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Randolph Developer Makes Deal to Conserve Exit 4 Parcel

  • Paul MacAdams, of Braintree, looks out over the dairy farm he bought in 1965 where he milked his Guernseys and Holsteins for about 18 years in Randolph Center, Vt. before selling the land. The parcel then passed through several owners with hopes to develop the land, most recently Jesse "Sam" Sammis. After years of rejected development proposals Sammis is selling 149 acres of the scenic and agricultural land around Exit 4 on Interstate 89 in Randolph Center, Vt., to the Castanea Foundation to be conserved. Paul MacAdams, of Braintree, looks out over the dairy farm he bought in 1965 where he milked his Guernseys and Holsteins for about 18 years in Randolph Center, Vt. before selling the land. The parcel then passed through several owners with hopes to develop the land, most recently Jesse "Sam" Sammis. After years of rejected development proposals Sammis is selling 149 acres of the scenic and agricultural land around Exit 4 on Interstate 89 in Randolph Center, Vt., to the Castanea Foundation to be conserved. "I'm glad to see it go this way," said MacAdams. "It's the way I would have done it." (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Miles Hooper, farm manager of Ayers Brook Goat Dairy, listens as Jesse "Sam" Sammis speaks during a press conference about his history as a land owner and developer in Randolph, Vt., Tuesday, April 18, 2017. After 149 acres of Sammis's land is placed into conservation, Ayers Brook Goat Dairy will purchase it to raise feed crops for their animals. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • After years of rejected development proposals, a press conference gathers in Randolph Center, Vt., Tuesday, April 18, 2017, for the announcement that Jesse "Sam" Sammis is selling 149 acres of scenic and agricultural land around Exit 4 on Interstate 89 in Randolph, Vt., to the Castanea Foundation and the Preservation Trust of Vermont. After placing conservation easements on the land, the Castanea Foundation plans to sell the conserved land to Ayers Brook Goat Dairy. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jesse "Sam" Sammis stands on 22 acres near Exit 4 in Randolph Center, Vt., Tuesday, April 18, 2017, following a press conference announcing that he will sell the parcel to the Preservation Trust of Vermont if $1 million is raised in the next 60 days. Sandra Levine, of the Conservation Law Foundation, carries away a map of the parcel and two others that are being sold to the Castanea Foundation for conservation. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Randolph — Vermont conservation groups and a Randolph developer on Tuesday announced plans to conserve nearly 150 acres of prized farmland near the Exit 4 interchange along Interstate 89.

A Montpelier-based foundation plans to buy the land, which has sweeping views of the Green Mountains, for $1.2 million and ultimately steer it to use for goat pasture.

And another 22.5 acres that had been at the heart of a planned multi-use development also may be conserved, if the Preservation Trust of Vermont can raise $1 million for its purchase by mid-June, officials said.

Sandra Levine, an attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, said the farmland and views were a “unique asset for Vermont.”

“Clearly, this is a tremendous victory for everyone who cares deeply about farming in Vermont and our valuable natural beauty that we have here,” Levine said at a news conference announcing the deal. “When you pull off the highway, you should be greeted by open fields here and by active farms — not by big-box stores and industrial development.”

“This land is what makes Exit 4 the most beautiful exit on I-89,” said Marjorie Ryerson, a former Randolph selectwoman and member of the grassroots organization Exit 4 Open Space, which had campaigned heavily against the mixed-use developer proposed by landowner Jesse “Sam” Sammis.

“It’s the gateway to Randolph,” Ryerson said.

Sammis also was at the news conference to announce that he would sell 149.5 acres in two parcels straddling Route 66 to the Montpelier-based Castanea Foundation, which works with landowners to preserve Vermont’s working land. It will serve as an “intermediary” owner of the parcels, Castanea’s Executive Director Tim Storrow said.

After purchasing the land at its development value, Castanea eventually will sell the two parcels as a conservation easement to a land trust, Storrow said. Once the land is designated as conserved, it ultimately will be sold at agricultural value to Ayers Brook Goat Dairy, managed and owned by Miles Hooper.

“This has been a long slog,” Hooper said of the process, but he told Sammis at the news conference that agreeing to preserve the land ultimately would be a celebrated part of the developer’s “legacy.”

Hooper’s goat dairy partners with Vermont Creamery, a local goat cheese company co-founded by his mother, Allison Hooper, that recently was sold to Land O’Lakes.

Randolph and Randolph Center are home to a high concentration of small farms, Hooper said, adding that the area’s soil is high quality.

Under what Sammis called his “master plan,” some of the land near Exit 4 would have been turned into a 1.2-million-square-foot development, including a 180-bed hotel, 274 apartments and condominiums, 280,000 square feet of office space, a light manufacturing center, a fitness center and a 5,000-square-foot visitor center.

Sammis noted that his proposal had won support from the Randolph Planning Board and then-Gov. Peter Shumlin, who believed it would attract tourists to the area.

But it also received significant pushback from Vermont conservation groups, who argued that such richly viable soil should belong to local farmers.

The land that ultimately will be sold to Ayers Brook Goat Dairy includes streams and wooded wetlands — and loam, said Paul MacAdams, who owned the farmland on the southern side of Route 66 from 1965 until the mid-1980s.

“There’s very few spots in the state of Vermont that got that kind of loam in it,” he said. “It’s better than clay. Basically, you can keep it going by feeding it.”

MacAdams added that if he’d known that he could have kept his farmland to eventually “land trust it,” while also keeping the agricultural rights, he would have done so.

“I would have put some guy on there, let him cut the damn hay off and take care of it, and let it be what it is,” he said. “But it’s going to be that way now, and that’s damned important.”

Sammis will sell the remaining 22.5 acres of his property to the Preservation Trust of Vermont for $1 million — provided the group and allied organizations can raise the funds by June 15, Preservation Trust Executive Director Paul Bruhn said. The Preservation Trust is working with the Conservation Law Foundation, the Vermont National Resources Council and Exit 4 Open Space to raise the money, he said.

If the groups miss their goal, Sammis said, he likely would find another buyer who would be willing to develop the land.

Bruhn said the Trust has secured about $150,000 toward its goal, but he remains optimistic that the task is “doable.”

The total price tag of Sammis’ land, at $2.2 million, is well below its market value of roughly $3 million, Bruhn said.

“This (deal) is a lot of things,” Bruhn said, “but it’s also a good deal for us.”

For Sammis, selling the land means saying “goodbye to a vision,” he said, adding that he strongly believed that the development would have bolstered Randolph’s economy.

“This is an area that desperately needs good-paying jobs,” he said, adding that the visitor center would have drawn in tourism.

But several Randolph-area residents said those aspirations ultimately would have backfired.

Ryerson said she believed that Sammis’ development would have “absolutely destroyed” Randolph’s downtown area by drowning out local businesses.

“Not to mention the runoff,” she said.

Sammis, who also was a developer in Greenwich, Conn., but has long-standing ties to Randolph, said while he was disappointed his plan wouldn’t come to fruition, he could understand the motives of the conservation groups.

“I’m a big conservationist,” he added, citing his long history as a real estate developer in Randolph and northern New England. In 1970, Sammis worked with The Nature Conservancy to help acquire 6,500 acres that now are part of state parks near Camel’s Hump and Mount Mansfield, he said.

He also said his now-scrapped development near Exit 4 would have set aside more than half of the land as open space, but that conservation groups wanted to keep “100 percent of it” open.

Sammis and his wife, Jinny, still own the Three Stallion Inn in Randolph, as well as the 1,300-acre Green Mountain Stock Farm.

Sammis’ decision to sell the Exit 4 land comes roughly two years after he first requested that the District 3 Environmental Commission approve his project. The approval would have depended on whether the commission found that the project complied with Act 250, which lays out rules for large-scale land development in Vermont based on 10 criteria, including agricultural impact and conformance with the regional plan.

After four contentious Act 250 hearings, Sammis withdrew his application in February 2016, though some others also supported the concept as well.

Last October, now-Gov. Phil Scott told the Valley News he wasn’t concerned about the impact on views at the site, which surrounds a gas station and McDonald’s on Route 66.

“There’s a lot of other pristine views in Vermont,” Scott said last fall. “And I think that that already has a highway through it, and there’s already a commuter parking lot, and there’s already a gas station. I think there’s room at that point.”

But on Tuesday, Brian Shupe, executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, said the farmland was important to protect for Vermont’s future, and that development would be more appropriate elsewhere in town.

“We can have the best of both worlds,” Shupe said.

EmmaJean Holley can be reached at eholley@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.