Property debate in Londonderry
Citizens had previously raised issues with shooting and target practice on the land, known as the Prouty property, which was bought by the town years earlier.
"We purchased the property as a town a number of years ago," said board Chairman Paul Gordon. "It's located midway between the two villages, so it was a potential site for a municipal water treatment plant."
Though the installation of a water treatment plant is no longer being pursued, the town is looking at utilizing the land for public storage and limited recreational use.
"Now we're looking into the possibility of a couple of smaller systems in the two villages, as opposed to using this land for the water treatment plant," said Gordon. "We are currently ready to build a sand and salt shed on that property for road use, but we've also looked at the possibility of utilizing it down the road as a central location for our two fire departments."
Residents of Londonderry came forward with complaints about shooting on the property at the board's July 17 meeting, encouraging it to articulate permitted uses.
"The problems identified most recently is that there have been some overnight camping that we want to discourage because of sanitary conditions," said Gordon. "There has also been some shooting going on. There are nearby houses, so it's not a safe area for that."
"It's dangerous and noisy and very annoying. It used to be once in a great while, but this summer it is constant," said resident Barbara Butts. "Somebody's going to get hurt, never mind that it's annoying and obnoxious."
Town members are concerned about the disturbance to local pets and people, as well as the proximity to residential property.
"I've lived on my piece of property for 34 years and really don't enjoy hearing gunfire go off for hours," said resident Lee Fergusen. "My animals are out there, and it freaks them out as well as me. I would like to see something happen."
"My dog is extremely nervous and scared," said resident Lila Butler. "It's a beautiful piece of land and I wouldn't want people to not be able to walk down there, but it sounds like AK-47's are going off in our backyards every day."
Though many would like the see the land remain open to proper public use, resident Gary Butts expressed concern about a potential lawsuit for the town.
"I'm sure people are selling drugs back there. They go to that back lot and they're back there having bonfires, parties, lighting fireworks... everything goes on back there," said Butts. "You've gotta gate that off; the town's going to get sued."
To address the issue, the board is working to formulate signs for the property that would denote proper and improper uses. Requesting increased patrolling through Londonderry's contract with the Vermont State Police has also been considered.
"We're looking at some type of signage that currently does not exist on the property that tells people that it is town property, and that we are probably not going to allow any target practice," said Gordon, noting that the Select Board is also working with the Planning Commission and Conservation Commission on the issue. "I'm hoping that we can settle on the verbiage of a sign at our next meeting."
While the Board is limited in its ability to institute a blanket prohibition of shooting on the property, there's hope that the construction of the salt and sand sheds alongside increased recreational use will curb the practice. Ultimately, the final use of the property will be determined by Londonderry's revised Town Plan, which will help to create and enforce guidelines for the property.
Though designating the area as a park would strengthen the town's ability to prohibit shooting, that option is complicated by the pending construction of storage sheds. When the property was purchased by the town there were a number of potential uses listed, according to the Select Board, but a park was not one of them.
"We purchased the property years ago for long term community use, and we want to encourage that," said Gordon. "We know that it's a resource to the community."
While the Select Board hopes to solidify permitted uses at their Sept. 18 meeting, a number of options are under consideration. Activities like walking, fishing, birdwatching, sledding, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing are being considered as permitted uses. Shooting, overnight camping, fires, and alcoholic beverages are likely to be designated as unwelcome activities.
"We don't want to discourage use," said Gordon. "Just inappropriate use."
The meeting was filmed by Greater Northshire Access Television.
Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.
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