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Thetford’s town-owned parcel to be sold sans solar after failure of planned housing project

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/10/2020 9:45:15 PM
Modified: 11/10/2020 9:45:11 PM

THETFORD — A plot of land the town of Thetford purchased to build workforce housing in Post Mills is going back on the market.

The Selectboard unanimously voted to restore a covenant limiting development on a nearly 8-acre parcel on Route 244 near Lake Fairlee in Post Mills and placing it on the market at a price “for not less than the town’s total out-of-pocket expenses,” Selectboard chairman Nick Clark said in a meeting Monday night.

The town purchased the land in the spring with the intent of building up to 16 units of workforce housing. After facing opposition from Post Mills residents, the Thetford Senior and Affordable Housing Committee recommended the town abandon the project. During a meeting last month, the Selectboard discussed allowing a private firm to erect solar panels on part of the property as a way to recoup the money used to purchase the site, drawing concern from residents and members of the committee. Also last month, several members of the Thetford Senior and Affordable Housing Committee, including longtime chairman Mark McMahon, resigned.

“The first part is restore the covenant, which we said we would do if there wasn’t going to be housing, so that’s the easy part,” Clark said during Monday’s meeting. “The second part is to list it for sale.”

The Selectboard’s decision was welcome news for Pippa Drew, a Post Mills resident who is a new member of the Thetford Senior and Affordable Housing Committee. She said she would prefer to see the town support the Green Mountain Economic Development Corp’s pursuit of creating a solar array at the former Barker Landfill in Post Mills.

“That land doesn’t have a lot of options because it is quite contaminated,” she said in an interview. “I think if we could find a use for it that would be ideal.”

Drew, one of three remaining members of the committee, said she was inspired to join in the wake of the Post Mills proposal.

“I was really surprised at how many different kinds of people in town came from out of the woodwork who didn’t want this field to be developed,” said Drew, who lives near plot that currently serves as a hayfield. “If we can preserve the land for agriculture that would be my first choice.”

A purchase price has yet to be determined, Clark said. The town purchased the parcel for $120,000, with $20,000 coming from a community development grant and the rest from the Poore Farm Trust, a private fund for Thetford residents. The purchase price also would include fees the town has incurred.

What happens next to the land will essentially depend on who buys it. Post Mills resident Alissa Southworth indicated during the meeting that there is an abutter to the property interested in purchasing the land in order to conserve it. She said residents had previously been in talks with the Upper Valley Land Trust, but that the nonprofit organization said it would be hard to conserve a parcel of that size on its own.

Selectboard member Mary Bryant suggested allowing Post Mills residents a “first right of refusal to purchase the land,” but Clark and Selectboard member Steve Tofel suggested that might be difficult to do.

“I just can’t envision the Selectboard wanting to be in a position of picking who we sell it to other than to set a criteria that we would sell it to the highest bidder,” Tofel said. “Otherwise we get into a very sticky issue of picking people in town or picking various entities and I think we should stay away from that and just simply state something along the lines of ‘highest bidder’ or something equally objective.”

Drew said the Thetford Senior and Affordable Housing Committee would meet soon to determine its next steps, including looking at smaller-scale projects outside the scope of federal funding and looking for new sites in Thetford, in addition to working with Fairlee and West Fairlee to apply for grants.

“I care enormously about the beauty of this state and I know there is another practical level that is very important, so I want to be part of the process of bringing those two together,” Drew said. “We need to be able to meet people’s needs for affordable housing or else we will have a very homogenous community, and I don’t want that.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reac hed at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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