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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Selectmen Pave Way for Property Sale

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Williamstown Selectman John Merselis and Selectmen's Chairman John "Jack" Madden
Williamstown – Selectmen voted to relinquish the town’s right of first refusal to purchase property being removed from a state land protection program during an Aug. 8 Selectmen’s meeting.

The parcels are designated as state and town approved Chapter 61A agriculture/horticulture sites. Under program regulations, if such property is removed from the program and a change of use is planned, the town must be allowed first right to purchase the property.

After about 40 minutes of discussion, Selectmen’s Chairman John “Jack” Madden, Selectwoman Jane Allen, and Selectmen David Rempell and John Merselis voted to give up the first refusal right, while Selectman Philip Guy abstained. Guy said he abstained because he wasn’t familiar enough with Chapter 61A intricacies to cast a vote.

The action paved the way for the property owned by the Estate of Virginia G. Faison and Lane S. Faison Jr. to be sold to Douglas and Jane Pickard.


Selectman Philip Guy
During a presentation about the matter, Attorney James P. Briggs, who represents the property owners, told Selectmen that the Pickards have stated that they will not purchase the property unless the Chapter 61A restriction is removed. Under state regulations, Chapter 61A properties must generate at least $500 in revenue from specific endeavors annually in order to remain in the program and receive an accompanying property tax reduction benefit. The potential new owners don’t want to be encumbered by that obligation, Briggs said.

The property owners first refusal rights offer was limited to the entire property, as opposed to allowing the town to purchase the two designated parcels, Briggs said. The sites are defined on land maps as a 2.82-acre parcel and a 4.12-acre parcel located at either side of a 4.73-acre site that hosts a house. The property is contiguous and is defined as a single parcel on a town assessors map as Lot 55. The Berkshire County Register of Deeds also defines the property in singular terms as land court certificate number 518.

A sales contract price is $780,000, Briggs stated in a written communication to Selectmen.

Removing the property restriction means that the property will be taxed at its’ full appraised value in the future. State regulations require tax reductions for the past five years be paid to the town as a consequence of removing the restrictions; in this case, the total owed is $566.05.

Eliminating Chapter 61A stipulations will not permit development on the sites because a Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation conservation easement also exists on those parcels, Briggs said. All the property restrictions were approved by the town and the state in 1990, and the rural lands easement may not be removed by a new owner, Briggs said. The rural lands easement prohibits all development on the dual sites except for connection to the town sewer system, well drilling, and solar, wind, and other alternative energy endeavors.

Although only the Selectmen have the authority to initiate or forgo the first refusal right, the matter is scheduled for consideration at an Aug. 11 town Conservation Commission meeting. A notice of intent to remove the restriction is also scheduled for review by the town Planning Board and Board of Assessors.

Guy said that he preferred to delay a vote until ConCom members reviewed the matter. Madden suggested relinquishing the town’s right of first refusal contingent upon commission members having no objection; that suggestion prompted Merselis to inquire whether Selectmen should wait for input from Planning Board members and town assessors.
Briggs noted that a property sale closing is set for month’s end and Town Manager Peter Fohlin reminded Selectmen that they will not meet again until Sept. 12.

Madden told Briggs that the issue wasn’t about whether the town wanted the property but focused on concerns about potential development if the Chapter 61A restrictions were removed.

Briggs countered with “If the Con Com said that it was in the best interest of the town to purchase this, would the town be able to do it?”

Fohlin explained that the rural lands easement was more rigid than the Chapter 61A restriction.

“[Property] can go in and out of 61A,” he said. “The conservation restriction runs with the land.”

Fohlin also noted that a new property owner could simply fail to produce the required property revenue, and forfeit the Chapter 61A status – as well as the property tax benefit- without having to offer the first refusal option at all.

Guy said that he is concerned about “bundling,” meaning in this case that two parcels were placed in the program but the town was being asked to buy the entire site instead of only the two designated sections. Guy said that he has concerns about setting a precedent that involved purchasing more property than originally set aside through a Chapter 61A restriction.

“It goes against the spirit of 61A,” Guy said.

“The spirit of 61A was gone a long time ago,” said Fohlin. “There are more 61A’s than there are farmers alive.”

The vote came after Allen made a motion to act on the matter.

Selectmen approved several other requests during the meeting. A transfer request shifting the town’s cable television franchise license from Mountain Cable Company LP, doing business as Adelphia Communications Corp., to Time Warner NY Cable LLC, doing business as Time Warner Cable, was approved.

The unanimous vote came after Peter Taubkin, vice-president of public relations and public affairs for Time-Warner’s Albany, N.Y. division, told Selectmen that a planned acquisition of Adelphia’s local assets will not be final until the transaction is approved by the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court overseeing the Adelphia bankruptcy process. Town approval of the license transfer was necessary as well, Taubkin said.

Selectmen also approved a change of manager for an all-alcoholic beverage license held by the Richard A. Ruether American Legion Post 152. Post 152 Commander Gary Walsh will be the manager of record, replacing former post Commander Richard K. “Bud” Trombley.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society was given permission to bicycle through town during a September 24 “Bike and Hike the Berkshires” fundraiser. Selectmen also approved a request from Debra LeClaire LaPlante of Arizona to purchase two Eastlawn Cemetery plots for herself and her husband Marc LaPlante.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush123@adelphia.net or by calling 802-823-9367.

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