By RUSSELL JONES
EDITOR’S NOTE: The original version of this story mistakenly noted that Rep. Peter Welch (D -Vt.) was at the Oct. 28 Proctor selectboard meeting as an interested bystander. A Proctor resident named Peter Welch was at the meeting, but it was not Rep. Peter Welch.
PROCTOR — The town of Proctor may soon be selling a piece of land in the Chittenden watershed. The board discussed it at the Oct. 14 meeting and heard from the representative of the interested buyer at the Oct. 28 meeting.
Members of the Proctor Selectboard asked Town Manager Stan Wilbur to bring them more information on the financial pros and cons of selling the parcel of town-owned land.
At the Oct. 14 Selectboard meeting, Wilbur told the board there was a buyer interested in the town-owned land known as the Chittenden Watershed. The parcel is 1,600 acres and is occasionally logged by the town with the proceeds going into the Water Fund.
The town has made about $250,000 in the past three years from timber sales from that land, according to Wilbur.
“There’s a few sections left to be logged,” Wilbur said, “but after that there may not be another cut for 20 years.”
A forester has looked at the land and has a forest management plan on file for logging, according to Wilbur, and it was last appraised at about $1,000 an acre, making it worth about $1.6 million. If the town were to sell the land the town could put the money in an investment account, which they could draw revenue from.
“That’s the financial decision,” Wilbur told the board. “Would there be more money from logging or whether you would earn more money from interest (and gain) on an investment.”
Selectman Tom Hogan said he wasn’t interested in seeing the land sold, but if it did, all of it, including some buildings the town is responsible for, should go. The Green Mountain Club has an easement across it because the Long Trail goes through a portion of the land.
“There is first right of refusal by the Green Mountain Club,” Wilbur said. “It’s not the total parcel they are involved in, just so many feet on either side of the trail.”
If the town decided to sell, the move may have to be approved by voters on Town Meeting Day at the earliest.
“I believe there is two steps involved in this,” Wilbur said. “The first is establishing a price and whether the board would want to put it up for auction because there are other people who have expressed an interest in the past. The second would be you have to go before the voters before you sell any town property.”
The board agreed that it would not hurt to talk more about the option and asked Wilbur to do some more research into the matter.
At the Oct. 28 meeting, William Meub, an attorney in Rutland, spoke to the board on behalf of his client, John Gerlach.
“My client is willing to make an offer that is almost identical to the appraisal value,” Meub said, “despite my advice that I thought the appraisal had issues.”
“My client owns the adjacent property and he would like to purchase this piece of land also,” he continued. “He said he wanted to make the board an offer that they couldn’t refuse, if they wanted to sell the property.”
Meub said the offer includes a deadline of Nov. 15 because they do not want to see this matter drag on, but they would do all the due diligence regarding boundary lines and titles for the property.
“I believe you are getting more than market price for the property,” Meub said, adding that his firm had done purchases like this with school boards and other towns. “Because there is no real estate commission, you could get this done before town meeting without needing a vote from the town,” he said.
In a phone interview with The Reporter, Meub said that Gerlach had no interest in development.
“It is in current use right now,” he said, “he would want to keep it as logging or forestry property.”
The town is currently waiting on a new appraisal of the land. The board will have several questions to discuss with the town attorney, including what could the money be spent on and whether a vote would be needed. The town would also need to decide how to spend such a windfall in a way that would benefit the town.
Wilbur told the board the town pays around $4,000 a year in taxes on the property and the timber is the only asset the town receives from it.
“Sometimes the stars align with your interests and there happens to be someone who bought the adjacent land and has the ability to pay above market price,” Meub told the board in closing. “The price is there and you wouldn’t be able to get a quarter-million indefinitely (from the timber sales.)
The next meeting of the Proctor Selectboard is Nov. 11, four days before the deadline on the offer.