March 19, 2019

Farmer seeks small subdivision

Eight-lot project proposed in rural area

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Patrice Clark wants to keep her 172-year-old farm operating for another generation. She hopes developing a piece of the land will make that happen.

Clark, co-owner of River Hill Farm, recently filed plans for a subdivision containing eight lots on 21 acres, a small fraction of the farm’s total acreage.

Clark said when she and her husband Wright divorced, he did not want to continue farming. Clark bought his share of the farm, taking out a short-term mortgage to finance the transaction. Her ex-husband’s sister also owns a share of the farm.

She said the subdivision will allow her to pay off the debt and fund renovations to farm buildings. The idea is to eventually pass the farm down to her 25-year-old daughter, Cameron.

“I only have so many options available to me,” Clark said. “Our desire to keep farming is a lot bigger than my ex-husband’s. If we can’t raise capital and sell houses, we’ll wind up having to sell it anyhow.” She said the cash infusion would also fund renovations at the farm.

The farm has been in the Clark family since 1835. It comprises 579 acres of rolling landscape along Governor Chittenden Road, which runs off U.S. 2 near French Hill.

The farm is particularly scenic, with a mixture of hills and pastures near the banks of the Winooski River. Grazing horses dot the landscape, which is framed by the Green Mountains.

“It’s a beautiful spot for sure,” Clark said. “You are close by things, but removed from all the madness at Taft Corners.”

Williston planners say the land is located in the most environmentally important area in town. It contains wildlife habitat and river frontage.

“It’s probably the best single piece of land in the entire town from a conservation point of view,” said Town Planner Lee Nellis. Because of that, he said, the proposed subdivision’s significance “is way beyond the number of units being proposed.”

The farm has 135 cows, about half of which are milked, Clark said. She grows hay for feed as well as some corn. The farm also has a horse stable and sells firewood.

The proposed subdivision would have eight lots ranging in size from 1.9 acres to 3.7 acres on the east side of Governor Chittenden Road, according to the application filed at Town Hall. Plans call for a ninth lot containing 127 acres that will remain undeveloped. The lots would be served by individual or shared driveways running off the main road.

“In all, over 85 percent of the parcel will be unchanged …,” the application states. “This will allow the existing agricultural uses of the property, primarily as a riding stable, to continue unabated, while still allowing the owner to develop.”

Clark said she is unsure if she will use a developer or sell the lots herself. She said several people previously expressed an interest in building homes on the land. She said it’s too early to determine home prices.

The proposal must receive a subdivision permit from the town of Williston before anything can be built. Hearings before the Conservation Commission and the Development Review Board have yet to be scheduled.

Subdividing the land is the only viable way to keep the farm operating, Clark said. Even if she sold all the land, Clark said no buyer is likely to continue farming it.

Developing a portion of the farm is the best way to ensure her daughter gets to be the eighth generation of Clarks to work the land, she said.

“We love it here,” she said. “It’s my daughter’s heritage, so this gives us an opportunity to continue.”

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