Deal falls through for town parcel

Would-be owner cites petition circulated by residents as one reason why he backed out

TOWNSHEND — A prospective buyer for a parcel that's languished off the tax rolls for nearly two decades has withdrawn his purchase offer, saying a petition opposing the sale was grossly incorrect but not worth fighting.

Brad Boucher told the Selectboard Aug. 18 that he was withdrawing his offer of $2,500 for a two-acre parcel at 67 Higgins Lane, Townshend Acres, and would now be unable to build here and start paying property tax.

Townshend bought the land at tax auction in 1996 and sees no value from it.

Boucher also questioned the appropriateness of a telephone call he said he received from the Lister's office Friday in connection with his offer.

“The townspeople have spoken. However, I feel they weren't given all the facts; they were manipulated or misinformed - lied to, or whatever you want to say,” Boucher told the Selectboard.

A one-paragraph petition making the rounds demanded that the parcel “be sold at public auction, and not in the arbitrary amount of $2,500. The assessed value is $22,000.”

The assessed value is incorrect, Boucher said. Selectboard Chair Kathy Hege strongly agreed that, in any event, not one dollar raised above the town's cost would stay with the town as a matter of law.

The petition's author has not stepped forward. Boucher suggested that, owing at least in part to the petition's language, the Lister's office may be linked.

“Does that office generate the petition, or is that for the townspeople to generate?” he asked. ”I can write a petition about anything and get people to sign it. Where is the responsibility of portraying the facts? Is that office held accountable in any way? Did they generate it? Did they generate the verbiage, or is it a lone wolf?”

Hege replied: “At this point I can't specifically answer that with certainty. There's a lot of speculation.”

Boucher's offer of $2,500 was to meet the town's expenses in the property.

Anything raised beyond that is obligated to be returned to the propery's original owner. Should reasonable efforts to find the owner fail, the remainder must be turned over to the state as unclaimed funds.

Boucher said he had heard from signers to the petition who told him they strongly regretted signing, as they had not had the facts at hand and in fact had been misinformed.

“They [the petition's author or authors] talked about an auction. They [the town] tried to auction it off. And nobody bought it. I thought I could do something with it. I thought what I offered was very fair,” he said.

Whatever its merits, Hege explained that the petition seemed destined to meet its legal threshhold of 5 percent of registered voters.

She said it had not been submitted to the town clerk yet and is not official.

“I am upset about it. I was excited; now I'm questioning, Is where I want to end up? Is this something I want to deal with as far as people roadblocking progress? Any clarity from ya'll would be appreciated,” he concluded.

Hege sympathized.

“I wish I had something to offer. We're all very aware that it's [the petition] out there. We all know, as the governening body, where we stand and what we can and cannot do with this particular parcel.”

She added, “We certainly are sorry that we put you and ourselves in this position because now we have a very wide split in the town of people thinking, I'm assuming from the language and the verbiage, that what we were trying to do is give it away, when all were were doing was trying to comply with the law.”

She returned to the notion of the apparent and unwarranted interest of the listers office.

“I'm a little bit concerned by the fact that somebody not from this board approached you about the land sale when in fact your offer was to this board. So I'm really not certain what prompted the office of the listers to contact you … because it was a done deal at that point,” Hege said.

Boucher said he had received a message from a woman named Robin at town extension 104, the listers office. He said he did not call back.

Later, he said, he learned of the petition.

Robin O'Neill is a lister here. Afternoon calls to O'Neill's office Tuesday were not picked up; an email to Listers Board Chair Stanley Bills Jr. inviting comment was not returned by press time.

Boucher added that “There was nothing arbitrary about the [offer] numbers. This was something I was looking forward to very much; I wanted to be a resident of Townshend. I wanted to be a taxpaying citizen. That property's been off the books for almost two decades.”

The Selectboard commiserated. They acknowledged the offer is withdrawn. And Boucher left the Town Office.

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