By Rachel Goff

Good news for outdoors enthusiasts: On Tuesday, October 14, Warren Select Board signed a purchase agreement for a 50-plus-acre parcel of land a private landowner plans to donate to the town.

The property, which the board refers to as the Top Gas parcel, consists of approximately one acre of land on Route 100 near its intersection with Sugarbush Access Road, which currently hosts a Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce tourist information kiosk and a bus turnaround. The other 50 acres in the parcel are located across the Mad River.

In terms of development, the land located across the river "has very, very little potential for pretty much anything but what it is, which is a wood lot you can't get to," select board chair Andy Cunningham said. "I don't believe there's a right of way to it," he explained, and the landowner has been trying to sell it for a few years now.

But, in terms of recreation, the land could have a lot of potential, select board member Matt Groom said. "I'm a big advocate of hiking trails and mountain biking trails," he said, and—with permission from the Top Gas parcel's adjacent landowners—"there are a lot of people around here who would be very happy to put in time and effort to build them [on it]," Groom said.

"What brings people here is the ability to get out and enjoy this town," Groom said, referencing Warren's pre-existing multi-use trails. Accepting the Top Gas parcel, with its inherent recreational potential, "can only benefit the community," he said.

While it comes as a donation, assuming ownership of the property will incur some expense for the town. Because the acre on Route 100 was formerly the site of a gas station, "it needs one more piece of environmental cleanup" before Warren can safely accept the donation, Cunningham explained.

For about $5,000, the town will pay to have a test well drilled on the parcel and inspected. If it passes inspection, then as far as the state is concerned "there's no harmful side effect of owning a piece of property with a super fund site on it," Cunningham said, and Warren will pay about $5,000 in closing costs to ring up a total of about $10,000 for the 50-plus acres. If the parcel does not pass inspection, the board will not accept it, Cunningham said, but the town will be out $5,000 for drilling the test well.

Currently, the Top Gas parcel is assessed at $216,000 and contributes $4,075 annually to the town's tax base. By accepting the property, Warren will lose out on that contribution, but, according to Warren Conservation Commission chair Damon Reed, "It's a nice piece of land to own," he said.

In addition to having river access, the Top Gas parcel is "almost contiguous with other parcels that the town owns," Reed said, including Riverside Park on the west side of the river and the Eaton Forest on the east side of the river. The parcel is also contiguous with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) buyout property formerly owned by Quayl Rewinski, which the board plans to maintain as a small river access area starting next summer.

In the end, the board voted unanimously to sign a purchase agreement with the private landowner to accept the donation of the Top Gas parcel. The purchase agreement includes contingencies for the town to choose not to assume ownership of the land if it does not pass inspection. Warren has scheduled engineers to drill the test well at the end of October, which allows two weeks for the inspection and two weeks for the state to OK it, so that the town can comply with the landowner's closing date of December 10.