The Mad River Valley Recreation District (MRVRD) is lobbying for the purchase of an 8.5-acre piece of land at Mad River Park for $550,000.
They are asking Waitsfield, Warren and Fayston to contribute $180,000 each for the fields, which the recreation district would own. They anticipate applying for and receiving some grants to offset the cost.
On August 22, the recreation district came to the Waitsfield Select Board to explain plans for the possible acquisition.
Dick and Laura Kingsbury have offered the piece of land to the recreation district for $550,000, which includes the construction of an 80-car parking lot. The recreation district believes that this is an essential piece of land for the towns to keep open for recreation.
Currently Waitsfield, with contributions from Warren and Fayston, leases the land for $6,000 a year, but the Kingsburys will not be renewing the lease at the end of the year. If the land is not sold they intend to keep it and convert it for other purposes.
The land that is being sold has not been appraised yet and the Kingsburys have declined a request to split the cost for an appraisal, according to Logan Cooke, Waitsfield, of the recreation district. The Vermont Land Trust has agreed to pay for an appraisal of the land so the towns can properly negotiate the sale.
Liza Walker of the Vermont Land Trust said that they would be there to provide any technical assistance that is needed from the towns.
An appraisal would help the towns assess the value of the land from a professional standpoint and it might allow them to negotiate for a better price. Also, in order to be eligible for federal and state grant money for the purchase, the land must be properly appraised.
According to Walker, the Kingsburys would be able to deny the appraised value and hold at their current asking price, but an appraisal would help provide needed information for the towns.
The piece of land can house four soccer fields and two lacrosse fields and the recreation district believes that the park attracts 10,000 player visits per year between soccer, lacrosse and other recreational uses.
The fields are irreplaceable, according to Cooke, and if the town does not buy it then they could lose valuable field space in terms of size and location.
Mad River Park is in Waitsfield’s industrial district and, according to the town’s bylaws, this land can be used in a variety of ways. There are 20 permissible uses ranging from a child care facility to office space to wholesale trade. The Kingsburys have not said what they would use the land for if it were not sold to the recreation district.
If the land is left open, other businesses could come into The Valley and buy the lot, which would bring tax dollars to the town. Before the land could be sold as a lot, the existing Act 250 permit for Mad River Park, as well as the local permits for the park, would have to be amended to create another developable and sellable lot.
“If it comes off the tax rolls, the town of Waitsfield has lost that property and taxes completely, and that isn’t a small figure,” Paul Hartshorn, chair of the select board, said.
“That is a valid concern, every time [the town] buys a piece of land [they] take it off the tax rolls,” Cooke responded.
Mike Kingsbury wanted to make sure that Waitsfield taxpayers aren’t footing the bill for the rest of the towns using the land through tax hikes if the land is taken off the tax rolls.
The select board and town residents asked the recreation district if there were other fields that the towns could utilize to make up for the loss of Mad River Park.
The recreation district identified six alternative fields that the town could use: Munn Field, Flemer Field, Brooks Field, Couples Field and the field space at Moretown and Waitsfield Elementary Schools.
At Munn and Flemer Fields the town would be required to grade the land to make it suitable for a playing field and, according to estimates they have received, would cost $116,000 for each. Additionally, there are covenants on Flemer Field that restrict some uses.
At the current asking price of $550,000, the cost per field at Mad River Park would be $137,500. The per-acre price of the 8.5-acre field would be $64,705.
Brooks and Couples Fields along with Moretown and Waitsfield Elementary Schools are used as recreational fields, but the recreation district does not believe that they would provide enough space to cover the loss of Mad River Park.
Harwood’s fields are already overstressed, according to Cooke.
At this week’s meeting, concerns were also raised over the possibility of only three Valley towns paying for these fields, when children from Moretown, Duxbury and Waterbury would be using them as well.