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W. Windsor Selectman Quits Over Land Issue



Friday, April 17, 2015
West Windsor — A special election will be held May 5 to elect a new Selectboard member following the resignation this spring of Glenn Seward, and residents will also vote on a petition article that would increase the board’s leadership from three to five 
members.

Seward said Wednesday he resigned to free himself and his wife of any insinuation that they stand to benefit personally from his involvement in the efforts to buy 470 acres of the former Ascutney Mountain Resort and connect the property with the town forest to create a network of recreational trails.

Voters last fall approved spending $600,000 to buy the 470 acres of the former resort, which closed in 2010, with most of the money being raised by the nonprofit Trust for Public Land. TPL has an option with the owner of the resort property until mid-July. At the same October meeting, purchases of buildings on the property and the resort’s water system for $1 each also were approved.

The Sewards, who live on Mountainside Drive, own about 20 acres of land that includes a trail used by the public under an “informal agreement” that has allowed public access. Seward will be revoking the public’s access and is taking other steps so the town can pursue the purchase of the resort property without any hindrance. The land currently does not abut the town forest, but if the deal goes through, the Sewards’ property would border the new conservation land.

“There has been an outpouring of appreciation for what I’ve done and that has meant a lot to me,” Seward said in a phone interview Wednesday. “The situation is unfortunate. The whole issue is that some believe I have ulterior motives. We (Seward and his wife, Shelley) just want to be clear that we will not be benefiting in any way. The only way to do that is to totally remove myself from the situation.”

In his March 23 resignation letter, Seward said his integrity and character have been questioned during the process and most recently, “I have been accused of wearing too many hats with questionable motives during the TPL/nonprofit discussions.”

He then listed three actions he is taking so the town can continue pursuing the purchase of the resort property “without the distraction of my involvement.”

First, he said he and his wife no longer will research forming a nonprofit that could manage the property with the goals of rejuvenating activity and alleviating the tax burden.

“We will not be involved at any level in this endeavor,” Seward wrote. “This should eliminate any perception of self-serving motives on my part.”

The Sewards also are dissolving a stewardship fund they created that would have helped sustain the town forest and the nonprofit entity they had planned to create to operate the trail system and manage the property. The $30,000 fund would have been administered by the Vermont Community Foundation.

Seward said every year at Town Meeting there have been objections to tax dollars being appropriated for the Town Forest Fund. Annual payouts from the stewardship fund could have lowered that appropriation, he said.

“It would have helped those who use the trails and also those who don’t, by helping to alleviate the tax burden,” Seward said Wednesday night. “We were proposing to do something that would have benefited everyone, but it is not going to happen.”

Lastly, the Sewards are closing the recreational trails on their land to the public.

“This will eliminate any perception we are benefiting from the recreational trail system which winds its way through our property,” Seward said.

Seward said by phone Wednesday night that a few people in town — who he has chosen not to name — have contacted him personally and questioned his motives and even though it is a small minority, he wanted to be sure these implications do not hang over the process.

“I certainly do not want to be an impediment to the success of this very important undertaking,” he wrote in his letter.

The Selectboard, of which Seward has been a member for five years, has been applauded at recent annual Town Meetings for its work in resolving several complex issues that have come before the town, including the damage done by Tropical Storm Irene and the bankruptcy and closing of the Ascutney Mountain Resort ski area. The board successfully negotiated the purchase of the mountain’s sewer system last May and this summer plans to construct an extension of the sewer line into the village to alleviate contamination concerns in Mill Brook and allow for economic development.

The agreement to buy the shuttered resort required months of negotiations with the owner, MFW Associates, and was sold to voters in October as a way to preserve open land, prevent wholesale development of the property and expand the trail system.

Kate Wanner, project manager with TPL in Montpelier, said Thursday her group is waiting on grant applications.

“We have some fairly large grants we applied for that we will not hear about until June,” Wanner said. “We are pretty confident we will get them because they are perfect for these kinds of projects. We usually don’t jump into something like this unless we know where the money is coming from.”

Before voters approved moving forward with the purchase, Wanner said at an informational meeting they are seeking about $300,000 each from the Federal Community Forest Program and the Vermont Housing Conservation Board. Another $50,000 is from the town and another $200,000 for costs associated with the purchase would come mostly from private donations. Wanner said they are about halfway to their goal of $135,000 in donations.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.

Correction

Dick Beatty is the chairman of the West Windsor Selectboard. The headline for an earlier version of this story was incorrect on that point.