Karina Aliyera, KAS Consulting
Leonard Amblo, Button Professional Land Surveyors
Steve Diglio, KAS Consulting
Jake Ferreia, SE Group
Tom Hand, SE Group
Chris Haggerty, Button Professional Land Surveyors
Mark Kane, SE Group
Note: The information provided below will be updated as investigation continues and more information becomes available.
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, nonprofits and private developers.
Why is the Town interested in the improvement of 1705 VT Route 128 property?
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 provides services and amenities 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. Improvement of this parcel can offer the Town the opportunity to obtain many community benefits and will help set the tone for the future of the Town Common/Village. By becoming involved in this property, the Town can realize many benefits for citizens including:
- Public Access to the Browns Rive: The Browns River is a lovely natural amenity that runs through the heart of the Village, but very few people have access to it or its recreational opportunities. The Town will work with partners to secure river access.
- Municipal/Public Facility Needs: 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 to acquire land adjoining municipal property in order to meet current and future needs.
- Improved Parking & Pedestrian Safety: The Town can assure the property will incorporate an appropriate streetscape design that will include sidewalks, traffic calming measures, and adequate parking to best accommodate town center activities.
- Environmental Improvements: The property was used for many decades as a gas/service station and a bus garage. As a result, residual contaminates exceeding acceptable levels have been identified on the property. Municipal and/or nonprofit organization involvement provide access to funding sources for clean up, not otherwise available to private individuals.
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 or partial 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 portions of 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 a municipality and/or non-profits 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 and/or non-profit 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 and non-profit organizations to develop affordable housing, commercial space and access to the Brown’s River. The Town guide the subdivision of the property for the best overall 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 1705 VT Route 128 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 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 1705 VT Rte property?
The current conceptual ideas are for mixed uses including residential, small business/professional office space 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 benefit from paying users , 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.
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 improvements of the property can occur. The zoning regulations allow for separate building lots to be created on the property. The current vision is to have a modest mix of residential and non-residential 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.
What is a “partner” and who are they?
A development partner is a public or private entity that the Town will join with to improve part or all of the property. The Town has begun discussions with Vermont River Conservancy) VRC. The Town has also had preliminary discussions with several non-profit housing organizations including Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity and Champlain Housing Trust.
How can we be certain the redevelopment of 1705 VT Route 128 will not detract from the Town Common?
Westford adopted a form based code for the Town Center Area in 2016. The form based code overlay district includes detailed design standards to help ensure that any new development honors the character of the Town Common. By being involved with the improvement of the property, the Town will further ensure that the 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 improvement 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 use 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. 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 partners to give the Town the opportunity to have a say in how the property is used and developed. Until a site plan is created, we do not know exactly how the property could be subdivided and used or which potential partners would share in those costs and/or which outside funding source the project would be eligible to receive.
What if I have questions?
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.