Preserving open space in Shelburne: Selectboard approves land purchases

By MADELINE HUGHES

Land is not cheap in Shelburne, development pressures are mounting, and multiple town committees have been working together to conserve land.

As it works to update the town plan, the Planning Commission is mapping out new areas to preserve. Meanwhile, the Natural Resources Committee is working with landowners to acquire  land.

In November, Natural Resources Committee Chair Gail Albert brought two proposed purchases to the Selectboard.

The board unanimously approved funding for both purchases that together will result in the conservation of more than 50 acres of farm and forested land.

The first request was for the town to buy a four-acre wooded lot off Irish Hill Road for $20,000. The second focused on a 48-acre lot near Shelburne Pond off Cheesefactory Road, part of the Ewing farm that has a price tag of $250,000 with the town’s share being $80,000.

Through the Development Review Board process, the developers, Sterling Homes, offered to sell a portion of their planned four-lot subdivision to the Town for a significantly reduced price.

The property, costing the town $20,000, is located off Irish Hill Road just east of the bridge and across from the LaPlatte Overlook. With the purchase, the Town will now be able to control and protect its resources and the waters of the LaPlatte, Albert said.

The parcel being sold to the town was part of a four-lot subdivision. The developers opted for leaving that lot as open space in the subdivision.

“Sometimes these projects take years like the Ewing Farm, or move a bit quicker,” like the Sterling Homes parcel, Albert explained.

The opportunity to purchase the land came about quickly because the developers wanted to move forward with the Development Review Board process. It was easy to make the purchase  because the committee has a savings account for those types of situations – the Open Space Fund.

Money in that fund is being used for the conservation purchases. The Selectboard needed to approve allocating it for these specific parcels, Albert explained.

Two weeks later Albert approached the Selectboard again, this time for $80,000 for the Ewing Farm property. The board allocated money from the fund for that purchase as well.

Between 1994 and 2016 the town acquired 12 properties with funds from the Open Space Fund, Albert said. Voters allocate varying amounts of tax dollars to the savings fund each year. In 2018 for example, voters approved a ballot item on Town Meeting Day adding $30,000 to the fund.

“We want the town to have that vote every year,” Albert explained. “It shows us and the Selectboard that conservation is a town priority.”

Since 1994, voters have approved the Open Space Fund budget with more than a 10 percent margin, according to town records.

Having the open space savings account helps the Natural Resources Committee show partnering organizations that Shelburne has a commitment to conservation, Albert said, and that helps persuade others to contribute, thereby leveraging the taxpayer dollars.

The committee often partners with organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, Champlain Land Trust or Vermont Land Trust to fund projects that are beyond the town’s budget.

For example, the Ewing Farm parcel is being sold for $250,000. Shelburne is working with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the H. Laurence Achilles Fund and private donors to cover the portion of the property cost above the $80,000 allocated from the Open Space Fund.

After these two purchases were approved by the Selectboard, there is just over $100,000 left in the account, Albert said.

The committee now heads into budget season considering the amount it will bring to the Selectboard to request from voters on Town Meeting Day.

When asked about what else the nine-person Natural Resources Committee was working on, Albert replied, “We shall see. Generally, negotiations concerning conservation are covered in Executive Session until all negotiations are complete so it would be inappropriate to share that information prematurely. ”

Ewing farm

There is another piece of the Ewing Farm that the committee is interested in acquiring, “but it would be unusual to have three projects that close,” Albert said. The committee has not made a request for any additional funding.

The Ewing property straddles the Shelburne-South Burlington town line with the land broken into multiple parcels for the municipalities to conserve.

The conservation effort has been nine years in the making since owner John Ewing approached Albert about conserving the farm. These first steps weren’t taken, however, until after Ewing’s death a year ago as his children, following his wishes, worked to settle the estate with land conservation a priority.

Another section of the farm was approved by the Development Review Board to be developed as a four-lot residential planned unit development at 300 Cheesefactory Lane.

“It was the land with the fewest natural resources,” Albert said about the subdivision. “It worked out well.”

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