Food Shelf considers purchase of Village land, facility2/5/09

Feb. 5, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Anticipating the number of families seeking assistance from the Williston Community Food Shelf each month is part of Jill Lang’s job. But so is anticipating where the food shelf will be located in a few months.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
The house pictured above, for sale on Williston Road in the Village, is being eyed as a possible home for the Community Food Shelf.

Lang, the president of the nonprofit food shelf, said all options are on the table in terms of a more permanent location, from renting a space to buying a house.

Lang has been busy looking for a long-term location for the food shelf, which is currently housed in Maple Tree Place, on the second floor of the same building as Asian Bistro and Ben & Jerry’s. Lang signed a six-month, rent- and utility-free lease in October. She has not heard from Inland U.S. Management, the owners of Maple Tree Place, on whether the lease will be extended for another six months to a year.

Richard Golder, property manager for Maple Tree Place, said a possible lease extension still needs to be discussed with Inland representatives and he hoped to have more information by the end of the month.

In the meantime, Lang has been looking at renting space around Williston, but the search has not proved fruitful.

“We can’t afford any rent in town,” Lang said.

The prospect of having no home in a few months as the economy continues to struggle and more and more people lose their jobs does not sit well with Lang or her companions at the food shelf. Lang said the food shelf sees just over 100 families a month coming from Williston and surrounding towns.

“This is a tough time for people,” Lang said.

Permanent solution

Lang has been working on a few solutions, including finding a space where the food shelf could be combined with other nonprofit groups. By splitting the rent, Lang believes the food shelf could afford another space. She’s called a few organizations, but nothing has come from early discussions.

Lang said she’s looking to find a place with 1,000 square feet to hold shelving, refrigerators and possibly a kitchen. The space in Maple Tree Place is 666 square feet, and Lang said it’s getting tight.

Another solution could be the purchase of a location for a permanent base.

“Rent is so expensive, you might as well buy something,” Lang said.

A property for sale in Williston Village has caught the eye of Lang and other food shelf volunteers. A gray, wood clapboard house across from the Village Green is on the market for $125,000. The catch is that the house, built in 1863, needs a lot of work, Lang said.

In talking with engineers, Lang said the foundation on which the house is built is shaky and could require the house be moved so a new foundation could be built. Or the entire home could be razed. She estimated the cost of the work, separate from the purchase price, could be $300,000 or more, money Lang concedes would be difficult to raise unless a private donor footed the bill for the sale and renovations.

“It’s not crazy to go after that place,” Lang said. “We’re not beyond doing the work (the house) needs.”

There has been a lot of interest in the house, especially with the low price tag, said Forrest Cochran, a realtor with Century 21 Jack Associates in South Burlington. While Cochran would not comment on what improvements, if any, would be needed to the site in order to be sensitive to the seller, Bob Stratton, he did say there is a lot of opportunity at the house for a family or business. No one currently lives in the home, Cochran added.

“It’s an awesome location, so we’re looking for someone to take advantage of it,” he said, also stating the location could be used for residential or commercial use.

Lang said the idea of a kitchen, and a backyard for a garden, is appealing to her and other volunteers. She also said she sees a permanent location being advantageous, regardless of economic conditions, because hunger is always a problem. But with the high interest in the house, Lang knows the food shelf’s board would need to make a decision soon.

“I’ve talked to people and they think it could work — it just makes sense,” Lang said.

Even if the food shelf bought the property, it would still need another location to continue operating while work was being done. So looking for a permanent solution other than Maple Tree Place comes full circle again, Lang said.

“We don’t see this problem going away anytime soon,” she said.