ARLINGTON — The Arlington Select Board voted unanimously to request an additional six months to make up its mind about whether or not to purchase the 420 acres of Red Mountain property for conservation and recreation.
The property has been at the center of a dispute in town for the past couple of months as the years-long project has come to a head with a deadline this month to make a decision about the purchase.
The board, after hearing opposition from many of the property’s neighbors on Wilcox Road in early February, voted to end the town’s pursuit of the property.
The sheer number of problems focused on a lack of access including opposition from the one known access point on Wilcox Road, and many unanswered questions presented to the board.
But, a few weeks later, supporters of the plan turned out for a Select Board meeting and got the board to offer to consider it further.
Select Board chair Dan Harvey said he only wanted to hear from people who hadn’t already been heard on the issue.
That didn’t stop Thomas Williams, who has opposed the measure several times, from voicing his displeasure with the plan again, pointing out that the town has expenses and needs and doesn’t believe Arlington should be spending money on trails.
And Ronald Weber, who serves on the committee working on the plan and is one of the leaders of the plan, pointed out to the board that 16 business owners in town had offered their support of the plan and many had also written checks personally to help fund the acquisition.
Erin Lyons, head of the Southwestern Vermont Trout Unlimited, spoke to clarify the conservation organization’s support.
An initial letter had been presented as expressing concern over runoff into tributaries to the Batten Kill. That letter was quickly clarified with a follow-up and Lyons said she wanted to make sure TU’s support was known. Lyons said she would be making a personal contribution.
The town is logging all letters for and against, and several letters of opposition were received, including one fromf Dave and Nancy Simcox of Pickering Road.
The Simcoxes said they initially thought everything was fine with the project, but after reading of the opposition by the residents on Wilcox Road and finding out that their road was also being considered as an access to the land, they were withdrawing their support, saying they “would be the most impacted of anyone on Pickering [Road] if this project were to be approved.”
Many other letters of support were received, but opposition continues to be received at Arlington town hall as well.
Wilcox Road resident Sharon Rosenthal, who has spoken against the plan at both of the previous meetings, sent photos by email of parts of the trail she said showed the extensive erosion of the trail in places that makes it dangerous for average hikers.
The Select Board apparently heard enough to continue exploring the possibility of purchasing the land, which would come at no cost to the town thanks to donations and grants.
But, the town has to be granted an extension from the current owners.
Tuesday, after reviewing support and opposition, the board went into executive session for a “legal matter” to meet with town attorney Joe O’Dea and town administrator Nick Zaiac.
When they came out of the private session, board member Cynthia Browning made a motion to request the six-month extension, which was seconded by Todd Wilkins, who was the only board member to oppose ending the effort in early February.
Browning said the time was needed to see if the access issues could be worked out and to try to solve some of the other problems brought up by those opposed to the plan.
The motion passed unanimously.