The Waitsfield Select Board is meeting in closed executive session tonight, March 10, to discuss the status of negotiations with landowners whose property the town wants for a municipal water project.
The town has made an offer to two landowners and is awaiting their response. The two landowners, Virginia Houston and the Jean Damon/Richards family, have property on either side of Reed Road in the town. Waitsfield drilled a well in the road right of way in 2007 relying on council that it was a town road.
When the Vermont Superior Court ruled last November that the town did not prove it was a town road, the town began negotiating with the two landowners to purchase a total of 2.52 to 2.98 acres of land. The town hopes to purchase or condemn approximately 1.71 acres from Jean Damon and 1.22 acres from Virginia Houston.
Concurrently, the town began the process of condemning that land, making clear at a December select board hearing that negotiation was the preferred route but proceeding with both. At Town Meeting last week, select board chair Kate Williams told the crowd that she was hopeful that the negotiations would prove fruitful but could not reveal any details of the negotiations.
At Waitsfield’s formal condemnation hearing on January 31, a professional property appraiser said his estimate is that the two property owners’ land was worth $93,600. In past negotiations with the Damon/Richards family, the town offered as much as $500,000 for access to the land and the ability to run a transmission line along a brook. Those negotiations fell apart in 2006, leading to the town drilling its well in 2007.
After drilling the well, the town continued with its efforts to fund the $7.5 million project and get it approved by voters. After three votes, it was approved and construction on the project got underway last fall. Construction cannot begin again until the issue of purchasing or condemning the land is sorted out.
Under Vermont law, select boards are allowed to enter closed-door executive sessions for real estate negotiations as well consideration of lawsuits/legal proceedings.