Chester tables sidewalk project, appeals Act 250 denial through mediation

CHESTER, Vt. – The Chester Selectboard has decided to table the Church Street sidewalk project for now, primarily for budgetary reasons. Chrissy Haskins from Dufresne Engineering presented the scoping study for the project during the boards Oct. 7 meeting. The study showed the details for the selected “alternative three” sidewalk project, which included a raised sidewalk with curb, drainage improvements, a new pedestrian bridge, several utility pole relocations, and a stone wall rebuild. The construction date was originally set for 2026.

Although the total project cost of $2.3 million would largely be funded through a VTrans grant, the town would still be looking at a $460,000 commitment. According to Town Manager Julie Hance, she didn’t see the town budget being able “to come up with this kind of money in the next five years.”

Hance also explained that the purpose of the scoping study was to answer whether the project was feasible. Board Chair Arne Jonynas agreed that the purpose of the study was to see if the project was doable and that if things change down the line, this plan would allow the town to proceed.

The Chester Selectboard has appealed the Act 250 decision that denied the town to begin gravel extraction. Chester Town Attorney Jim Goss has filed an appeal with the Vermont Environment Court and is working with their attorney to mediate the issue. According to Hance, Goss is confident mediation will be successful since it appears that the denial verdict seemingly did not take into account testimony and supporting paperwork from the Green Mountain Union High School administration that showed their support for the project, since gravel extraction timing had been adjusted for their sake. If the mediation process is not successful, Hance will come back to the board to discuss next steps. The board had approved spending only up to $5,000 for the appeal process.

The town has continued to address speeding on Church Street and has ordered a second radar sign to be placed on the north end of the street, with the current radar sign staying put on the other end. Police officers are also doing more routine stops all in an effort to address the ongoing problem. “No Thru Trucks” signs have also been ordered.

A portable radar sign is also expected to be placed on Andover Road to curb speeding on that road and traffic strips have been placed on River and High streets to gather speeding and traffic information as part of traffic studies to address speeding on those roads as well.

Chester Town Clerk Deb Aldrich gave a voter update for Chester residents saying that the state had mailed out all ballots to voters. Residents can mail the ballot in, bring to office and drop off, or go to polls Nov. 3, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. If voters choose to come to polls in person, Aldrich asked that residents bring their ballots with them. General election details are available on the town website. To date, 294 ballots have been received of the 2,087 that were mailed out. They will be opened and counted on Election Day and are being kept in the vault until then.

The Chester Andover Elementary School Parent Teacher Group is organizing a Trunk or Treat event, along with a bonfire and outdoor movie, to take place starting at the school Saturday, Oct. 24 in the afternoon. Decorated cars will be set up at CAES for cars to drive by. The CAES PTG will then hand out prepackaged bags of candy. This will take place before dark. Then families can then proceed to Cobleigh Field where there will a bonfire and outdoor movie. Socially distanced circles will be set up for families. All kids must be accompanied by a parent, and masks are required.

Chester resident Barre Pinske asked the board to review the Chester Development Fund policy to allow for smaller microloans with a less cumbersome application process. The board agreed to reach out to Bob Flint of the Springfield Regional Development Corp to help the board review their options.

Hance asked the board to consider paying off the Palmer Bridge project, totaling approximately $98,000, with the money they have saved from the current budget, rather than take out a loan, as had been planned. Hance has managed to save approximately 11% of the current budget, totally approximately $300,000, through cost savings and other measures. The board agreed for Hance to take out the loan but then consider paying off the total amount at the end of the year if the savings was still available.

The board agreed to increase the zoning administrator position from 10 to 20 hours per week, citing the need for additional time to more effectively help guide applicants through the zoning process.

The next Chester Selectboard meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 6 p.m. in person on the second floor of the Town Office or via Zoom.

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