Town selectboard rejects land swap deal to developer

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Colchester taxpayers will retain ownership of a 1.7-acre parcel on Water Tower Hill after the selectboard shot down a proposal in August to trade it to a nearby developer for 20 years of rooftop space for a radio tower.

The town is already using the roof of Acabay Inc’s office building atop Water Tower Hill to transmit radio communications for Colchester’s three independent fire departments.

Town administrators worked out a tentative agreement with Acabay to trade the parcel — which the town acquired for a nominal fee in 1991 — for a 20-year lease to continue using the rooftop tower.

According to chief financial officer Aaron Frank, the market rate for a 20-year tower lease is in line with the property’s $150,000 assessed value.

“It’s a property that is more valuable to Acabay than any other entity,” town manager Dawn Francis said.

The board defeated the proposal 4-1. Board member Jeff Bartley was alone in supporting the idea.

“I just don’t see what we’re going to do with it if we hold onto it,” he said. “[Acabay] has expressed an interest in doing something with it, and I’d much rather put that in their hands than [the town] taking on more work to keep it clean. Yes, it’s a nice view, but it’s a nice view that’s been there since ’91, and we haven’t done anything with it.”

In defeating the proposal, a board majority said the property is undervalued and did not want to give up on a future public use. Brian Costello of the Colchester Land Trust weighed in with an offer to organize clearing trails on the land and installing interpretive signs.

“I’m not convinced that we have the right [price], and I’m not convinced I want to lose the view. I’d rather find a way to pay $7,000 [a year] in tower rental,” board member Marc Landry said.

The horseshoe-shaped parcel is sandwiched between Interstate 89, CVS and the Albany College of Pharmacy on Mountain View Drive.

“We don’t have a vision for what it could be,” parks and recreation director Glen Cuttitta said. “It’s not in our purview at this point to do much with it other than let it sit as it is.”