Newbury Voters Choose to Keep Town-Owned Forest
Bill Kelly studies a map of Newbury's publicly owned lands after the town voted against the sale of a landlocked parcel during Town Meeting. "It could be worth $1 million, but if you can't get to it, it's not worth anything," he said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Newbury, Vt. — Voters decided yesterday morning against selling a 20-acre parcel of landlocked forest owned by the town after hearing from a local forester who swayed at least a few votes.
“I’d just warn the citizens here that they’re not making any more land in the town of Newbury,” said John Fogarty, who runs a forestry company in town and is a member of the Conservation Commission. “We’ve only got this one tract in this one spot.”
Given that the town budget remained more or less flat from last year, the question of whether the town should sell the property — located near Roger’s Hill just north of the Bradford border — generated the most discussion yesterday. Voters approved $717,000 in general fund spending — which includes $515,000 to be raised by taxes — as well as a $952,500 highway budget, which includes $650,000 to be raised by taxes.
In advocating the sale of the town-owned property, Selectboard members stressed that, even though it was in their purview to sell the parcel, they would not do so without first clearing it at Town Meeting. They said the main issue with the piece of land is that it is surrounded by five abutting landowners, and so far not one of them has granted permission to the town to build an access road that would lead to the property.
Selectman Phil Page said the board wanted to sell the land. He added that board members had initially wanted to log the land, but the lack of an access road made that difficult. “It’s useless to the town, in my determination,” Page said.
At least one offer has been made on the land, but it was below market value. After being prompted by a question from the floor, Selectboard members revealed yesterday that they had received an offer of about $20,000 for the parcel, which was last appraised at $29,400 in 2011.
In arguing for keeping the property, Fogarty framed the issue as a choice between short-term and long-term gain. He said that rather than a one-time sale, the town could sell about $7,000 worth of lumber every 10 to 15 years, which would bring more revenue over the long term. Fogarty also said the land could be used for hunting, as more and more land owners in the town forbid hunting.
“I’m not looking in just 10-year bites. I’m not looking at next year’s budget,” Fogarty said. “I’m looking at 100 years — not even what our children, but what our grandchildren and their children will do with this property.”
Resident Emily Hausman, who has been to about 40 Town Meetings, said she thought the arguments made by Fogarty “turned the electorate around” on the issue of whether to keep the land.
“He was amazing, and presented the dilemma very clearly,” she said.
Town Meeting kicked off yesterday with the reading of the minutes from Newbury’s first ever Town Meeting, held in 1764. Moderator Don Waterman sported a white, colonial-style wig for the proceedings.
The historical infusion was a result of the town gearing up for its 250th anniversary this May, which Hausman said likely contributed to bringing out a more lighthearted feel this time around.
There were no contested races on the ballot.