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proposed senior housing facility
Senior housing development requests tax break in Berlin

BERLIN — Town officials are dusting off a rarely used policy and recruiting members to a shorthanded committee that is required to review tax stabilization requests like the one just received from the developer of the senior housing project planned on property owned by the Berlin Mall.

Brad Dousevicz, of Dousevicz Inc., has asked the town to approve a five-year tax stabilization agreement for Spruce Place, the 98-unit “enhanced senior living facility” he has proposed to construct on a 2.15-acre parcel that is now part of the 65-acre mall property.

According to a pending application for a state land use permit, Dousevicz plans to subdivide the lot where he plans to build a four-story building as part of an estimated $2.5 million project.

That far exceeds the $200,000 investment threshold called for in Berlin’s tax stabilization policy and should yield a project that boosts the assessed value of the property by $1 million — the figure needed to qualify for a five-year stabilization agreement.

If the town approves such an agreement, the increase in assessed value due to the completed Spruce Place project would be phased in over five years for municipal tax purposes. The specialized senior housing complex would be taxed on 10% of the value of the improvements in the first year of the agreement. That figure would increase to 20% in the second year, 40% in the third year, 60% in the fourth year and 80% in the fifth and final year of the agreement.

In the sixth year, Spruce Place would be taxed based on the full assessed value of the facility, which is expected to include a mix of independent and assisted living units for seniors, as well as a specialized “memory care unit” for those suffering from various forms of dementia.

Though $2.5 million was the estimate used to calculate the $18,600 Act 250 application fee, Dousevicz has told town officials it could cost closer to $10 million in his stabilization request. He has also indicated the amount invested will far exceed 25% of the tax assessed or fair market value of the property prior to construction.

That 25% figure is required to qualify for stabilization. Town Administrator Dana Hadley said he suspects Dousevicz is referring to the yet-to-be-calculated value of the undeveloped property and not the much larger mall property, which is currently assessed at $14.3 million.

Though not a requirement, the Spruce Place project, which is expected to create a minimum of 30 full- and part-time jobs, checks a box that is evaluated as part of a review that will be conducted by the town’s economic development committee.

That committee, which is currently down to one member, is required by policy to make a recommendation to the Select Board.

According to Hadley, the only member still sitting on the committee is Selectman Jeremy Hansen.

Hadley said he plans to ask Jamie Stewart, executive director of Central Vermont Economic Development, to consider serving on the committee. He hoped to recruit members from other town departments before bringing a list of names for the Select Board to appoint.

Once the committee is repopulated, the process contemplated by the tax stabilization policy can begin.

That policy hasn’t been used since 2015, when the Select Board denied the mall’s belated request to stabilize taxes for a 55,000-square-foot Kohl’s department store that was already under construction at the time.

Spruce Place doesn’t have that problem because state permits for the project have not yet been obtained and construction isn’t expected to begin until next year.

The tax stabilization policy hasn’t been used successfully since 2014, when the Select Board approved the now-expiring five-year stabilization agreement for the 21,000-square-foot operations center Northfield Savings Bank built at the corner of Paine Turnpike North and Stewart Road.

Now assessed at more than $4.6 million, Northfield Savings Bank is only paying municipal property taxes on about $3.9 million under the stabilization agreement that is now in its last year.

The policy has only been used two other times since it was approved by voters in 2011.

The Select Board approved the now-lapsed five-year agreement that helped entice Vermont Mutual Insurance Group to expand from Montpelier to Berlin seven years ago. Since July 1, 2017, Vermont Mutual has been paying municipal taxes based on the full value — now nearly $1.5 million — of its office building on Industrial Lane.

The only other request for tax stabilization was tied to the mall, and involved the expansion of Walmart. It was initially approved by the Select Board six years ago, but later aborted after it was determined the 18,700-square-foot addition needed to accommodate Walmart’s expansion plan wouldn’t significantly increase the mall’s assessed value.

david.delcore @timesargus.com


jebcas / Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo  

Fun Raising

Steve Stoufer, co-owner of Manghis Bread from Montpelier, looks over loaves of fresh-baked challah bread during The Great Vermont Bread Festival held at Camp Meade in Middlesex on Saturday. Dozens of bakers and hundreds of visitors gathered to celebrate Vermont’s bread makers and the 20th anniversary of Red Hen Baking during the day-long event.


Local
Cross Vermont Trail gets boost from Berlin

BERLIN — It’s been a long time coming and there is still more money to raise, but plans to construct a short but expensive section of the Cross Vermont Trail just received another financial boost from Berlin.

Nearly three years after pledging $3,000 to the Cross Vermont Trail Association’s “keystone project,” the Select Board has agreed to chip in another $15,000.

That’s a drop in the bucket when it comes to the $1.6 million price tag of a project that contemplates constructing more than two miles of off-road bike path along the Route 2 corridor and a 200-foot bridge across the Winooski River.

However, for an organization that was within $36,000 of the $250,000 it needs to raise to leverage nearly $1.3 million in previously approved federal funding it is a significant contribution.

Greg Western, the association’s executive director, acknowledged as much during a Thursday night meeting that saw the Select Board vote to free up additional money from the bike path fund it tapped three years ago when asked to contribute $3,000.

The fund was established years ago for a bike path project that has long-since stalled due to right-of-way issues with the local railroad that may never be resolved and may never need to be given the subsequent addition of buffered bike lanes along the Barre-Montpelier Road that serve the same purpose.

“It’s a way to turn some of that money into an actual bike path,” Western said, noting while progress has been slow, it has also been steady since he last approached Berlin for funding.

At the time, the association still needed to raise $97,000 to meet its local match. Thanks the Berlin’s earlier contribution, and voter-approved appropriations in Calais, East Montpelier, Middlesex, Worcester and Plainfield, and other donations the funding gap had been whittled to $36,000 when Thursday’s meeting began and stood at $21,000 before it ended.

Acting on the recommendation of the town’s conservation committee, the board agreed to appropriate an additional $15,000 for the project.

Phil Gentile, the committee’s chairman, said members debated how much money to suggest be funneled to the Cross Vermont Trail project. With more than $50,000 in the bike path in the bike path fund, Gentile said the committee considered recommending as much as $25,000 before agreeing $15,000 would provide a meaningful jolt to what it viewed as a promising project while retaining roughly $40,000 in the bike path fund.

“It’s significant, but we’re not shooting the whole ball of wax,” he said.

Western said Berlin quintupling down on its prior commitment could attract additional donors eager to advance a project the association has viewed as a key component of a much larger statewide trail that will span 90 miles and run between Burlington and Wells river since 1994.

The central Vermont portion of the project — including the costly bridge — has been a priority since 2005 when the association began lining up federal support. Nine years and nearly $1.3 million in commitments later, the association kicked off its “Build the Bridge” campaign, which Western told the Berlin board is in its final stages.

“We’re in the end game,” he said, noting the design work is done, most permits have been obtained and Act 250 approval was in the works.

Western said the proposed bridge, which would span the Winooski River using abutments from an old railroad bridge near Champlain Valley Equipment on Route 2 is the most expensive component of the project and predicted that cost could climb given recently enacted steel tariffs.

Half the proposed bridge is in Berlin, while the other half is in East Montpelier.

Once completed, the bridge would provide access to the trail network on the hillside leading up to U-32 Middle and High School. The section of trail would also link to the bike path Montpelier just extended to the base of nearby Gallison Hill Road.

With Montpelier now wrapping up work on that bike path extension and Berlin’s latest contribution, Western said he is hopeful the last of the local match wouldn’t take long to raise.

The project contemplates constructing a path that runs up to U-32’s existing trail network and out to the Central Vermont Civic Center on the west side of the proposed bridge while running creating an off-road connection between Routes 2 and 14 on the east side.

The project will require constructing a 600-foot trestle bridge or retaining wall to reach the bridge along a section of Route 2 that runs too close to the river to safely accommodate a trail.

david.delcore @timesargus.com


Local
Man faces attempted second-degree murder charge

BARRE — A man, facing a charge of attempted second-degree murder after allegedly assaulting a woman last week, was jailed without bail on Monday.

Tyler Wallin, 21, who is homeless, pleaded not guilty in Washington County criminal court to charges of attempted second-degree murder, aggravated first-degree domestic assault, domestic assault, assaulting a police officer and causing bodily injury, resisting arrest and violations of conditions of release.

If convicted of all charges, Wallin faces a maximum of life in prison with a minimum of 20 years or fines totaling $32,500, or both.

According to the affidavit of Barre Police Officer Jacob Frey, a woman came into the Barre Police Department in the early hours of Saturday morning to collect some of her property.

Frey said Wallin was known to police after being charged with aggravated assault Friday evening. Frey said Wallin also damaged the woman’s room at the Budget Inn, assaulted her Thursday and failed to appear in court the same day.

When the woman went to the Barre Police Department, Frey was asked to get a recorded statement from her. Frey said she reported she was unable to provide a written statement because of injuries Wallin inflicted on her.

The woman said that on Thursday, she and a friend drove by Wallin and asked him to get into the car, court records stated. The friend told Wallin that she could see the injuries Wallin inflicted on the woman, court records said.

“... This made Wallin mad and he jumped on (the friend’s) car and then punched (her friend),” Frey stated, adding that the two women drove away and the victim then went to have dinner with family.

Believing that Wallin had been arrested, the woman came back to Barre, Frey stated. Wallin saw her walking near Cumberland Farms around midnight and started to follow her, Frey said.

“She stated that he followed her down Seminary Street and Plain Street, and when they got to Warren Street, Wallin attacked her,” Frey stated. “She stated that Wallin attacked for her 15 to 20 minutes, beating her with his fists and slapping her with the back of his hand.

“She stated that Wallin punched her so hard, her earrings fell out of her ears,” Frey’s affidavit continued. “(She) stated that Wallin strangled her with his hands, forearms, knees and feet. (She) stated to me that Wallin strangled her 10 or more times, sometimes lasting minutes, and stated that he only let her up so she could breathe again and he could continue beating her.

“(She) informed me that Wallin stated to her, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ and, ‘You are going to die (expletive)’ several times. (She) also stated that if she called the cops, he would shoot the cops. (She) stated that she was very relieved that an unknown witness (unknown to her) called the police and believes that the police arrival is the only reason the attack stopped,” Frey’s statement added.

Frey said the woman denied fighting back but stated that she told Wallin to “please stop” and “leave me alone.”

“I observed (her) voice to be raspy and that she moved extremely slowly, as if in pain (which she stated that she hurt all over),” Frey stated.

Photographs provided to the court showed the woman’s face, neck, arms and torso covered in multiple lacerations and heavy bruising.

Court documents show that Wallin was also charged with assaulting the woman at the Budget Inn, a man outside the inn on Aug. 27, and another man behind Jiffy Mart on North Main Street in Barre on Aug. 11. He was released on conditions.

Wallin was also on probation for a felony count of forgery, as well as misdemeanor counts of possession of stolen property, operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent, unlawful trespass, petit larceny and two counts of false token dating back to Dec. 15.

Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault asked Judge Mary M. Morrissey to jail Wallin without bail pending his next court appearance on Thursday and that he be ordered to have no contact with his girlfriend, which the judge agreed to.

stephen.mills @timesargus.com


Local
old home days
Plainfield celebrates Plainfield

PLAINFIELD — Old Home Days were here again as a summer-ending celebration that is perfectly Plainfield again reminded residents — young and old — what makes their tiny town so special.

“It’s the people,” said Ben Koenig, who owns the local bookshop and figured prominently in the Friday night variety show that has customarily kicked off a tradition that was started 23 years ago.

Make that “re-started,” because longtime residents will tell you the town once held a larger Independence Day celebration that was abandoned in the late 1970s.

Some remember a “riot” that spelled the end of the earlier tradition. Others say volunteers responsible for organizing it were simply “burned out.”

Nonetheless, all agree Old Home Days — held on the first weekend after Labor Day — has become a fixture in an eclectic community that is home to an unconventional college, a co-op, its own health center, and the opera house where Koenig performed the song — “Plainfield is not too plain to me” — during Friday’s variety show.

The song celebrates a community of “fields, farms and friends” and a boat-load of other attributes Koenig enjoys singing about once a year.

“It’s was just fun,” he said, of the variety show. “It’s local. It’s community. You’re playing for your neighbors. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Koenig’s son, Django was among the other local performers that ranged from line dancers to Doug Perkins, who played both Bach and bluegrass on his guitar. This year’s emcee — Ryan Gillard — celebrated his 31st birthday while handling those duties.

Friday’s variety show set the stage for a Saturday celebration that again featured a donations-only yard sale, the only parade you can see twice and what locals boast is some of the best barbecued chicken in central Vermont.

All were staples of the town’s Independence Day celebration and have anchored Old Home Days since its inception.

The latest edition, from the lawn sale to the parade, might have been the biggest yet.

Just ask Joyce Fowler and Theresa Goslant.

Fowler, 85, was one of the many volunteers manning the yard sale that is held each year on the lawn of the Grace Untied Methodist Church.

“This is the most stuff we’ve ever had,” Fowler said, surveying the extensive selection of lightly used items that drew a considerable pre-parade crowd.

Fowler, who volunteers at the Twin Valley Senior Center, was among the participants in a parade Goslant worried might literally run into itself on its signature second trip.

“I’m surprised the front didn’t catch up with the back,” she said of a procession that was longer than usual, thanks to one of the community’s newest members.

Montkush, an organic hemp farm that has become the town’s largest employer, was well-represented in the parade, and, before it was over, many residents were sporting “Kush” caps and blue beads that employees tossed from one of its several farm vehicles.

Montkush also sponsored a post-parade dunk tank on the recreation field and a Saturday night street dance that was a new addition this year.

Pat Fair, who, like Goslant, was manning the bake sale sponsored by the Kingsbury Chapter #77 Order of the Easter Star, was among those impressed by the parade.

“I think this is the biggest parade we’ve had in a long time,” she said. “I like the variety.”

It was a parade with participants of all ages.

This year’s grand marshals — Melvin Chase, 88, and 96-year-old Betty Brown — rode on the back of a Kubota tractor.

Not far behind the two Plainfield natives — he still lives there, she now lives in East Montpelier — was the “Baby Brigade” organized by Hannah Morgan.

Morgan carried an umbrella for shade and wore her 7-month-old son, Seamus, while other new moms pushed their infants in strollers.

Steph Levesque was one of them, though she said her 9-month-old daughter, Elliot Rose, won’t remember it.

“She slept through the entire parade,” Levesque said of one of Plainfield’s youngest residents.

The parade also featured a mix of new and old vehicles. The newest was the new town truck that brought the rear of the parade. The oldest might have been the 1947 McCormick Farmall tractor Will Bennington of Tamarack Hollow Farm drive twice around the village.

“It’s still a working tractor,” he said.

While the parade was making its round former fire chief Patrick Martin, led a team of firefighters who made cooking 300 halves of chicken look easy.

“We’ve got it down,” said Martin, who said the chicken barbecue has been the fire department’s primary fundraiser since for nearly 50 years.

It’s Plainfield’s version of chicken and mostaccioli, that has long-relied on a sauce of Silvio Cerutti.

A former firefighter with Sicilian roots, Cerutti’s sauce is an annual treat that his daughter, 76-year-old Judith Dix, helped prepare Friday night.

“That recipe has stayed in the fire department a long time,” Martin said. “The secret recipe is still almost a secret.”

While preparing the sauce wasn’t an issue, and cooking the chicken went off without a hitch, firefighters Andy Hebert, Lindsey Simanskas, and Simanskas’ wife, Jenna, encountered a propane-related emergency when they went to cook the pasta Saturday morning.

“We ran out of gas,” Hebert explained, noting the department hadn’t refilled the tank it planned to swap out, but the last of it was used to make the sauce.

Alco Energy Products responded to the emergency with no notice – delivering 20 pounds of propane that had several huge pots boiling by late-morning.

“Alco Energy saved the day,” Simanskas said, noting the pasta needed to be trucked over to the recreation field by noon.

It was and residents enjoyed an afternoon of family-friendly activities in the run-up to Saturday night’s street dance.

Goslant, who spent most of her life in Plainfield, now lives in Alburg, but still returns regularly to play cards with cousins or participate in Eastern Star activities. She said Old Home Days is different because of, well, the people.

“It’s rewarding day,” she said. “It’s definitely worth the trip.”

david.delcore @timesargus.com


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BTA Hotspot

Today

Poetry Reading

Former Vermont Poet Laureate Sydney Lea reads from his newest poetry collection. Q&A, refreshments, and book signing. 7-8 p.m. Bear Pond Books, 77 Main St., Montpelier, samantha@bearpondbooks.com, 802-229-0774.