Randolph site once up for development now to be protected

Sandra Levine

Brian Shupe, executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, and Sandra Levine, senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, with a photo of a 150-acre property in Randolph being sold to the Castanea Foundation. Levine’s organization was granted party status in Act 250 proceedings for a large development proposed for the site. Photo by Mike Polhamus/VTDigger

RANDOLPH — A landowner who proposed hundreds of condos, a hotel and other commercial development off interstate Exit 4 is instead selling most of the parcel into conservation.

Advocates have until midsummer to raise $1 million to purchase the remaining 22 acres. Otherwise, they say, that land probably will end up in the hands of another developer with similar plans.

Co-owner Sam Sammis, a real estate broker from Greenwich, Connecticut, said he had planned for 40 years to develop the area at the Interstate 89 exit. In 2015 he sought permits from the state to put 274 residential units, 280,000 square feet of office space, 236,000 square feet of industrial space and a 180-room hotel on the land, along with a highway rest stop.

The site overlooks the village of Randolph and the Rochester Mountains. Currently it encompasses agricultural land, wetlands and a disused golf range.

Sammis and his wife are selling 150 acres of it to a Montpelier-based conservation organization called Castanea Foundation for $1.2 million, the parties announced Tuesday.

The couple will sell the remaining 22 acres to the Preservation Trust of Vermont if that group can raise $1 million by June 15, said Preservation Trust Executive Director Paul Bruhn.

“It’s a big challenge, but we’re very excited about having the opportunity to try to conserve this property as well,” Bruhn said. The organization has raised about $150,000 so far, Bruhn said.

Sammis said he’s glad to have been able to sell the land to conservationists.

Sam Sammis

Sam Sammis, shown here with his wife, Jinny, sold 150 acres near Interstate 89’s Exit 4 for conservation. Photo by Mike Polhamus/VTDigger

“We love Randolph,” he said at a news conference Tuesday. “We’ve done a lot with preservation, here and away from here, in Vermont, so this sale, for our preservation interests, means a lot to us.”

Sammis bought the property in 1973 with the intention of building a shopping center there, he said.

Randolph “desperately needs” jobs, Sammis said. In the past he’s said that the development would bring such jobs.

Some Randolph residents argue the development would have endangered employment at establishments in the village that would have faced increased competition.

“We felt this was a threat to downtown,” said Dave Hurwitz, of Exit 4 Open Space, a group that formed in opposition to Sammis’ proposed development.

Hurwitz said the job claims for the development were never backed up.

But supposing it were to create jobs, Hurwitz said, Randolph residents don’t necessarily need or want more jobs in hospitality or other tourism-related fields.

“We’re not against jobs,” Hurwitz said. “But the thing I see with development … a common tactic is to pit jobs against the environment. This is how it’s done. This is how it’s always sold, and development is your savior. This is how they divide communities.”

Now a business of a different sort is moving onto the property.

Miles Hooper, of Ayers Brook Goat Dairy, will be running a goat dairy there. “I’m privileged to be the farmer that gets to operate on this beautiful piece of land,” he said at Tuesday’s news conference.

Hooper originally worked with Hurwitz in opposition to Sammis’ plans.

“My interest in figuring out an alternative (to the development) came from the need to keep productive lands in the area in agriculture,” Hooper said. Randolph has the highest concentration of small farms in the state, he said, and small farms “keep the state looking the way it is,” in addition to drawing tourists and revenue associated with them.

Hooper will be leasing the 150-acre piece from the Castanea Foundation, said that group’s executive director, Tim Storrow.

The dairy will create and preserve jobs — “real jobs, with benefits” — in Randolph, Storrow said. Feed dealers will benefit from Hooper’s dairy business, as will veterinarians, farm equipment dealers and cheesemakers, Storrow said.

“This is as much an economic development project as a conservation project,” Storrow said.

Randolph

The view from the land to be conserved in Randolph. Photo by Mike Polhamus/VTDigger

Mike Polhamus

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  • Jerry Ward
    • chris wilmot

      Great job
      You sued a citizen over and over with nimby concerns that a vacant field would be developed.
      After years of legal wrangling he has given up and decided to sell the land and move on
      Well done- now the town of Randolph will have a polluting hippy goat farm that will be tax exempt and provide nothing but manure and waste instead of tax revenue producing businesses right off the highway

      • David Dempsey

        Chris,
        Great comment. I have a different goat farm just down the road from my house. Goat manure has a smell of its own. If I had to describe it I would say it is like a combination of cow entrails, septic tank aroma, pig feces with a touch of that rotten egg smell. I’m sure goat boy will make sure all the people driving on RT 66 and the people going into Mcdonalds can come up with their own descriptions. When the wind is right, even the travellers on I-89 will get to enjoy the smell.

      • DougHoffer

        Why must you disrespect the goat farmer? Bad form.
        And what makes you think it will be tax exempt?

  • Dominic Cotignola

    More jobs comes with a higher cost of living and a larger tax bill for the middle and lower classes. Just because you create jobs, doesn’t mean that person is removed from welfare.

    • Steve Baker

      Capitalism has improved more peoples lives across the globe then all social programs combined.

      • Neil Johnson

        By China even adopting some of the capitalistic/free market/free enterprise ideas has been brought from rice paddies/pig farmers to the 21St century power house in less than 30 years.

        • Steve Baker

          Because many are willing to work hard

    • Neil Johnson

      You can remove yourself from welfare if you so choose. (short of any physical limitations).

      The higher cost of living is due solely to inability of people to build homes for less than 100k, which can be done if we relaxed zoning and regulations to make it easier and feasible to build 6 homes on one acre. We can easily have homes less than $100k, with owned land, mortgage payments around $477/ month. If you have a room mate or two it is easily affordable.

      • chris wilmot

        Sadly it’s these environmental groups that block all attempts at creating more affordable housing. It’s a group of educated rich people who came to vt to exploit our tax loopholes and block all development with nimby attitudes
        They are financially secure and see vt as their luxury resort state and any Vermonter as simple service workers there to wait on them.

        Let vermonters drink goats milk

        • Cathy Hull

          Well I for one chose to move to Randolph because it is a small community with farm land not concrete and big box retail. I can get in my car and drive a 1/2 hour north or south when I want a big box store. Or better yet I can spend my money here buying from a local farmer!

          • chris wilmot

            It was vacent fields- not farm land.
            What you want is the area to remain the same regardless of the impact on those who are not privladged

        • DougHoffer

          Among other things, goats milk is used to produce goat cheese. It’s a big business. http://www.vermontcreamery.com/

          • chris wilmot

            For the hooper family that is already wealthy. Instead of creating job and affordable housing you have one boy benifitting from this.
            And how many vermonters are buying high end cheeses?
            Not to mention the farm will be run as a tax exempt org

        • Kathy Leonard

          Agriculture has always been critical to Randolph’s economy, and has enabled a number of young farmers to come (or stay) here to raise their families. As an aside.. when my husband got kicked by a horse and broke his shoulder, the doctor prescribed drinking goat milk to speed his recovery. Luckily, he had a milking goat at that time. It’s a wise group of people that values good soils, and these are among the best in the state.

    • chris wilmot

      That’s simply untrue
      A larger tax burden occurs when you take property set for development and turn it into a tax exempt gost farm only the rich wanted
      The town and state are again the losers
      Nimby lawyers win again

      • Neil Johnson

        Lobbyists. Every person/organization that is registered with the state as a lobbyist should be required to have that as part of their company/non-profit name and their title.

        The owner of this land was only trying to do what was allowed by local zoning. Lobbyists stopped the effort/free enterprise. Now lobbyists are purchasing the land and having it benefit it’s members.

        So lobbyists have more control of land use than our elected officials that write the rules. Think about that.

        Lobbyists have more power and control over land you own, have paid taxes on and are only trying to work within the frame work of local zoning. How can that be a win? We don’t even elect these people? How come lobbyists have more power than any elected official?

        Perhaps these are keys to why so many in government don’t want ethics reform and why so many outside of government are begging for it.

  • Steve Baker

    Great Job for a good cause. Seems like a win win.

  • chris wilmot

    It’s worth noting that the “Vermont council of natural resources” will be using taxpayer funds to contribute to the purchase of this land. I would be interested to know the actual figure.
    It’s also worth noting that miles hooper’s company is actually partnered with/owned by- land o lakes- an out of state company.

    Beyond that- it seems unethical and a conflict of interest for the state to be helping a private company partnered with land o lakes purchase land at below market values. More so when you consider hoopers actions which blocked the legal development he is now the sole benifit of.

    This is all very disturbing and reeks of cronyism, corruption and bribery

    • Kate McCarthy

      Please note that the Vermont Natural Resources Council is not a state agency or department. We’re a 50 year old environmental non-profit. http://www.vnrc.org. Thanks!

      • chris wilmot

        Perhaps make that more clear as your website and name implies you are part of the state of vt gov.
        Tell me- when your site speaks of working in our statehouse – exactly what work is being done?
        What influence do you have?
        When your site speaks of enforcing Vermont environmental laws- exactly what methods of law enforcement is being carried out by VNRC as your website implies? Your website implies your group has the power of law enforcement- I am unaware of any not for profit that has such powers

        “We will continue our successful work of protecting and preserving vital wetlands, advocating for science-based river management, and enforcing laws such as the federal Clean Water Act, Vermont Water Quality Standards, and Vermont’s Wetland Rules.”

        From your website.

      • Neil Johnson

        You are registered lobbyists with the state, or is the state lying?

    • Jerry Ward

      Chris, I need to try to correct your notion that the VNRC has any connection to government. This entire deal will be done by charitable foundations (one of which is VNRC) and private citizens. No taxpayer dollars involved.

      Also, you have some facts twisted about the connection between the Ayers Brook Farm, now owned by the Hooper Family, and Land O’Lakes. The farm is now owned entirely by the Hoopers. They sold the VT Creamery to Land O’Lakes.
      And, finally, the land price was fairly reached between a willing buyer and willing seller at fair market value for agricultural land.
      I think those are facts anyone could check.

      • chris wilmot

        “Willing seller”

        You mean a man giving up on his dream because of constant lawsuits.
        Other news outlets such as the valley news are saying hoppers business is indeed partnered with land o lakes.
        As far as VNRC is concernced the confusion on my part stems from the groups claims of enforcing laws. As you might be aware making such a claim is a crime if you are not indeed a part of law enforcement. I assumed they were affiliated with the state as they claim to have law enforcement powers. I wonder what the state police would have to say about their claims of “enforcing laws”

      • Neil Johnson

        But Jerry, you forgot about the years of contesting brought out by the VNRC (a registered lobbyist group with the state) in which they prevented him from developing his property that complied with the town zoning and planning. So fair market value is that in which a property can MAXIMIZE it’s potential along with a wiling buyer and willing seller.

        Any developer knows that the VNRC will protest anything done. What they’ve done is more akin to a government taking of property, but instead it’s a taking of property by a lobbyist group. (yes they are a non-profit and yes the educate….but more than anything as the state makes them declare, they are a lobbyist group).

        Those of us that deal in real estate might have slightly different take. Clearly the owner was prevented from doing what was his legal right by the works of a lobbyist group. That is NOT fair market, fair play or even reasonable.

        It is a glaring example of why we need ethics reform.

  • John farrell

    Too bad the town of Norwich Planning Commission is pushing for a mega development
    on Route 5 south under the guise of “affordable housing.” Wish someone would step up and conserve the beautiful farmland the planning commission wants to destroy in the name of progress.

  • Matthew Davis

    There is a common misconception that development equals more tax revenue for a town. While this is sometimes correct, it is not always correct. Commercial and industrial development most often does generate income, however residential typically ends up costing taxpayers more due to the added services. There have been several studies done on this and one example can be found here: http://landuse.uga.edu/Documents/cocsrep.pdf

    I’m not specifically aware of the nature of this development besides it was to be a mix of condos, a hotel, and some commercial, but whether or not it would have significantly improved the tax base of the host town seems to be unclear…

  • Adam Haggett

    This land is unique b/c of its physical characteristics, but mainly b/c it’s one of the last pieces of land along 89 exits that is undeveloped and the economic opportunities are great,

    Preserving farm land is good, but as we move forward w our environmental challenges, we need to keep an open mind. Many local people would like to go to an outdoor concert without driving to nh, burlington or over a mtn. There are many local artisans that would love to set up shop at a show.

    I can remember the alt energy festival and the mtn bike events that used to happen in randolph. Randolph needs it’s own type of environmental convention center and this could be done so there is minimal impact to maintain open space the rest of the time.

    I hope Castanea and vermont land trust keeps an open mind and provides true environment and economic conservation to an unique land.

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