By Aaron Calvin. Published by the Stowe Reporter, January 11, 2024. Original link with photos here.
Stowe Land Trust has settled a disagreement over the ownership of density rights on a parcel of land owned by Stowe farmer Paul Percy that is also protected by a conservation easement.
According to the settlement, Percy has agreed that all the density rights, or the number of residential units that can be built on a parcel of land, attributed to the Landmark Meadow property will be retained by the trust.
But he’s not walking away with nothing.
The trust agreed to purchase a conservation easement on an 85-acre section of the Bouchard Farm property — a 281-acre parcel of land across from the meadow that is fronted by Luce Hill Road, with the Stonybrook condominium complex on one side and the farm’s hay and cornfields, barns and farmhouse — known as Lot 5 for $650,000.
Outgoing land trust director Kristen Sharpless said the settlement was “a great outcome for the Stowe community,” noting that this section of Bouchard Farm is a key recreation and ecological connector between Adams Camp wilderness and recreation area, the West Branch of the Little River, and the recreation path. The land currently hosts a popular mountain bike trail and a section of the Catamount Trail.
“We’re really pleased to have reached a voluntary settlement,” Sharpless said. “I think it’s a great outcome for everybody. We’re glad that we’re able to maintain and protect our legal interests and turn our attention to doing what we do best, which is working with landowners like Paul to conserve land that’s important to the community.”
In early 2023, Percy petitioned the Stowe Development Review Board to allow him to transfer density rights from Landmark Meadow, which is protected from development by the easement, to other lots on the Bouchard Farm, prompting protest from the land trust and speculation from neighbors that Percy was looking to develop the land or sell it to developers.
Sharpless said the settlement was a great opportunity to clarify that, when the trust originally sold Landmark Meadow and conserved the property with him, it reserved all development rights, which was intended to include control over all the density units attributed to the property.
To any extent Percy acquired those density rights, he has agreed to convey them back to the trust.
Sharpless said a fundraising campaign to support the trust in its effort to conserve this piece of Percy’s land will be held at some point this year.
The land trust has been the subject of some criticism recently in the sometimes-heated discussions around housing availability and affordability in Stowe, with some town officials partially blaming the organization’s efforts to conserve land from development as contributing to the unavailability and cost of land in the town.
In response, Sharpless and the trust have attempted to clarify that their mission is not at odds with housing efforts in Stowe. The organization recently developed a policy that supports affordability and other initiatives that promote housing in town.
Through this settlement with Percy, Stowe Land Trust retains the right to donate the density rights to support affordable housing development or other community needs, allowing them to help increase the number of housing units allowed on another property.
Sharpless clarified that the donation would only be made to support “smart and efficient land use and a compact settlement pattern while helping to meet community needs for affordable, year-round housing for Stowe residents and workers.”