CHESTER, Vt. – The Chester Selectboard’s meeting began with a lengthy public forum on the Community Greenhouse project. Andover Road speeding concerns and Town Garage expected cost overages were other topics of note at the recent July 21 meeting.
Chester Community Greenhouse Committee representatives began the Wednesday meeting with what will be the first of many public forums concerning the proposed Chester Community Greenhouse and Gardens. The committee is considering two town-owned locations as possible sites to erect a 100-by-32-foot historic greenhouse they obtained from Grafton last year. The two locations include the area behind Chester’s historic Academy Building across from the town green or a vacant piece of property on Canal Street. The greenhouse will provide space for community members to grow organic plants, flowers, herbs, and vegetables three seasons of the year and serve as a hub for organic farming education and outreach, as well as become a tourist destination within the town.
Board members approved a letter of intent for the committee, confirming the town’s support for the project although their approval does not identify either location specifically.
Committee member Robert Nied led a slideshow presentation highlighting the focus of the project: to restore, retrofit, and reconstruct a historic 1936 Lord and Burnham greenhouse made with a galvanized steel and cast-iron structure with a wheel and gear system that easily opens windows throughout. The committee plans to paint the structure its traditional white and upgrade the single-pane windows to double-paned highly efficient glass.
Nied outlined plans for raised beds at various heights to accommodate citizens with special access requirements and talked about possible educational programming such as mentoring by master gardeners, classes on organic and sustainable agriculture, and cooking with vegetables and herbs.
The project will be self-sustaining and self-funded. It will not require use of any local property tax funding. The town’s only contribution will be providing the location. According to Nied, the committee’s strategic plan continues to evolve and be refined, and everything will be influenced by input from the community.
After Nied’s presentation, approximately a dozen Chester citizens provided input, all overwhelmingly supporting the project. However, some residents expressed concern specifically over the Academy Building location.
Chester business owner Scott Blair spoke as a representative of business owners along the green. He spoke of concerns about parking at that the location. The greenhouse would be relying on parking in and around the green, which is already difficult for businesses and residents. Blair also expressed concern as a committee member on Chester’s Fall Craft Festival on the Green in Chester, which will debut this September and will include agricultural exhibits in the exact location proposed by the greenhouse project. Blair was concerned that they would expend a lot of time and effort into revamping and expanding the festival, only to have that property unavailable in future years.
There was also concern by another resident about limiting expansion of the nearby cemetery, although Board Chair Arne Jonynas said that cemetery expansion couldn’t extend to the proposed area because it was classified as a floodplain.
Resident Linda Diak had questions about the defined right of way to the property behind the Academy Building location, which would be pedestrian-only access through a shared driveway with the former Hugging Bear Inn.
Other questions centered around funding, the town’s fiscal involvement, construction, and specifics on greenhouse operation but were all in support of the project.
Jonynas said that this first forum was just the beginning of the process for questions and concerns to be addressed, and there would be other opportunities to speak and be heard in future. Anyone interested in contacting the Greenhouse Committee can visit www.chestergreenhouse.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
During the regular meeting, Hance included an update on the public safety building, which will have all departments moving in sometime in August with an official Open House scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 12.
County money for Vermont through ARPA funds could mean as much as $630,000 for Chester. Differences between how municipalities are structured in Vermont versus other states have led to some difficulties in distributing county money to individual towns. According to Hance, details are being worked out and she expects Chester will receive their share of that funding.
Speeding data captured over the last month for Andover Road, High Street, and River Street has been tabulated. Board member Lee Gustafson said that based on that data, High Street and River Street were showing that most drivers were traveling at a “reasonable speed” on those roads. The speeds on Andover Road, which is posted for 40 mph, were “very disturbing” with some captured speeds over 80 mph and others close to 100 mph. Gustafson suggested they begin by increasing enforcement of the speed limit and issuing warnings and tickets.
Board member Heather Chase also suggested they install flashing signs that warn drivers if they are over the speed limit. Jonynas suggested that one of those signs currently being used on Church Street might be better used at the Andover Road location. He also suggested the town of Andover post a “reduced speed ahead” sign for travelers leaving their village.
Resident Ginger Roper, a long-time advocate for addressing speeding on Andover Road, asked the board to consider lowering the speed limit to 30 mph.
Hance said she would verify with the state that, as a Class 2 State Highway, the board would not need state approval to lower the speed limit.
The board agreed to start with enforcement, check to see where they might be able to place the flashing sign, and verify the process for lowering the speed limit with the state. They also agreed to keep the topic on the agenda.
During Hance’s financial review for the board, she specifically detailed the projected cost overruns for the town garage project, which is slated to go out for bid. Estimates for the town garage, which includes a $70,000 contingency, is projected to cost over $140,000 what they have available for the project, largely because of higher construction costs due to the pandemic. The plans have already been modified to take out the sprinkler system, and the wash and welding bay, although the sprinkler system will need to be installed in the next five years.
The project cannot be delayed since costs aren’t projected to go down in a year, and the current highway garage is on borrowed time with the fire marshal.
Costs that were not budgeted as part of the bond, stemming from the public safety building, are also mounting, coming in at approximately $135,000.
Chase suggested including the town garage as future agenda item and looking at all options. Hance would gather all financing options. The board agreed to put the project out to bid and gather real numbers before reviewing all those details.
The next Selectboard meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 4 at 6 p.m.