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.”

Mike Polhamus

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