Conceptual drawing.

Selectboard hears from residents on abandoned properties

The Monday, June 24 Selectboard meeting opened with a discussion on the ReArch contract for the library addition and the memorandum of agreement among the town, the Charlotte Library Board of Trustees, and the Friends of the Library.

Selectboard member Fritz Tegatz said he was comfortable with the changes despite the contract not being one of the standard design-build, construction management, or American Institute of Architecture contracts. After review and discussion, the Selectboard approved the contract with ReArch for the library addition. Vice Chair Frank Tenney raised the question attribution of in-kind contributions during the MOA agenda item. He asked if the in-kind contribution could be directed toward either the town or the library, adding, “I am trying to make sure there are mechanisms in place to allow for all possibilities.”

Several participants raised cash flow questions, including Assistant Town Clerk Christina Booher and resident Peter Trono. Trono asked for details about the loan the library intends to secure against pledges, asking, “After the 31st the bond monies are available; will the library have their loan secured by then?” Library Board Secretary Nan Mason responded saying they have to file taxes before pursuing the loan (their fiscal year ends in June). Trono asked how the payments would be made to the contractor. Mead responded that she would “use what actually exists – cash first from the library, then go to bond and hope that as time goes on, that pledges would be more liquid.”

The Selectboard heard a few more comments before approving the chair to sign the MOA. The bond documents for the library addition and the ambulance were shortly motioned and approved. In a related agenda item, the Selectboard also approved the submission of the site plan review and zoning permit applications for the library addition and waived the associated filing fees.

Abandoned Properties and Ordinances
Town Administrator Dean Bloch opened the discussion on abandoned properties, giving a brief overview of previous concerns raised by residents of Stockbridge Road, as well as research into possible town ordinances. Zoning Administrator Aaron Brown submitted an ordinance from St. Albans City that addresses abandoned properties. Bloch expressed concern that while the ordinance gave “explicit direction to staff person what to do … the specificity may be considered in Charlotte perhaps overly restrictive.”

Stockbridge Road resident Chuck Deslauriers spoke next, outlining the history of the property, including legal action against the previous owners of 102 Stockbridge Road, Alex and Heather Abele. The Deslauriers live next door to the property. He said while they reached an agreement during mediation, the owners did not comply and subsequently sold the property. According to town records, the property was sold in 2016 for $559,850 to Katie Gilley of Boscawen, New Hampshire. Gilley is married to Heather Abele’s brother, Matthew Maloney. Neither Gilley nor Heather Abele responded to multiple requests by The Charlotte News for a comment.

The property is assessed at $650,800. Deslauriers said, “We are appealing to the town to give us assistance. We’ve tried literally everything to encourage owners of the property to maintain it properly. It’s an eyesore when you drive through it and it’s affecting property values.”

Island Farm Road resident Ginny Paton spoke next, describing a similar scenario at a property near the lake. “It has dead toys in driveway, poison parsnip all over the place. To me, that’s a public health hazard…there are parties there…the place is completely abandoned.” Deslauriers said the connection between the two properties is that the “[the Abeles] moved from the house on Stockbridge Road to the house on the lake, and subsequently moved to Massachusetts.” Town records indicate the property is owned by Patricia Diluiso, Trustee of Converse Bay Realty Trust c/o Bollard Group.

The Selectboard also heard from other residents, including James Barker of Fire Pond Road, who read a letter from Noah Kolb. Kolb lives adjacent to the Stockbridge Road property and raised his concerns at the June 3 Selectboard meeting, where over 20 members of the public attended in support of his message. Barker said, “We’ve done everything we could to coerce them, we have then used legal means to try to accomplish some sort of clean up there…Our only remedy that I can think of is, the town steps in and protect our rights as property owners.”

McCarren asked if anyone knew why the property owners were not responsive, to which Barker replied, “We are victims of these peoples’ very expensive trash.” Similar sentiments were expressed by residents Jenn Higgins, Marybeth Gilliam, Jim Hebert and Mike Cazayoux.

Selectboard Chair Matt Krasnow said, “Clearly something has to happen. I’m wondering what the best outcome would be in generating an ordinance and having it be enforced, any more than a court settlement will be enforced.” Other Selectboard members expressed concern at the restrictive nature of the St. Albans City ordinance and the effects of drafting a similar ordinance. Tenney asked, “What happens if farmer doesn’t do his field for a few years?” Tegatz said, “I think it’s a conflict between rural and urban…any kind of rule than you can apply fair and evenly to everybody. That’s what we have to do as a Selectboard. We can’t pick neighborhoods over others.”

Krasnow said he would “explore crafting and presenting an ordinance to the town. It’s not going to move quickly…this one would reach so deep into the community fabric and status quo of people’s property rights, it would take some time to present and advance.” He also offered to draft a letter to the current owners of the properties and present at the July 22 meeting.

Zoning Administrator Leaving Position
Zoning Administrator Aaron Brown accepted a position as Town Administrator and Zoning Administrator for the Town of New Haven, VT, and his last day is July 3. The Selectboard approved a 12 week contract with the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission for temporary staff support. According to the Town Administrator report, CCRPC Senior Planner Emily Nosse-Leirer is available. Nosse-Leirer has been assisting with the current amendments to the town plan. The position is posted on the town website and the Selectboard is scheduled to discuss the process for interviewing applicants at their July 8 meeting.

Town Positions and Reappointments
The Selectboard reappointed Jim Donovan as Representative to the CCRPC, Dean Bloch as Representative to the Technical Advisory Committee of the CCRPC, Fritz Tegatz as Alternate Representative to the Technical Advisory Committee of the CCRPC, Daryl Arminius as Alternate Representative to the Clean Water Advisory Committee of the CCRPC, and Josh Flore as constable. All terms end on June 30, 2021.

Other Business
In other business, the Selectboard approved waiving the penalty for late filers of Homestead Declaration, the FY20 town employee pay rates and hours, a solar net metering application for the town library, and renewed the animal control housing contract with Comfort Hill Kennel. They also approved a request for the use of town roads for a National Multiple Sclerosis Society fundraising bicycle ride on August 3. Residents Hans and Susan Ohanian asked several safety-related questions during the discussion period and Krasnow asked for increased signage on the Charlotte-Hinesburg Road.

In road commissioner-related business, the Selectboard approved a VTrans Structures grant application and requested Bloch to draft a request for engineering proposals for repairing Monkton Road. They also approved the chair to sign a letter of intent for municipal roads grant-in-aid for a culvert replacement on Lane’s Lane.

The next regularly scheduled Selectboard meeting is July 8 at 6:00 p.m.