With $1 million raised, land protection at Exit 4 to be complete

Paul Bruhn
Paul Bruhn, executive director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont, at the site in Randolph where a massive development had once been proposed. File photo by Mike Polhamus/VTDigger
A conservation group will be able to buy the remaining 22 acres of a 172-acre plot off Interstate 89 Exit 4 in Randolph, after having raised $1 million in the last two months.

The purchase will prevent future development of the site, where a hotel and shopping center had once been proposed.

“There were times early in the process when it felt like we were a long, long way to $1 million,” said Paul Bruhn, executive director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont, which raised the money.

The group will put a conservation easement on the parcel and resell it, probably to a farmer, Bruhn said.

The rest of the original parcel has already sold for $1.2 million to the Castanea Foundation, a Montpelier-based conservation group. The foundation is putting a conservation easement on its 150 acres and will sell them to Ayers Brook Farm, which is run by principals affiliated with Vermont Creamery.

The remaining 22-acre parcel contains the land most conducive to development, according to Bruhn. The seller, Connecticut real estate broker Sam Sammis, has said that, if the Preservation Trust could not finalize the deal this month, the next purchaser in line would likely be another developer.

Sammis had planned for 40 years to develop the area at Exit 4. In 2015 he sought permits 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.

Sammis recently abandoned the proposal and negotiated with local residents who wanted to preserve the property.

Bruhn’s group raised the purchase price for the 22 acres in two months, with most of the money donated over the last four weeks.

“This was an amazing and miraculous effort, no question,” Bruhn said. “When we started, we thought it was a bit of a long shot, but we thought we ought to have a run at it.”

Bruhn’s organization received 480 separate donations, with 80 of those for amounts exceeding $1,000, he said.

The two parcels sold for a combined $2.2 million, but they’ve been assessed together at around $3 million, Bruhn said.

“We and Castanea purchased this 172 acres at substantially below the appraised value, and below … the tax assessment,” Bruhn said.

Environmental advocates welcomed news of the fundraising success, having fought for years to prevent the development Sammis envisioned.

“This is a tremendous outcome,” said Sandra Levine, senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation. “This is a rejection of sprawl and support for farming. … The broad and deep support to protect this valuable land shows Vermonters don’t want another Tafts Corners along our scenic rural highways.”

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  • chris wilmot

    It’s worth noting this is not the first time the Castanea foundation has “sold” land at well below market value to the hooper family.

    Also worth noring that the Vermont creamery side of the hooper family business (their son “manages” ayers brook farm) was doing 16 million dollars worth of sales annually in 2012…

    Before they sold Vermont creamery to land o lakes…

    Why- is this one fabulously wealthy family repeadetly “sold” land at below market value ?

    And why are these random groups allowed to exploit act 250 in order to benifit themselves and their friends?

    • chris wilmot

      The Castanea foundation sure does have lots of money…

      Anyone know where to find s list of who is donating money to this group?

      I wonder how much the hoopers have contributed over the years..

    • DougHoffer

      Random groups?

      There is nothing “random” about the Preservation Trust of Vermont, which has been helping preserve important land and buildings all over Vermont for decades. You might want to learn something about them before speaking of them disrespectfully.

      As for “exploiting” Act 250, please explain how any of the parties did anything that was not within their rights as interested parties. Act 250 requires developers to persuade a regional commission that the project meets all of the statutory requirements. Providing information and testimony is the right of all those granted party status. That’s the process. How do those who participate lawfully “exploit” Act 250?

      • chris wilmot

        They are random not for profits with no state gov affiliation. They should have no influence whatsoever.

        And they were not “interested parties”. Their goal from day one was to repeatedly invoke act 250 to block a legal development for no reason

        Being well funded ( who funds these groups?) lawyers they were able to keep his project in litigation until the costs of going forward proved too much.

        Act 250 was never passed with the mindset that these random well funded groups would form and obtain so much political influence.
        Act 250 was never supposed to be a vehicle to keep developers in endless litigation in order to bleed them dry of funding as a means of blocking projects in question

        These groups are exploiting the law in a way it was never intended

        And it’s costing vermonters good jobs and reliable tax revenue

      • Jason Brisson

        “As for “exploiting” Act 250, please explain”
        Act 250 is the exploitation once its triggered.
        It increases the cost for small developers, and forces a whole other layer of unneeded oversight and costs onto projects in the name of “regional environmental planning”.
        It is used by “interested” parties as tool to force higher costs onto development, and move development that they don’t agree with, into a different venue with 10 criteria that range from arbitrary to vague.
        I believe local boards are equipped to say what development happens in their towns or not–Act 250 says the state controls what development you get.

  • chris wilmot

    Their should have. When no hearings

    You do t get the point

    And Sammis sold the land at BELOW value….

  • chris wilmot

    The youth are moving.

    • Matthew Davis

      And why is that?

      • chris wilmot

        Because their is lack of affordable land and good jobs.

        Part of the “land trust” scheme is to reduce the available property which drives up the value of land.
        Of course those in the land trusts have artificially devalued THIER land which drastically reduces their property taxes.
        And you can opt out of the land trust/conservation easement with minimal effort. Which means you pay less for taxes during your time on the land. while still being able to sell your land at full market value once you decide to move.

        A win win for the wealthy

        • Matthew Davis

          “lack of affordable land”

          The irony of your statement is that land trusts actually provide affordable land for young farmers/business owners. I know several young farmers that have been able to stay in VT thanks to the farmland access programs land trusts offer.

          Go to a summer event like “feast and field” in Barnard or “burger night” in Shelburne and speak with these young, innovative farmers.

          • chris wilmot

            Those “farmers” all have connections.
            And while a few get to take advantage the majority do not.

            What’s ironic is that those young “farmers” all seem to be the sons/daughters of wealthy family’s who are not lacking in funds to purchase land

  • Neil Johnson

    He paid Vermont taxes for what 50 years and wasn’t able to build what the town had zoned the property for. The town allowed him to do what he wanted, he wasn’t asking for anything special. Why would somebody go to another town, of which they have no interest in to tell them and the owner what they should do with their property. Chris is not a NIMBY, he might value property rights, he’s probably ok with you doing anything on your own property, it’s yours, just follow the rules.

  • Townsend Peters

    Thank you Preservation Trust, Conservation Law Foundation, and Vermont Natural Resources Council for your actions that led to preserving this important piece of land in central Vermont. I am grateful that we have organizations like you and laws like Act 250 to help protect the land and environment of this great state.

  • Camden Walters

    The hooper family doesnt want the land. If they had been interested in it, the 22 acres that this article is about would have been included in the first deal. The land will be preserved as open space for community access and farming ideally. Im sure you will respond with an unsubstantiated claim of “no it wont.”

    To say that a flat open field in Randolph Center was never farmland is one of the most laughable things you have posted. A picture says a thousand words: The site when it was known as the Longley farm:

    • chris wilmot

      The first deal was the Sammis development

      The hooper family was part of the process of tying Sammis up with legal injunctions from day one

      They were “sold” la d at well below market value by the Castanea foundation- again.

      And it’s been 50 years since that was a farm!

      At one point the whole state was farmed- does that mean it’s all farmland?