plots for community members to raise vegetables and flowers. But despite the board’s approval of the concept, the upheaval in the organization had board members questioning the execution.

A diagram of the proposed garden/greenhouse project on Canal Street

A diagram of the proposed garden/greenhouse project on Canal Street before the greenhouse portion was put on hold

At several meetings in which the board discussed whether the town should lease the land to the greenhouse group or license it as town attorney Jim Carroll suggested, board member Lee Gustafson asked for specifics of the group’s plans and financing while board chair Arne Jonynas compared the use of public land to the disc golf course at the Pinnacle recreation area or Chester Townscape’s planting flowers on town property.

In the end, board members Jonynas, Heather Chase and Leigh Dakin voted to allow the group to set up garden plots this spring at the Canal Street site under the administration of the town’s Recreation Department with funds being accounted for by the town. Gustafson abstained.

Greenhouse/garden group members Cheryl Joy Lipton and Melody Reed said having the approval would help the group with the day-long strategic planning meeting to be held with landscape architect Stephen Plunkard on Feb. 26.

Town to settle Canal Street boundary question

Before the meeting, board members Jonynas and Gustafson made a visit to the site to look at a boundary question arising out of conflicting surveys of the area.

Jonynas explained that there are surveys from the 1950s and ’60s and a new one performed by Gary Rapanotti. The disagreement is over a sliver of land that’s approximately 3,800 square feet at the southwest end of the town’s property and owned by Gerald and Janna Aldrich.

Jonynas said he did not believe that it was worth a “giant court battle” while Gustafson said it was not a “critical piece of land” that the town needs to own. The board agreed to have Town Manager Julie Hance begin the process of a boundary adjustment to make the lines official.

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