Ripton pitches shed to get salt away from river
RIPTON — Ripton officials hope to soon begin negotiations for a 2.63-acre parcel off Lincoln Road that would host a shed to contain the town’s road salt and sand reserves, which are currently tarped outdoors at a spot next to a branch of the Middlebury River.
The town hopes to purchase land located at 643 Lincoln Road and owned by Levi and Joanna Doria. It abuts the Ripton Elementary School property at 753 Lincoln Road. As currently envisioned, the shed would be 72 feet by 136 feet.
Ripton last year received a $356,000 grant through the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s Municipal Highway and Stormwater Mitigation Program to apply toward a new sand/salt shed. The town has put up a 20-percent match of $89,000 to create a $445,000 budget to acquire land and build the new shed.
But state rules preclude the town from negotiating with the Dorias until the parcel has passed an environmental review and has been valued by a state-approved assessor, according to Ripton selectboard Administrator and Municipal Projects Manager Alison Joseph Dickinson.
The selectboard has for several years been seeking a spot to safely store municipal salt and sand used to treat roads during the rough Ripton winters. Officials acknowledge the current, outdoor site next to the town recycling shed off Peddler’s Bridge Road is not good. Aside from being next to the river, water can get into the sand/salt mixture and freeze during the colder months, making loads heavier and less efficient for road application.
Unfortunately, Ripton currently doesn’t own a space appropriate for siting a sand/salt shed, according to local officials. The ideal spot, they said, should be near the village, yet not too far from the roads that need winter treatment. The more remote the shed location, the greater the hauling costs, Dickinson noted.
In 2016, the Ripton Planning Commission recommended the selectboard begin the process of relocating the sand/salt pile. Commission members that same year voiced disappointment when a shed location wasn’t included as part of a subdivision of the Ripton Elementary School property. At that time, two acres were carved from the school lands in order to accommodate a new fire station.
“The planning commission urges the selectboard to continue work on provision of a site that can accommodate a salted sand pile without the consequence of leaching salt into Ripton’s watercourses, and a site that can be gated to provide town control over yard and food waste,” reads an Aug. 7, 2016, letter to the selectboard signed by commission Chairman Warren King.
Officials brought the shed issue to residents’ attention through the 2017 town report, and at the 2018 and 2019 annual town meetings. Voters agreed in 2018 that the shed site should be near the center of town and suggested inquiring with Middlebury College and the United States Forest Service about available land.
College land near the center of town was ruled out because it’s located along the Middlebury River, according to town records. Also, much of the college’s Ripton land is subject to conservation easements and thus can’t be developed.
Chris Mattrick, USFS district ranger, had discussed a proposed sale of the service’s Ripton barracks on the Goshen Road. But that option fell flat because the property’s usable area was too small, wasn’t centrally located, drained into a stream, and shares a driveway with a camp for individuals with special needs.
Ripton’s road commissioner at one point suggested using land off Natural Turnpike, located around 1.5 miles from Route 125. But that land would’ve had to be subdivided and faced neighbor opposition.
Officials last December identified around 20 potential sites in and near the village, primarily north of Route 125 and on paved roads. The selectboard measured the prospective sites against these criteria: A central location, between two and five acres, easy to access, outside of a floodplain, and not served by an under-sized bridge.
Dickinson sent letters to the individual landowners. Three of them ultimately agreed to discuss a land sale.
The board picked the Doria property as the best fit, in part because it would result in the least truck traffic past Ripton Elementary School and area homes, according to town records.
A survey of the land for significant archaeological and historic assets was scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 12.
“We don’t anticipate any red flags,” Dickinson said of that review.
Supporters are hoping the project also passes an environmental review that will consider, among other things, a class 2 wetland and related buffer on the property.
Due to that wetland and buffer and an effort to orient the shed in a manner that wouldn’t result in truck headlights beaming into a home across the street, the project as designed doesn’t conform with setback requirements for the MDR-5 zoning district in which the parcel is located, according to town records. But section 524 of Ripton’s Unified Development Bylaw allows municipal projects to skirt those setback requirements.
A majority of the town’s zoning board has endorsed the project, according to Dickinson.
And that’s not good news to Jenney Izzo and Brent Coulthard, who reside at 718 Lincoln Road, just across from the preferred parcel.
“On a personal level, our lives are lived almost exclusively in the front yard,” reads a recent letter from the couple to selectboard and planning commission members. “Our view, when we sit on our porch at night or in our living room, is of the green expanse across from our house. We find it meditative and beautiful, one of the reasons we bought the property. Our garden is near the road and directly across from the proposed building site. In short, putting a building of any kind in that spot so close to the road ruins our atmosphere and peace.”
Izzo also expressed safety concerns.
“As a mother of a once young child, I was pleased to have the Ripton School so close and so safely accessed,” she wrote. “In winter especially I would hesitate to let my child walk to school knowing commuter traffic would be navigating a narrowed road (due to snow) with bigger trucks.”
The couple believes the shed would be more appropriately sited on a state highway, instead of off a town-owned road.
“In short, we hope that you will continue your search for a town shed building site and abandon the idea of situating it across from our home,” they concluded.
Dickinson provided a written response to Izzo and Coulthard’s concerns. She said the town would take steps to minimize impact on their property, including retaining as much on-site vegetation as possible for screening, and exploring color schemes for the shed to help it blend in to its surroundings. Dickinson also noted the shed site is at a lower elevation than Lincoln Road, which she said should reduce the project’s impact.
She said neighbors shouldn’t expect a lot of activity at the shed.
“Sand is typically hauled to its storage site during two-three weeks in the fall,” she wrote to Izzo and Coulthard. “Some winters additional sand is needed and hauled in late winter. During hauling, there will be more trips and noise than usual, but all work is done during daytime hours.”
Once the project has undergone archaeological review, consultants will draw up conceptual plans for the shed. Those plans will be presented at a future public meeting, according to Dickinson.
“We were excited to get the grant and we’re excited about the project,” Dickinson said.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.