PITTSFORD – Although not supported by the Select Board, the Nature Conservancy has received a grant to help purchase just over 400 acres off Labrake Road.
Jon Binhammer, director of strategic conservation initiatives at the Nature Conservancy, said in an email Friday that the Conservancy received a grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) for $325,000, which represents 69% of the project’s budget. .
“I understand that the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board considered the feelings of the Pittsford Select Board regarding the grant during its deliberations, but the Select Board voted to oppose the project the day after the VHCB meeting,” Binhammer said. “I had advised the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board that the Select Board was unlikely to support the project unless we agreed to manage the property ‘like any other landowner on the current use program,’ and c is exactly how they voted the next night.”
He was unaware of the housing commission’s deliberations, but believes it felt the Nature Conservancy had responded in good faith to the special commission’s concerns.
Binhammer said it is Nature Conservancy’s policy not to discuss the price of a purchase until it is closed, which in this case should be the end of June.
“We look forward to purchasing and maintaining this ecologically significant property, whose conservation is in accordance with the City of Pittsford’s town plan and zoning by-law, and we look forward to maintaining a neighborhood relationship with neighboring landowners and the City of Pittsford,” Binhammer said.
The board voted 4-0 at its March 16 meeting not to support the sale unless the Nature Conservancy agrees to put it on the standard version of the Current Use Plan.
Current use allows landowners to sell development rights to the land they own, provided that the land continues to be used for timber harvesting or agriculture. Non-profit organizations are allowed to register land for conservation purposes without having to authorize timber harvesting.
In September 2021, Binhammer came to the board asking for a letter of support, or at least neutrality, to include in the conservation’s application to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board for a grant to help purchase the property.
The land is currently privately owned. Binhammer said the Nature Conservancy wanted to add it to its other plots to better protect wildlife, sequester carbon and preserve wetlands. There is a hunting camp on the land which would be leased to the current owners, but it is otherwise wooded.
Council’s questions and concerns related to public access to the property, but also future timber harvests.
The March meeting was tense at times.
Board member David Mills, who owns land that borders this plot to the north, said he’s spoken to people in town who don’t think it’s fair for the Nature Conservancy to benefit from the current use program without having to harvest wood.
“It’s good,” Binhammer said. “You and they should discuss this with the Legislature because the Legislature created the current use category called Conservation Lands which was specifically for conservation entities like us and other land trusts who wanted to register for the current use but not necessarily follow the cultural guides that are outlined for private land ownership.
He noted that there is currently a bill in the Legislative Assembly which, if enacted, would allow private landowners to register their land for common use for conservation purposes, as would organizations. non-profit.
Gagnon Lumber board member Joe Gagnon said he wants timber harvests to remain a possibility for this parcel.
“In the City of Pittsford, you or your organization have…”
He was interrupted by Binhammer, who took issue with Gagnon’s use of the phrase “you people”.
“You used the term ‘you people’ and I think that makes me the Other,” Binhammer said. “I am a person, I have a name. You can call me by my name or you can call Nature Conservancy by our name, I would appreciate that. I have respect for you and everything, but I would prefer not to be talked about because it creates a situation where I am the enemy, and I don’t feel like your enemy, I I have a different perspective than you. So go ahead.”
Gagnon apologized and said he meant no hard feelings. He went on to say that the Nature Conservancy already owns about 2,100 acres in Pittsford, and between that and the lands he owns in Brandon, Sudbury and Hubbardton, he owns about 3,900 acres.
He claimed that none of this was run for lumber, which he said hurts the state’s working landscape.
Binhammer said the Nature Conservancy is ready to meet the city halfway, though Gagnon noted that “halfway” means nothing in terms of that discussion.
“There will be logging trucks leaving this property,” Binhammer said. “We are not going to manage every acre because what we plan to do is an ecological inventory… Starting in the spring and based on the inventory, we will establish areas that we will treat as reserve land without timber harvesting planned due to the presence of rare, threatened or endangered species or significant natural communities or serve as riparian buffers or wetlands.
He said based on this survey, the Nature Conservancy would allow some timber harvesting, but not to the level required by others under the current use program. There would be no reason for the Nature Conservancy to own the land if that were the case.
Mills then accused the Nature Conservancy of opening up its High Pond lands to hunting in order to gain hunter support for a wildlife corridor it sought to preserve.
“So I think a lot of people in town are worried that once you get all this land and whatever, once you get what you want, you’re going to shut everything down again,” Mills said, adding as many feel the Nature Conservancy has enough land in town.
“This idea that we were trying to get hunters on our side so we could cross a corridor, we only work with willing landowners and we want to work cooperatively with people and with cities to do our conservation work” , Binhammer said. “We don’t want to do things underhandedly because for the very reason suspicion has a significant negative impact on our goals and objectives.”
Mills said it was more than an idea, that he had documents to prove it. Binhammer said he would like to see said papers because he thinks anyone at the Nature Conservancy who writes something like this would be fired for doing so.
Earlier in the meeting, Binhammer said the city plan calls for preserving open spaces, and if city policy is anything else, she should consider changing the plan.