What is the 1705 VT Route 128 Project? The property...

What is the 1705 VT Route 128 Project?

The property located at 1705 VT Route 128, (1705 property) also known as the Pigeon property, was a former service station and bus garage. The Town is partnered with Vermont River Conservancy, Champlain Housing Trust,  Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity, and Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission to investigate the possibility of a multi-goal project of conservation, providing public access to the Browns River, development of affordable homeownership housing, expansion of the Town Office and Public Library property, and environmental improvements. The Town and residents are uniquely positioned to play a leading role in shaping the development of the property.

The 1705 Rte. 128 project is still in its initial stages. There are still many hurdles to overcome. The Town does not own or control the 1705 property. The Town has no contract to buy this property and the PC is not recommending that the Town use taxpayer funds to buy the property. Nor is the PC recommending that the Town be the developer of the property. The steps the PC has taken to get to where we are today are as follows: About 3 years ago, the Planning Commission learned that the owner of the 1705 property intended to put it on the market for sale. At that time, the PC discussed if it might be possible to work with the property owner to gain benefits and advantages for the Town. Specifically, could the Town acquire a portion of the 1705 property on which it could build a new or expanded Town Office. The property owner agreed to hold off listing the property for sale and to work with the Town to investigate if any such arrangement was possible. That investigation led the PC to the Vermont River Conservancy (VRC) and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB). Website link: vhcb.org

The VRC is a non-profit organization that acquires land with the goalof protecting public access to rivers and streams. One of its business models is to partner with other funding sources (like VHCB) to buy private land adjacent to Vermont rivers, establish permanent public access to the river, and then use the remaining land for public, municipal or other purposes, such as housing.

In order to purchase the 1705 property, VRC will seek funding from  VHCB. Many entities and municipalities seek funding from VHCB for various housing and conservation projects. This creates a very competitive environment for the limited dollars VHCB has to distribute in any given year. So much so, that the likelihood of VHCB funding VRC’s purchase of the 1705 Property if it only involved conservation, is very low. In order to increase the likelihood of VHCB funding the purchase, affordable housing units need to be included as part of the conceptual plan, in addition to the permanent public river access. Neither VRC or VHCB will develop or build the housing, Rather, they will partner with other non-profits to provide those services, such as the Champlain Housing Trust (CHT) and Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity (GMHfH).

GMHfH and CHT are both non-profits. CHT is a community land trust that supports the people of Northwest Vermont and strengthens their communities through the development and stewardship of permanently affordable homes. Founded in 1984, it is the largest community land trust in the country. CHT also offers financing tools to prospective buyers including homebuyer education, pre-home purchase counseling, financial literacy education and mentoring, and foreclosure and delinquency intervention services.

GMHfH and CHT have created a partnership program that enables low and moderate income households to become homeowners. GMHfH physically constructs the homes. After construction is complete, CHT would purchase the homes from GMHfH and enroll the homes in the Shared Equity Program. After enrollment, the homes would be sold again to the low and moderate income households. Potential buyers must be income eligible and are required to assist with at least 200 hours of construction while their home is being built by GMHfH.
Sales within the Shared Equity Program do not require the homeowner to pay closing costs. This greatly reduces the cost of buying a home.  As a standard term of the Shared Equity Program, all homes must be sold back to CHT. The equity gained at during the sale of the home is split between the original homeowner and CHT. CHT uses their funds to cover closing costs, and potentially reduce the sale price, for the next buyer of the home. The program ensures that homes in the Shared Equity Program remain perpetually affordable.

This particular proposal achieves many goals in the Town Plan including the creation of affordable housing; the creation of recreational opportunities; the acquisition of additional land which can be used for Town Office expansion; the clean-up of decades worth of soil contamination; and the improvement of stormwater runoff from the Town Common Area to the Browns River. All of this at little to no cost to the Town
  Why is the Town interested in the improvement of 1705...

Why is the Town interested in the improvement of 1705 property?

The results of public surveys and outreach conducted by the Westford Planning Commission show a clear majority of citizens support and desire a vibrant village that offers amenities and services to meet the community’s needs. Citizens overwhelmingly support preserving Westford’s rural character and oppose random chain-store development. The 1705 property is one of the most visual and important pieces of real estate in the village. Development of this parcel can offer the Town the opportunity to obtain many community benefits and will help set the tone for all future development around the Town Common. By becoming involved in the redevelopment of this property, the Town can realize many benefits for citizens including: 
  1. Public Access to the Browns River: The Browns River is a lovely natural amenity that runs through the heart of the village, but very few people have access to it or its recreational opportunities. The Town will work with partners to secure river access.

  2. Affordable Housing: The need for affordable housing in Vermont has reached a crisis point. The Vermont River Conservancy (VRC) and the Town have partnered with Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity and Champlain Housing Trust (CHT) in hopes that a portion of the property can be used to construct perpetually affordable homeownership units to be enrolled in CHT’s Shared Equity Program.

  3. Municipal/Public Facility Needs: The Town Office is rapidly running out of space, including vault space for the safe (and legally required) storage of vital town records, including all property transfer documents for each parcel of land in Town, (i.e. deeds, permits and mortgages). The 1705 property provides an opportunity to acquire land adjoining municipal property in order to meet current and future needs.
  4. Improved Parking & Pedestrian Safety: The Town can assure the property will incorporate an appropriate streetscape design that will include walkways, traffic calming measures, and adequate parking to best accommodate town center activities.

  5. Environmental Improvements: The property was used for many decades as a gas/service station and a bus garage. As a result, residual contaminates exceeding acceptable levels have been identified on the property. Municipal and/or nonprofit organization involvement provides access to funding sources for cleanup, not otherwise available to private individuals.

  6. Stormwater Management: Integral with the redevelopment of the 1705 property will be a stormwater collection system that will serve the entire Town Common Area. this system will collect and filter the runoff that accumulates in the Town Common Area prior to discharge into the Brown’s River. As well as improving the river water quality, this will create a long-term solution for protecting our library basement from flooding and alleviate water saturation on the Common.
  Does the Town need to take ownership of the property in...

Does the Town need to take ownership of the property in order to have a say in how the property is developed?

The Town is researching several different ways that it may be involved with the development of the 1705 property.  It appears that the Town will not need to take ownership of the entire parcel in order to guarantee the establishment of community benefits including river access, potential for expansion or replacement of Town office, and improved parking and streetscape design. One promising avenue is for the Vermont River Conservancy to purchase the entire parcel from the current owners, subdivide the parcel, establish permanent conservation easements w/ public river access, and then deed a subdivided parcel(s) to the Town for One Dollar. This parcel(s) can then be used for civic purposes, including expansion of the Town Office.  The parcel(s) for affordable housing could then be transferred to Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity. Ownership of the parcel containing the historic Pigeon home has yet to be determined.

How will the Town come to own portions of the 1705 Property?

The Town is currently in discussions with the Vermont River Conservancy (VRC). The VRC’s business model is to buy private land that can provide public access to Vermont’s rivers and ponds. It obtains funding to purchase these parcels through the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and fundraising. Once the VRC has purchased a property, it establishes permanent public river access through conservation easements. Once permanent public access is established, VRC could deed property to the municipality for one dollar ($1.00). At this time, VRC and the landowner are discussing VRC purchasing the 1705 property.
  Does the 1705 Property currently have septic capacity?...

Does the 1705 Property currently have septic capacity?

Based on all available information, it appears that the waste disposal line is likely connected to the same leach field that services the Town Office and Library and is located under the parking lot for the Town Office. Based on current soil mapping, it is unlikely that capacity of any significance is located on-site and it appears that the property does not have  a location for expansion or construction of a leach field in full compliance with the State of Vermont Environmental Protection Rules.

Could the Town consider relocating the Post Office back to the Town Common Area?

The Post Office was located in the Town Common Area until the early 90s, when it was moved away from the Common onto Route 128.  For many years, the Westford Town Plan has stated, “The Town would be better served if the Post Office were relocated back to the Common.”  The community wastewater project and 1705 property would be critical to relocating the Post Office to the Town Common Area. Unfortunately, existing public and civic buildings already require more wastewater capacity than is available in the Town Center Area, meaning that they are likely insufficient to provide the additional capacity needed for a new Post Office.  

The Town has received a planning grant to further research the potential of the 1705 property, and relocation of the Post Office to the 1705 property and/or a new mixed-use Town Office could be considered as part of the long-term planning process. The leach field for the Town Office and Library is located underneath the Town Office parking lot, making it extremely difficult to expand the footprint of the Town Office without relocated the septic system. Additionally, the drinking water for the Town Office is challenged, and the Post Office may be reluctant to locate in a building without potable water. The 1705 property may provide options for additional parking and potable water if so desired, which could significantly improve the feasibility of relocating the Post Office to the Town Center.
  Are the community wastewater project and 1705 VT Route...

Are the community wastewater project and 1705 VT Route 128 Project connected?

The two projects are connected in that they will both benefit from each other. However, the community wastewater project can move forward without the 1705 VT Route 128 Property Project coming to fruition. In other words, the community wastewater project is not dependent on the development of the 1705 property. If the community wastewater project is not approved by the voters, then future development of the 1705 property can still occur but what kind of development will be controlled by the current septic availability on the property.

What is a “partner” and who are they?

A partner is a public or private entity that the Town will work with to improve part or all of the property. The Town is working with Vermont River Conservancy as a potential “bridge-owner” as well as  Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity and Champlain Housing Trust regarding the possible development of much-needed affordable homeownership dwelling units.
   How can we be certain the redevelopment of the 1705...

How can we be certain the redevelopment of the 1705 Property will not detract from the Town Common?

Westford adopted a form-based code for the Town Center Area in 2016. The form-based code includes detailed design standards to help ensure that any new development honors the character of the Town Common Area. By being involved with the improvement of the property, the Town will further ensure that any future use of the property meets community objectives and enhances rather than detracts from the character of the Common.

What is the next step for the 1705 Property?

In 2020, the Town received a Vermont Community Development Program Planning Grant to analyze and research the property, specifically how the property can be used and seeking to identify what steps need to be taken to prepare the property for improvement and what the cost of that work would be. The purpose of this analysis is to determine if it is advantageous for the Town and partners to work with the landowners to plan for future use of the property. In order to explore this possibility further, the Town needs to develop a preliminary site plan that will identify and address many site-specific issues including, river conservation and access, parking and streetscape, the potential for town office expansion, possible redevelopment, and contamination clean up. The Town is in the process of developing a conceptual plan that includes community input. Once the conceptual plan is fully discussed, the Town and its consultants can prepare a preliminary site plan that can be used to secure funding for purchase and improvement.

The 1705 VT Rte 128 Property Project

How conservation and affordable home ownership lead to a new town office in Westford, Vermont
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