VISIT www.WestfordsFuture.com for Information regarding the Community Wastewater Project.
Based on community inputs through surveys and public engagement, it has become evident that many residents of Westford would like to see a more vibrant town center.
Some residents are concerned about growth impacts to the town’s character and overcrowding. During the 1850s the town center had 2 Churches, Town Hall, Doctor, Tannery, School, 2 Stores, Post Office, 2 Mills, Blacksmith, and a Cabinet Shop. There was a total of 39 homes and businesses. Today the town center has a Library, Town Office, Country Store, 2 Meeting Houses, and 3 vacant structures for a total of 28 buildings.
The Westford Planning Commission is leading an effort to investigate the developability of town lands and private property.
The Westford Planning Commission is in the process of investigating potential development options for public and privately owned property around the Town Common. In 2019 the Planning Commission established a subcommittee to investigate how the Town might become involved with the redevelopment of the 1705 VT Route 128 property (also known as the ‘Pigeon property’ or ‘bus garage’) with the goal of creating opportunity for economic revitalization of the Town Center.
The Town’s vision for revitalization of public and private property around the Town Common cannot occur without first finding a solution to the lack of wastewater capacity in the Village.
Reports & Studies
1705 VT Route 128
Questions & Answers
1705 VT Route 128
What is the 1705 VT Route 128 Project?
The property located at 1705 VT Route 128, also known as the Pigeon property, was a former service station and bus garage. The Town is investigating how, and to what degree, it can be involved in the redevelopment of this property by working with the landowner, public agencies and private developers.
Why is the Town interested in the redevelopment of 1705 VT Route 128?
The results of public surveys and outreach conducted by the Westford Planning Commission, show a clear majority of citizens support and desire a vibrant village that offers commercial establishments and services to meet the community’s needs. Citizens overwhelmingly support preserving Westford’s rural character and oppose random chain-store development.
The 1705 VT Route 128 property is one of the most visual and important pieces of real estate in the village. Development of this parcel can offer the Town the opportunity to obtain many community benefits and will help set the tone for all future development around the Town Common. By becoming involved in the redevelopment of this property, the Town can realize many benefits for citizens including:
- Permanent public access to the Browns River for recreational purposes: The Browns River is a lovely natural amenity that runs through the heart of Westford Village, but very few people have access to it or its recreational opportunities. The Town will work with development partners to secure river access.
- An option for a new Town office: The Town office is rapidly running out of vault space for the safe (and legally required) storage of vital town records, including all property transfer documents for each parcel of land in Town, (i.e. deeds, permits and mortgages). The 1705 VT Route 128 property provides an opportunity for the expansion or replacement of the current Town offices.
- Improved parking and pedestrian safety: The Town can assure that any development on the property will incorporate an appropriate streetscape design that will include sidewalks, traffic calming measures, and adequate parking to best accommodate commercial and public activities.
- Potable drinking water supply: Some properties within the Village have contaminated water supplies. The Town office and library do not currently have a reliable potable water source. The property has the potential to supply several village properties with potable water and is a potential water source for a public community water system, should the Town decide to develop one in the future.
- Remediation of contaminated soils: The property was used for many decades as a gas/service station and a bus maintenance facility. An underground fuel storage tank was recently removed that had been installed years before any regulations were in place. The tank, through no fault of the property owner, had developed significant holes and leaked gasoline into the soils. Any redevelopment of the property will have to include remediation of the contamination. The Town and non-profit agencies are able to access funds for cleanup that are not available to private developers. Remediation will reduce potential future harm to the environment and the community, and will enable future development partners, including small local businesses, to access financing for future redevelopment.
Does the Town need to take ownership of the property in order to have a say in how the property is developed?
The Town is researching several different ways that it may be involved with the development of the 1705 VT Route 128 property. At this time, it appears that ownership of the property may be required to guarantee the establishment of community benefits including river access, potential for expansion or replacement of Town office, and improved parking and streetscape design.
How will the Town come to own the property?
The Town is currently in discussions with the Vermont River Conservancy (VRC). The VRC’s business model is to buy private land that can provide public access to Vermont’s rivers and ponds. It obtains funding to purchase these parcels through public and private sources that are not available to municipalities. Once the VRC has purchased a property for its fair market value, it establishes permanent public river access through conservation easements. Once permanent public access is established, VRC deeds the property to the municipality for one dollar ($1.00). At this time, VRC and the landowner are discussing VRC purchasing the 1705 VT Route 128 property. If that moves forward, then VRC will deed the property to the Town for one dollar ($1.00).
Why is it necessary for the Town to become the owner of the property?
Ownership will help the Town contribute to our tax base and expand the grand list. Ownership will allow the Town to partner with non-profit organizations to develop affordable housing, commercial space and access to the Brown’s River. Owning the 1705 VT Route 128 property will help kick start the community wastewater project. The Town will control the subdivision of the property for the best economic advantage for the Town. It will allow the Town to establish agreements with public and private development partners prior to construction of the wastewater system, thus resulting in additional funding opportunities for construction costs and reduced user fees. Ownership will allow the Town to sell several of the subdivided lots to public or private development partners, thus realizing funds from those sales that can be used to help expand or relocate the current Town office.
Does the Pigeon property currently have septic capacity?
The Pigeon property’s waste disposal lines may be connected to the same leach field that services the Town Office and Library and is located under the parking lot for the Town Office. It is unknown whether the property has a location for expansion or construction of a leach field. Based on current soil mapping, it is unlikely that capacity of any significance is located on-site. The property can be used as it is currently being used…a single-family residence. This is because the system is grandfathered.
What are the intended uses of the Pigeon property?
The current conceptual ideas are for mixed uses including residential, retail, office and municipal. No final plans have been made and further evaluation will need to occur after preparation of a site plan, which is what the planning grant will allow the Town to do.
Could the Town consider relocating the Post Office back to the Town Center/Common Area?
The Post Office was located in the Town Center until the early 90s, when it was moved away from the Common onto 128. For many years, the Westford Town Plan has stated, “The Town would be better served if the Post Office were relocated back to the Common.” The community wastewater project and 1705 redevelopment would be critical to relocating the Post Office to the Town Center. Unfortunately, existing public and civic buildings already require more wastewater capacity than is available in the Town Center, meaning that they are likely insufficient to provide the additional capacity needed for a new Post Office.
The Town has received a planning grant to further research the potential of the 1705 property, and relocation of the Post Office to the 1705 property and/or a new mixed use Town Office could be considered as part of the planning process. The leach field for the Town Office and Library is located underneath the Town Office parking lot, making it extremely difficult to expand the footprint of the Town Office without relocated the septic system. Additionally, the drinking water for the Town Office is challenged, and the Post Office may be reluctant to locate in a building without potable water. The 1705 property may provide options for overflow parking and potable water, which could significantly improve the feasibility of relocating the Post Office to the Town Center.
Are the community wastewater project and 1705 VT Route 128 project connected?
The two projects are connected in that they will both benefit from each other. In other words, if the Town is able to move forward with both projects, the community wastewater system will have immediate paying users once it is constructed, and the 1705 VT Route 128 property will have its required wastewater capacity. No development of the 1705 VT Route 128 property can occur without a wastewater disposal solution. Therefore, any development of the 1705 VT Route 128 property will be dependent on the Town constructing a wastewater disposal system. The wastewater system is dependent on the 1705 VT Route 128 property because it will immediately have paying customers and will then be a more financially viable option for other development in the Town Center.
How can the 1705 VT Route 128 property be subdivided?
In order to move forward, the Town needs to develop a site plan for the property. Once the site plan is created, the Town will have a better idea of what potential development on the property will look like. The zoning regulations allow for multiple separate building lots to be created on the property. The current vision is to have mixed residential and commercial development along the front of the property adjacent to Route 128. The back portion of the property, which drops off significantly and runs toward the river, sits in the floodplain. This portion of the property would likely remain open space consisting of public access to the river and possibly a community water supply source. At the present time, the Town is anticipating full buildout of the 3 potential lots with commercial, office and residential space.
What is a “development partner” and who are they?
A development partner is a public or private entity that the Town will join with to develop part or all of the property. The Town has begun discussions with Vermont River Conservancy) VRC as a potential “bridge-owner”. The Town has also had preliminary discussions with several non-profit housing developers including Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity, Champlain Housing Trust and Vermont Housing Conservation Board. The Town has also been approached by local private developers who are potentially interested in working with the Town on the development of the property.
How can we be certain the redevelopment of 1705 VT Route 128 will not detract from the Town Common?
Westford adopted a form based zoning code for the Town Center area in 2016. The form based zoning code includes detailed design standards to help ensure that any new development honors the character of the Town Common. By being involved with the development of the property, the Town will further ensure that the redevelopment of the property meets other community objectives and enhances rather than detracts from the character of the Common.
What is the next step for the 1705 VT Route 128 property?
The Town has asked the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission (CCRPC) for assistance analyzing and researching the property, specifically seeking to identify what steps need to be taken to prepare the property for redevelopment and what the cost of that work would be. The purpose of this analysis is to determine if it is advantageous for the Town to work with the landowners to plan for future development of the property. In order to explore this possibility further, the Town needs to develop a preliminary site plan that will identify and address many site specific issues including, river access, parking and streetscape, potential for town office expansion, contaminated soil cleanup, and potable water supply potential. In order to develop the site plan, the Town needs additional funding. In September 2020, the Town applied for a $60,000.00 planning grant from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program which is administered through the Vermont Community Development Program. In early November 2020, the Town was notified that it was awarded the $60,000.00 grant. The Town is required to contribute 10% of that amount in matching funds, which can be in-kind work and research, much of which has already occurred. Based on current projections, it appears the Town will not have any out-of-pocket costs associated with this grant.
If the Town decides to move forward, where will the money come from to subdivide and develop the property?
The purpose of working with development partners to give the Town the opportunity to have a say in how the property is developed. Until a site plan is created, we do not know exactly how the property could be subdivided and developed or which potential development partners will share in those costs. Currently, it is anticipated that the costs of future development will rest primarily with the Town’s development partners.
How will the Town pay for a new Town office?
If the Town is successful in acquiring ownership of the property for one dollar ($1.00) from the VRC, the Town can then subdivide and sell the lots to a development partner(s) who will construct improvements in accordance with the site plan. Money realized from the sale of the lots can be used to help pay for expansion or relocation of the Town office.
What happens after the Town completes its additional investigation?
If the investigation and development of a preliminary site plan supports the Town moving forward, the next step would be to begin implementing the steps identified in the preliminary site plan and partnering with the VRC and other public and/or private developers to begin planning how the property will be redeveloped. Any further involvement with this property will involve community discussion and vote.
What if I have questions about the community wastewater project or other development projects in Town?
If you have questions, you are encouraged to attend a Planning Commission meeting or communicate with the Town Planner, Melissa Manka at email@example.com.
Will there be a Town vote on whether the Town will construct a wastewater system using the Maple Shade Forest property for a disposal field, and will there be a Town vote on whether the Town will become involved with the redevelopment of the Pigeon property?
Yes. Any proposal to construct a wastewater system will require a Town vote. Likewise, any Town involvement with redevelopment of the Pigeon property will also require a vote. This will happen even if the Town is able to find 100% of the funding necessary. Many funding sources, even if 100% of the costs are being paid, require a vote of the municipality to support the project. In addition, these projects are important to each and every resident. The Town wants voters to be engaged in this process and understand what the proposals mean both now and for the long term. As additional information is developed and becomes available, it will be shared through the Town Newsletter, FPF posts, this website and public meetings.