Cavendish Selectboard considers lifting restrictions on the Academy Building

Cavendish Selectboard meeting. Photo provided.

CAVENDISH, Vt. – On Monday, Nov. 14 at 6:30 p.m. the meeting of the Cavendish Selectboard was called to order by Board Chairman Bob Glidden. Town Manager Brendan McNamara made an adjustment to the agenda, requesting to add item 5A, an action regarding road crossings for Green Mountain Snow Fleas snowmobile club for the 2022-2023 season.

The first item on the regular agenda was regarding the Academy Building Request, presented by Reese Brown, who stated he has been the owner of the Academy Building, “right across the street” from the town office, for the last couple of years. He wants to sell the building, but there are deed restrictions in place that have prevented sales from going forward. Brown requested that the board assist in removing those restrictions so that he can proceed with finding a buyer. “I have them spelled out here,” Brown said, indicating the papers he was holding.

The board asked Brown to detail what the restrictions were. Brown referred to the deed which says the building must be used for commercial purposes, and that there could be no interior or exterior adjustments made. Brown said he’s made no adjustments to the building, but there had been some prior to his taking ownership. The building is under a preservation easement, but it is not listed on the National Register as a historic building, although it is included on the State Register for historic buildings.

According to board member Stephen Plunkard, the restrictions had been put in place when the town was trying to encourage businesses. Brown said that when he purchased the building, all units were occupied, but now they’re all empty, adding, “That building is in need of some tender loving care, and needs to go to people who are willing to do that. And that’s what I’m hoping for, is to find a happy owner for it.”

Plunkard mentioned that bringing the building up to ADA and fire codes would be very expensive, and the restrictions may not allow for those renovations.

Board member Sandra Russo brought up the fact that since Cavendish has no zoning, there should be no enforceable rules regarding commercial use restrictions. Brown said there had been some interest from people who wanted to bring in a business, such as a Bed and Breakfast, or apartments, or a mixed use facility, with commercial and residential use.

When board member George Timko asked about parking, Brown said the land belongs to the Town of Cavendish, so he owns the building, but not the parking lot.

McNamara admitted there are, “a lot of moving parts to this. If the selectboard is [willing and able] to remove those deed restrictions is one thing, the other piece is that part of the language in the easement is from the Vermont Historical Land Trust.”

McNamara suggested the board ask the town attorney to do some research, if they were going to consider removing the restrictions, but added he wasn’t sure if the Preservation Trust would be willing to remove theirs. McNamara said he’d just had a conversation where he was told the money raised had gone into an escrow account held by the trust, to maintain those restrictions. “I don’t know if that’s true or not, the phone call came in at 5:30 tonight.” He said local individuals had donated money to purchase the building and put those restrictions in place but also thought it would be in the town’s best interest to have the building restored and used.

Plunkard suggested the board agree to release the restrictions, and Brown could hire an attorney to work with the Preservation Trust regarding the release of theirs. Brown handed McNamara a copy of the restrictions to distribute to the board. It was agreed that Brown would contact the town attorney, and the board would be willing to work with Brown to facilitate the initial steps to selling the building.

Moving on to the additional agenda item 5A, proposed road crossings for the Cavendish Snow Fleas, Joe Marini, a representative from the snowmobile club, confirmed that this year’s trail map is the same as last year. Since there had been no complaints recorded last year, the motion was unanimously approved by the board.

McNamara then spoke regarding the retirement of the previous town auditor, Peter LaBelle, and the vacant position that has remained unfilled for quite some time. McNamara said no one ran for this position last March, and, “The issue is now rearing its head as a big problem. We’ve been advertising for town auditor for years, and have had a few people come in, but no one has been the right fit. It’s a huge problem for the town report, because there’s no one to audit the books.” McNamara said several companies had been contacted with no success. The annual budget for the auditor position is approximately $10,000 and one proposal was for almost $30,000, and the company was unavailable this year. McNamara pointed out that the fee may need to be increased, but even then, he said many accountants and companies are not currently available.

A concern of McNamara’s was that the board can’t audit themselves, and there’s no one to put together the analysis for next year’s budget. The board agreed on the importance of transparency and that without an accountant, the board is liable, and they want to remain open and accurate. It was decided the board will run an ad in the Vermont Journal and post a notice on the state website.

Regarding the progress of the Town Plan Energy Chapter, McNamara said the Planning Commission discussed the issue at their last meeting but did not vote. He said the commission was aware of the selectboard’s decision to adopt the energy chapter and was ready to move ahead with edits on some language, and a hearing to consider voting to adopt the changes, then it would come to the selectboard for approval. The next Planning Commission meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 6:30 p.m.

There was a short discussion about the replacement of the town highway utility truck, a 2010 model purchased six and a half years ago. McNamara stated the vehicle is at a point where needs a new transmission and other substantial work estimated at about $10-12,000. McNamara said he is speaking with the company who sold the town the truck, and that they have a newer vehicle for sale, in very good condition. McNamara said he will keep the town posted on the final negotiation, and that the capital fund should cover the cost.

McNamara announced that at Wednesday’s meeting for the Planning Commission, Cavendish Postmaster Miguel Seville had put in a request to be appointed to the commission. The selectboard was asked to consider the appointment. Board member Mike Ripley moved to approve, and Glidden seconded the motion. “Miguel will be a welcome addition.” Glidden added.

McNamara asked to briefly update the board on the Municipal Planning Grant items for the next meeting. He said he’s been working with Regional Planning on a grant designed to help municipalities with certain planning issues, land use, mapping, water lines, etc. One water issue that is “going to be staring us directly in the face in the next few years,” McNamara stated, is all the “goosenecks,” the water connection from mainline to a home, which are made from lead, and therefore have to be replaced. The grant could allow up to $25-30,000 to be used for that project, and updating the water system maps, at the same time.

Regarding an updated list of contacts and procedures for the Local Emergency Management Plan, McNamara said it was time for the selectboard to adopt the new plan. He said he will first review with Glidden, the Emergency Management Director, then forward the plan to board members in order to finalize everything by December.

McNamara mentioned that now that Ryan Palmer had been elected as Sheriff, the priorities of the local law enforcement might be changing, providing more community involvement. McNamara said there would be an update from the sheriff’s department at the next meeting.

Additional items discussed from the Town Manager’s report were a report about addressing the sink holes on the Proctorsville Green, the completion of the paving on Tarhill Road, and the hiring of Christopher Hughes as the new Assistant Water and Wastewater Operator. Ron Davis will step into the Chief Operator role after Randy Shimp’s retirement.

Finally, McNamara said the energy committee was working on rebranding the transfer station, starting with securing funds to replace the sign, which is set back from the road, hard to see, old, and falling apart. The new sign will display the new name; the Resource and Recycling Center.

The board briefly went through a list of remaining items, such as the suggestion that high school students get credit to work on the Planning Commission, or other groups in order to volunteer, and get community service hours. Ripley will follow up with the high school.

The next selectboard meeting is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 12.

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