CHESTER, Vt. – The Chester Selectboard, gathering together in the same room at their May 19 meeting, the first time the board was physically together since Covid prevention measures were introduced, were asked by the Chester Community Greenhouse Committee to consider approval for either of two possible locations owned by the town for the site of their proposed town project, Chester Community Greenhouse & Gardens.
Robert Nied, acting as spokesman for their six-person committee, updated the board on the strides the committee has made in just over a year. They have secured nonprofit status, and now with money in the bank, they can apply for several grants, including two possible federally-funded appropriation requests through both Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Patrick Leahy that could amount up to $500,000, which would fully fund the project, with funds available in spring of 2022.
Earlier in the project, the committee had received the donation of a historic 1930s 3,200 sq. ft. greenhouse that had been dismantled in Walpole, N.H. Their plan includes a three-season growing cycle, handicapped accessible community plots, and potential educational programming.
The committee has also narrowed their search down to two viable sites, both on town property, that would be ideal for location of the greenhouse and serve as the centerpiece for the project, which would include community garden plots outside of the greenhouse as well.
Site one is in the back of the Academy Building, which is home to the Chester Historical Society and is next to the town cemetery and the welcome center. According to Nied, the historic nature of the area, proximity to local businesses and the town green, as well as nearby walking trails makes this site the committee’s first choice. There would be no need to provide additional parking and there is potential for restroom access inside the Academy Building or the information booth. The solar exposure for the greenhouse is also ideal.
The second site is on Canal Street and known as the “pump house parcel.” This site is larger, which provides more room for greenhouse placement, with solar exposure also rating well. It is closer to utilities and just a short walk from the swinging bridge and park. Challenges include uneven terrain and a need to develop parking. The area is also surrounded by six property owners.
Nied stressed to the board their self-sufficiency, particularly with funding and their plan to create an endowment that would provide long-term financial stability. They would, however, need a long-term lease from the town and hope they will see the project as a partnership, welcoming feedback from the town on what they would, or would not, like to see happening in the gardens.
The board all expressed support for the project but questions about the viability of each site raised issues such as limitation on cemetery expansion, or effects to the town’s aquifer among other concerns.
Town Manager Julie Hance also said she would begin discussions with the town attorney to see if there were any legal limitations for providing town space for the project.
Board member Lee Gustafson asked to see a detailed document with overall objectives and plan specifics. He also wanted to make sure there was a financial provision in case the greenhouse and project would be decommissioned in the future. Nied agreed to provide those details and said the committee was working on a five-year plan that they would revisit annually.
Board Chair Arne Jonynas suggested that two board members work closely with the group to help advise the committee and keep the board up to date as all parties move forward. Board member Leigh Dakin and Jonynas both volunteered for the task.
Board member Heather Chase suggested a site visit to both locations and Hance agreed to schedule a tour for June 2 at 5 p.m., right before the next board meeting.
In other news, the four cameras are soon to be installed at the Pinnacle Recreation area this week, in response to recent vandalism there. Repairs to the pool lining will be done by the start of the summer season.
The town’s Wayfinding Signage Plan was to be presented to the Vermont Travel Information Council Monday, May 24. Hance confirmed later on May 24 that the plan was approved. Four signs, in step one of the plan, will be fabricated and installed, leading travelers to the town center.
The board approved a “Six Hours on Lover’s Lane” event Saturday, Aug. 14, which will have runners, both elite and beginners, running two-mile loops on trails behind the Pinnacle Rec. area. Runners are invited to do as many laps as they would like during the six-hour event, which will benefit Turning Point and the Chester Recreation Department.
The requested coin-drop from Ruck-Up has been approved for Aug. 14. The board had asked the Keene-based veteran’s group to ask for an August date since their first request was on the heels of a coin-drop happening by Chester’s American Legion. Hance is working on a coin-drop policy for the board to consider in a future meeting.
The board appointed Preston Bristow as the new zoning administrator for a three-year term, with praise for Bristow’s credentials and the positive feedback from the planning commission.
The next Chester Selectboard meeting in Wednesday, June 2 at 6 p.m.