Project would preserve agricultural land

Selectboard to decide on funding next month

Nov. 18, 2010

By Greg Duggan
Observer staff
The Williston Conservation Commission and Vermont Land Trust hope to preserve 48 acres of agricultural land, pictured above, on North Williston Road. (Observer photo by Greg Duggan)

A joint project between the Conservation Commission and the Vermont Land Trust aims to conserve 48 acres in Williston, provided the Selectboard approves the use of $180,750 from the town’s Environmental Reserve Fund.

Property owners Dave and Deb Conant appeared before the Selectboard on Monday night with Town Planner Jessica Andreoletti and Bob Heiser, Champlain Valley Project Manager for the Vermont Land Trust, to request funding for the preservation project. The Conants want to establish a conservation easement on their land, the so-called “Miles Farm” located north of Mountain View Road and west of North Williston Road. The easement would preserve the property as agricultural land and allow for a primitive trail to run through the property.

In addition to the agricultural and recreational benefits, Andreoletti and Heiser noted that the property has been identified as having scenic value for the town. Andreoletti told the Observer the Town Plan encourages the protection of certain views in Williston when considering development, and the Conant farm contains fields characteristic of rural Vermont.

“With all those values, we think this is a great project,” Heiser told the Selectboard.

Williston’s Environmental Reserve Fund currently has nearly $585,500 available for preservation projects, according to a memo from the Conservation Commission. Money from the fund would cover Williston’s half of the Conant Farm preservation, with $2,000 paying for an appraisal, $167,500 covering the development rights and $11,250 paying for the acquisition cost and stewardship endowment.

The Vermont Land Trust has applied for a grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to pay for the remainder of the project.

The appraisal was conducted in September, and identified the conservation value of the farm at $335,000, according to the Conservation Commission memo.

The Land Trust expects to appear before the Housing and Conservation Board on Dec. 14 for the project. The Selectboard refrained from ruling on the funding request Monday night — board member Jeff Fehrs said he wanted more time to consider the project and make sure no other questions arose — but promised to issue a decision at its next meeting on Dec. 6.

Moving toward conservation

The Conants first began investigating the possibility of preserving their land in 2009. Dave and Deb Conant owned the farm with Dave’s brother Kim and his wife Jo-Ann. When Kim and Jo-Ann Conant moved out of state, they sold their portion of the farm to Dave and Deb Conant, according to information from the Conservation Commission.

The Conants could not be reached for comment prior to press deadline.

Originally, the Conants hoped to conserve 89 acres. Yet the state approached the family about purchasing land east of North Williston Road to be used as wetlands mitigation for the Circumferential Highway. The Conants sold 41 acres to the Vermont Agency of Transportation over the summer, Andreoletti said.

As part of the conservation project between Williston and the Vermont Land Trust, six acres of the farm would contain development rights for a farmstead complex. The land does not currently house any buildings. If a farmhouse is built, it would need to be no more than 2,500 square feet and subject to the town’s development review processes.

The easement for a primitive trail runs along the VELCO right-of-way for power lines, a location intended to minimize the impact of the trail on the agricultural purpose of the land.

Fehrs wanted to know if the Conservation Commission had any other projects on the horizon for which it expected to need funding. Andreoletti and Michael Harris of the Conservation Commission, who also attended the meeting, said the commission keeps an eye on certain parcels, but has no immediate plans to pursue any conservation projects.