149 Acres To Be Conserved at Exit 4

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Front Page / Apr. 20, 2017 10:30am EDT

By Sandy Vondrasek


Sam Sammis, center left, shakes hands with Miles Hooper of Ayers Brook Goat Dairy while the two are interviewed by members of the press on Tuesday. The Castanea Foundation will purchase 149 acres from Sammis with the goal of preserving the prime agricultural land. If the Preservation Trust of Vermont can raise $1 million by June 15, that group will purchase another 22 acres. (Herald / Ben DeFlorio) Sam Sammis, center left, shakes hands with Miles Hooper of Ayers Brook Goat Dairy while the two are interviewed by members of the press on Tuesday. The Castanea Foundation will purchase 149 acres from Sammis with the goal of preserving the prime agricultural land. If the Preservation Trust of Vermont can raise $1 million by June 15, that group will purchase another 22 acres. (Herald / Ben DeFlorio) Most—and quite possibly all—of the gorgeous “gateway to Randolph” property at Exit 4 owned by Jesse “Sam” and Jinny Sammis will remain undeveloped farmland, forest, and wetland.

The property, which contains some of the state’s richest agricultural soils, is also known for its stunning views.

In a press conference Tuesday morning at the Sammis-owned golf driving range on Route 66, plans to conserve three parcels totaling 170 acres on either side of the state highway were announced to a small crowd of interested citizens and the media. The land sale and conservation plan announced on that sunny field are the result of months of talks between Sammis and representatives of four organizations—the Preservation Trust of Vermont, Conservation Law Foundation, Vermont Natural Resources Council, and the Montpelier-based Castanea Foundation.


The land formerly earmarked for development includes parcels on both sides of Route 66. The land formerly earmarked for development includes parcels on both sides of Route 66. Conservation of 149 acres of the 170 acres seems assured, although the sale is not completely finalized. This acreage—88 acres north of Route 66 and another 61.5 acres to the south—is to be purchased for $1.2 million by the Castanea Foundation.

Tim Storrow, executive director of Castanea, said Tuesday that the foundation plans to work with the Vermont Land Trust and local partners to sell a conservation easement on the property, and, eventually, to sell the conserved land to the Ayers Brook Goat Dairy on Route 12, just north of Randolph village.

Castanea, a “private operating foundation” with a mission to conserve the state’s working landscape, has “a particular interest in fostering the growth of the goat dairy industry in Vermont,” Storrow said Tuesday.

Three years ago, Castanea assisted in the establishment of the Ayers Brook Goat Dairy, at the site of the dairy farm formerly operated by Carol and the late Perry Hodgdon. The farm is now owned by the Hooper family of Brookfield, with son Miles the farm manager.

Smallest Parcel

The future of the third parcel— 22 acres across the street from the MacDonald’s restaurant and “The Barn” convenience store/ gas station—depends on whether the Preservation Trust of Vermont can raise the asking price of $1 million by June 15.

Paul Bruhn, executive director of the Preservation Trust, extended on Tuesday his thanks to Sammis for setting a “reasonable price” for the parcel. Raising the funds represents a big challenge, but a “doable” one, Bruhn said.

The 22-acre parcel, which en- compasses the golf driving range and extends to the I-89 right-of-way, doesn’t have rich agricultural land; its value stems from its stunning westward views, and as a scenic “gateway” into Randolph.

Bruhn noted that just $150,000 of that million has been raised so far. VNRC and Exit 4 Open Space, a local group that formed in opposition to Sammis’ ambitious development plan for the acreage, have committed to assist with fundraising efforts, he said. Donations may be made at www.ptvermont.org.

Sammis confirmed Tuesday that if the Trust cannot raise the funds by the deadline, he will put the land on the market.

Sammis’ master plan had designated this smallest parcel as the site for a 180-room hotel and conference center, a 5000-square-foot visitors’ center, and a 40,000-squarefoot Vermont products showcase.

Other parts of his 170 acres were slated to have housing units, and office and light manufacturing buildings. No so-called “big box” stores were planned, as Randolph zoning in the Interchange district forbids such.

Sammis, representatives from the non-profits, as well as goat farmer Miles Hooper and David Hurwitz of the grassroots group Exit 4 Open Space, each had a turn on Tuesday to offer comments. Most of the parties, with the exception of the Preservation Trust of Vermont and the Castanea Foundation, had testified against Sammis’ development plan during a series of sometimes-heated Act 250 hearings in 2015.

Sammis Comments

Sammis noted that he and Jinny first bought land along Route 66 in 1973. Instead of pushing for quick development, he said, he worked with local planners and committees on revising zoning for the area.

“We worked with the planning board, the Development Review Board, the selectboard. We had open hearings—it was a team effort,” he said.

All components of the master plan he eventually developed conformed with local zoning, Sammis emphasized, and the DRB granted the project local permits in 2010.

Sammis made it clear he still believes that his plan was a good one—one that would have kept more than 50% of the 170 acres undeveloped, and brought jobs, tourists, and tax revenues to the town.

There was little opposition raised during the DRB hearings, but pushback arose powerfully during Act 250 hearings, which started in May of 2105 and continued through that summer.

Sammis noted that talks with the conservation-minded non-profits started in the fall of 2015, after he concluded that opposition to the project was likely to be protracted.

Sammis took a moment Tuesday to tweak his come-lately opponents: “I would have preferred that you not show up at the last moment, but show up early and be part of the master plan,” he said. “I would have welcomed that.”

Sammis and representatives from CLF, VNRC, and the Preservation Trust each indicated in their comments Tuesday that the joint talks had been good ones, even though parties held widely divergent views on whether the Green Mountain Center would be of benefit to Vermont and Randolph.

VNRC Executive Director Brian Shupe and others said they believed that Randolph could benefit from, for example, a hotel, but that it ought to be sited in the downtown, not at Exit 4.

Shupe also singled out the local group, Exit 4 Open Space, for its efforts to oppose the project. These were, he said, “the folks who really cared about the community, and put a lot of passion and care into the fight.”

Farmer Perspective

In his remarks, Miles Hooper said his concern about the need to preserve a “critical mass” of farmland in Randolph is what motivated him to testify against the project in Act 250 hearings. Although he was relatively new to farming, he said, he realized that in order to preserve farm operations in an area, there must be enough land to support the farms, and enough farms to support an infrastructure of suppliers, equipment dealers, and the like.

His farm, Hooper admitted, has been dependent on leased fields.

“I feel very privileged to be the farm that gets to operate on this beautiful land,” he said.

Hooper also gave a tip of the hat “to Sam and Jinny for their tremendous contributions to Randolph over 40 years.”

“Miles Hooper has changed me into a goat farmer, instead of a real estate developer,” Sammis quipped.

Divesting in Randolph

The Sammises, who have, over 40 years, accumulated significant property holdings in town, are in the process of shedding them, with every property now on the market.

Along with those holdings have come significant tax bills. According to Randolph Assessor Patrick French, their Exit 4 land is assessed at more than $3.3 million and currently has an annual tax bill of $75,301.

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