The Waitsfield Select Board postponed its consideration of whether to accept the offer to purchase the former Birke Studio property for $20,000 until its January 14 meeting.
The board was scheduled to revisit the offer at its January 7 meeting but postponed it a week because one member of the board, Logan Cooke, was unable to attend this week and wanted to participate in the discussion.
In December, the town received an offer to purchase the Bridge Street property from owners Caroline Bargerstock and Derek Moretz for $20,000. The tiny parcel is located on the north side of Bridge Street between the building that houses Peasant Restaurant and the Waitsfield covered bridge.
Formerly a photography studio, it was destroyed during flooding from Tropical Storm Irene on August 28, 2011. Floodwaters lifted the building off its foundation and smashed it into the blue building. In the months following the flood, the building was deconstructed and removed from the site. The cement slab has been the site of lawn chairs over the summer and fall, as people sit and watch the river and the bridge.
The select board, at a December 17 meeting, expressed a great deal of interest in and enthusiasm for the offer, with the exception of one member. The board promised to let the owners, Caroline Bargerstock and Derek Moretz, know before the end of January.
The owners of the property have permits to rebuild but told the select board that they are aware that rebuilding in a floodplain is not always the best idea, and they are also aware that the town is working on storm drains, covered bridge improvements and protecting the riverbank on the west side of the Mad River in the Bridge Street Marketplace.
The offer to sell the property for $20,000 is only for the town, although at least one private property owner had expressed interest in owning the property.
The board members in favor of the idea proposed using pre-existing funds from the town’s conservation fund to purchase the property. The fund balance is currently at $57,000. Among the ideas discussed at that meeting were creating a pop-up park in the space, as well as reconfiguring the space so that the covered bridge abutment could be moved back, allowing more water to flow under the bridge during the next flood.
Paul Hartshorn, the lone member of the select board who was not in favor of the purchase, said he had concerns about taking the parcel off the tax rolls. The tax impact of the town owning the parcel is a loss of $200 in property taxes per year, on a property that is currently unusable.