Exit 4 Property Will Be Conserved


Front Page / Jun. 15, 2017 8:41am EDT

By Tim Calabro

The Preservation Trust of Vermont raised $1 million in order to purchase the final 22 acres of land at the Exit 4 interchange owned by Randolph developer Sam Sammis. (Herald File / Ben DeFlorio) The Preservation Trust of Vermont raised $1 million in order to purchase the final 22 acres of land at the Exit 4 interchange owned by Randolph developer Sam Sammis. (Herald File / Ben DeFlorio) Just days ahead of a June 15 deadline, the Preservation Trust of Vermont, with help from the local group Exit 4 Open Space, has raised the $1 million needed to purchase 22.5 acres of land at the I-89 Exit 4 interchange.

That parcel of land abuts the Interstate and includes the golf driving range. Along with an additional 150 acres to the west and northwest owned by Jesse “Sam” Sammis and his wife Jinny, the land was to be part of a grand development proposal that became contentious during the Act 250 permitting process in 2015. “The big, very challenging goal has been met,” said Marjorie Ryerson of Exit 4 Open Space in an interview on Tuesday, speaking of the two-month sprint to come up with the million-dollar total.

Vermont Technical College President Pat Moulton. (Herald File / Tim Calabro) Vermont Technical College President Pat Moulton. (Herald File / Tim Calabro) “We had 40 or 50 donations just yesterday.”

Two weeks ago, Ryerson and her Exit 4 Open Space friends were cautiously optimistic about the chances of such a major fundraising effort.

At the time, three-quarters of the way through the fundraising window, the Preservation Trust of Vermont had just secured additional funding that pushed their total to- ward the $600,000 mark.

By Wednesday morning the total was closer to $750,000. Thursday, a further $110,000 was raised, bringing the Preservation Trust a stone’s throw from $900,000.

“While the two-month deadline was pretty daunting, it was frankly not terrible because it made clear there was a lot of urgency, so people needed to make decisions quickly,” said Paul Bruhn, executive director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont.

According to Bruhn, Exit 4 Open Space was able to raise more than twice as much as he’d hoped.

More than 500 donors contributed to the project, Bruhn said, 450 of whom made donations ranging from $8-$1000. That, along with one larger donation accounted for the approximately $200,000 raised by Exit 4 Open Space.

According to Ryerson those donations came in from all over Vermont and several other states.

“This cause really sparked attention in the hearts of people all over the nation,” she said.

The Preservation Trust, along with partners such as the Vermont Natural Resources Council and others, concentrated on finding large sources of funding.

The remaining approximately $800,000 was made up of gifts between $10,000 and $150,000.

On the Same Page

Talks between Sammis and the Preservation Trust, the Conservation Law Foundation, the Vermont Natural Resources Council, and the Castanea Foundation had cemented plans in April to purchase 149 acres of Sammis’s Exit 4 property.

The Castanea Foundation’s purchase of those 149 acres will assure their conservation as agricultural property and the fields will be ultimately bought by the Ayers Brook Goat Dairy for agricultural use.

In April, when that conservation agreement was announced, the Preservation Trust of Vermont declared its goal of raising $1 million to purchase the remaining 22.5 acres of Sammis’ holdings at Exit 4 and secured an option to buy that land, which would have expired at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 15.

The mediated meetings, following a year of contentious permit hearings, was lauded by both sides of the table.

“This was a long process on a very twisty road,” said Bruhn.

“There was a battle in the permitting process. Sam pulled the application and then we went into a mediation process. That was really helpful. We all got to know each other.”

“There was great, great cooperation on both sides, and there was great respect,” Sammis said. “That’s how we were able to come to an arrangement.”

Sammis, who has owned the property west of Exit 4 with his wife, Jinny, for more than 30 years, pointed to his long history of conservation in and around Randolph.

He converted the half-acre building lots on the 1,300-acre Green Mountain Stock Farm property, which he owns, to larger home lots in order to preserve open land, he said.

Sammis also pointed to extensive renovation of the historic train depot, a property that was home to a popular eatery and which is currently listed for sale in downtown Randolph, and also cited his role in preserving 6,400 acres around Camel’s Hump in 1970.

“My master plan for Exit 4 was to preserve the prime ag land,” he said.

The last iteration of Sammis’s development proposal that went before a partial Act 250 review in 2015 featured a more tightly clustered design than his original offering and called for the development of 70 acres of the 172-acre plot at Exit 4.

Sammis had envisioned a welcome center, a hotel, housing units, and buildings for offices and light manufacturing at the site, which he was calling the Green Mountain Center.

The successful fundraising campaign means the end of Sammis’s grandiose development scheme, a fact about which he expressed mixed feelings in a phone interview Tuesday.

“I’m happy about the conservation side—I’d be happier if we could’ve had the jobs too,” he said.

Nonetheless, Sammis praised the efforts of the Preservation Trust, calling their fundraising achievement “spectacular.”

Bruhn agreed with that assessment.

“When [Sammis] came back to us with the million-dollar number, we were very grateful that he gave us the shot in trying to acquire it. I didn’t know if we could do it, but at least we had the chance. He provided us with a great opportunity.”

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