Montpelier residents, who are soon to become the owners of a 138-acre country club, must now figure out what to do with it.
The development of housing, especially affordable housing, was the prevailing vision among the 150-plus people who participated in a city-sponsored video conference last week to brainstorm ideas for the former Elks Club golf course off Route 2, just east of the city.
Voters on Town Meeting Day approved a $2 million bond (1,205 for and 1,021 against) to purchase the property, which features a clubhouse building along with a nine-hole golf layout. City officials have offered the owners, Citi Properties LLC, $3 million, with the extra $1 million coming from the city’s fund to repair the deteriorating Recreation Center on Barre Street. No contract has been signed, but City Manager Bill Fraser said he expects to have a deal by the end of March. A new assessment recently put the value of the parcel at $2.93 million, Fraser said.
Controlling the Land
The goal for the city is to explore the site as a home for a new recreation center and to “control” the land as development options come forward, he said.
“We have more sway over the outcomes if we hold the land costs,” Fraser said, adding that the city is better positioned to oversee the integration of a new neighborhood than individual investors. “We have a much wider vision.”
According to many of those on the video call, housing of all kinds, accessibility to the land for hiking, skiing, and other outdoor recreation activities, and energy sustainability were important criteria. Meeting moderator Paul Costello summarized the vision for the property from what he heard as “an affordable place to live for the people who are here, a sustainable neighborhood of people from diverse backgrounds, and an inclusive process that reflects a common vision.”
Those who spoke cited public transportation, net zero energy use, and mixed housing options, including rental options and low-cost home ownership. Many referenced keeping at least some of the stock “affordable,” without defining the term. Preserving open space and recreational access were also a common theme.
While housing might be on everyone’s wish list, the one concrete plan on the table is a proposal from a nonprofit organization called The Hub, which would like to renovate the existing clubhouse and build a roughly $2.5 million racquet sports barn on a portion of the property.
The Hub’s organizers were in negotiations with Citi Properties before the city stepped in to buy the land. They say obtaining a lease from the city for 10 to 15 acres around the existing clubhouse is vital to their obtaining financing. Fraser said the city would coordinate with The Hub to make sure their plans were complementary to the city’s own recreation center needs.
If The Hub is granted a lease, it hopes to begin renovations this summer to the clubhouse to create a community center, which could include new locker rooms, meeting rooms, a day care facility, virtual golf, a rock-climbing wall, and a restaurant and bar, at a cost of roughly $300,000, Hub board vice president Nat Winthrop said.
“We would start applying for grants and continue fundraising,” Winthrop said, adding that the group hopes to raise $500,000 in large and small donations and hopes to raise half of that in pledges and donations by mid-spring. “It’s very important for us at The Hub that we have site control and if you don’t own the land you need a long-term lease of 25 years to get loans and be eligible for federal grants.”
The tennis barn could be open, ambitiously, by the fall of 2023, he said.
Winthrop sees the membership-based tennis center as an attraction for families that might locate in the new housing, which would likely be five years away at least.
The city council will discuss the process going forward at its April 13 meeting.
“The next step is to take all the comments and look at ways to feed that back out to the community and maybe do it in a way that people can prioritize them,” Fraser said, adding that the city will look for ways to expand the number of participants.
Ultimately, “we would draft a plan and say ‘here’s a conceptual plan, what do you think of that’ and build consensus from there,” he said.