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Moose Mtn. Resolution No Closer

Hanover — The town and the Robes brothers are no closer to determining how to divide a 132-acre parcel of land they jointly own atop Moose Mountain than they were last summer, especially now that two abutters have filed a petition to intervene.

The town of Hanover and Dana and John Robes face a May 15 deadline to reach an agreement on how to divide the property, which could result in half of the rich, untouched property filled with wildlife and trails removed from conservation — a move that recreation-friendly Hanover doesn’t want to see.

If an agreement can’t be reached, then the Probate Court will set dates for a trial and the court could decide how to divide the land — an outcome that neither party is likely to embrace.

The situation has been exacerbated by a complicated joint ownership agreement forged years ago between the family and the town. Each party holds a 50 percent stake in the property but they also each have different stipulations about how they can use the land.

The deed that was granted to the Robes brothers by their uncle Elmer Dana carries no restrictions as to what the brothers can do with the land. But the 50 percent stake that was granted to the town by Elmer Dana’s brother, Ernest, stipulates that the town can only use the property for “forestry, outdoor recreation and conservation, and for no other uses.”

The Robes brothers now want to build a vacation home on their piece of land, but in order to do that, the land must be divided. To make that happen, last fall the Robes brothers and their attorney filed a petition to partition the land.

In an effort to come to an agreement, the Selectboard asked various groups — the Hanover Conservation Commission, the Hanover Conservancy and Watershed to Wildlife, Inc. — to suggest a possible division line of the property. All three organizations reached the same conclusion: They don’t want to see the property divided and they want the Robes brothers to sell their 50 percent interest to the town and place a conservation easement on all 132 acres.

The Robes brothers rejected that proposal.

“In my optimistic self, I thought when asking people to prioritize, there would be some form of consensus, and it appears not,” Selectboard Chairman Peter Christie said.

Pressed by the town, each organization reluctantly suggested a division line. Watershed to Wildlife, Inc., which the town hired last year to evaluate the natural resources on the parcel, suggested dividing the property in half by giving the town the western side of the mountain and the Robes the eastern side.

That would give the town the mill pond — which is home to a family of beavers — and former grazing pastures on the southwestern side of the mountain that are maintained by an abutter.

The Hanover Conservation Commission, a town committee, and the Hanover Conservancy, a private organization, suggested a similar division that would give the town the western edge of the property and mill pond.

But neither alternative plan satisfies the Robes brothers, said Jim McClammer, president of the Connecticut Valley Environmental Services, and who represents the Robes brothers.

The brothers are in favor of dividing the parcel down the middle, north to south, but they don’t want the eastern side of the mountain as the organizations suggested. The Robes, like the town, want the western side.

One reason: The western side has a clear view overlooking the Connecticut River and Vermont.

“It’s my opinion that the Robes should be given the land on the western side and the town should get the eastern side. The rational for that is pretty simple,” McClammer said.

“Why?” whispered one of the more than 30 attendees.

McClammer presented 10 reasons why the Robes should take the western side, with one of his strongest arguments being that an access road will have to be built to reach the vacation home, and the only access point is on the western side. If the Robes take the western side, it will also have less impact on the environment, McClammer said. The vacation home would also sit near two other homes.

“In terms of good land, if you cluster the houses, you end up with less disturbance to your raw habitat,” McClammer said. “Prior speakers are ignoring the impact on the development. It reduces encroachment on forested habitat.”

Giving the town the eastern side of the parcel would also ensure that trails and wildlife corridors on the eastern side of the land would stay intact, McClammer said. There was also discussion that the Robes brothers might place the majority of their divided land into conservation.

Ideally, the Robes brothers would like to build their home on one of the former pastures on the western side that were once used for grazing. But Watershed to Wildlife, Inc., noted those pastures are a key conservation priority.

When the conversation was over, Christie, the Selectboard chairman, initially sided with McClammer.

“What I’ve heard tonight is one very particular proposal with 10 articulate reasons why it’s a good solution,” Christie said. “I haven’t heard as specific an argument from the other interest. What I’m hearing is: I want everything.”

Christie’s comment was followed by gasps from the audience.

Elisha Huggins, an abutter to the property, protested Christie’s comment.

“I would like to disagree with Peter Christie’s assessment that there’s one clear proposal tonight. I think the clear proposal is to go to the Probate Court that the land is undividable and therefore it must be sold,” Huggins said.

But Christie argued that the Selectboard has been advised by its attorney that ordering the Robes brothers to sell their land is not an advisable option.

“I don’t think the attorney has the good of the town in mind. There was a very clear proposal tonight that the land is undividable,” Huggins said.

Christie later withdrew and apologized for his earlier comment that there was no articulated alternatives against the Robes brothers’ division of the land.

Christie suggested that McClammer and the Robes brothers’ attorney Brad Atwood organize a meeting with abutters, the Hanover Conservation Commission and the Hanover Conservancy. If the two sides cannot come to a conclusion by May 15, then the Selectboard or the Probate Court will have to determine a dividing line, Christie said.

However, it might be difficult to get abutters in the same room with McClammer and Atwood now that the former have filed a petition to intervene.

Peter and Kay Shumway, who live on the western side of the property, and James and Carol Baum, who own conservation land on the eastern side, filed a petition to intervene on Friday. The town saw the document for the first time yesterday.

If the court allows it, the Shumways and the Baums hope to represent the interest of those who don’t want to see the land divided and instead want the Robes brothers to sell their interest to the town.

James Baum, who lives in Illinois, said in a phone interview yesterday that he became frustrated when it seemed that the town wasn’t fighting for the rights of the conserved land and was instead working to partition the land.

“The town has a choice,” Baum said. “The town should have taken our position, but they chose not to. They’ve taken the Robes’.”

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.