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August 25, 2011

Town of Colchester Hosts Open House at Former Camp Holy Cross

Holy Cross 1 On Tuesday night, August 23, my wife, Stacy and I, along with our daughter and several of our neighbors, strolled over to the Malletts Bay property formerly known as Camp Holy Cross. The town of Colchester was hosting the first of two open houses for local residents interested in eyeballing the property, which went on the market just last year.

On October 4, Colchester voters will decide whether to buy the 26-acre camp from the Catholic Diocese of Vermont for a cool $4.5 million. As readers may recall, the diocese was forced to sell off the land in order to cover the cost of its legal settlements with victims of a priest sex-abuse case — another step toward absolving the sins of the father, as it were.

For Stacy and me, this was the first time we could sneak a peek at land we pass every day but that has remained hidden for years behind a dense thicket of trees and forbidding "NO TRESPASSING" signs. Plus, the offer of free refreshments made it a no-brainer.

At about 5:30 p.m., our contingent of baby strollers, backpacks and bicycles arrived at the camp. Already, the dirt parking lot beside the "chapel," as well as the overflow parking area, were filled with cars. A line of residents waiting patiently for free food snaked away from a massive grill. Manning the fire was Colchester Police Chief Charles Kirker, who did more than his fair share of "serving" his citizens — specifically, several hundred burgers and hotdogs.

Ostensibly, the point of this two-hour show-and-tell, attended by various and sundry town officials as well as more than 150 residents, was to impress upon voters the magnitude of this once-in-a-generation opportunity. As I heard repeated often, by town officials and residents alike, if Colchester voters don't jump on this prime chunk of lakefront real estate, then some savvy developer will swoop in and turn it into a gated community of McMansions, making this visit the first and last time most of us will ever see it.

As someone who firmly believes in investing in public infrastructure, especially new parks, I supported the idea of the town buying this land even before seeing it firsthand. Still, as a voter who may be asked to pony up an extra $20 to $40 per year in property taxes to pay for it, I wanted to see exactly what we'd be getting for our tax dollars. I must admit, except for the impressive views of Lake Champlain, the 1600 feet of sandy beach and a well-maintained chapel, the facilities were, shall we say, underwhelming.

Holy Cross 4 There are about a dozen cabins and outbuildings on the property, most of which look as though they were built during the Eisenhower administration. Many, like the ramshackle bunk pictured at right, look as though they'll either need to be drastically renovated or razed. Other features, such as the "tennis courts," will soon be converted, by forces of nature, from an asphalt to grass surface.

As this was a true "open house," virtually every structure on the property was unlocked and available for public gawking. What our company of gawkers found odd was the unmistakeable impression that the camp's previous occupants seemed to have just walked away one day without even packing.

Holy Cross 2 For example, as we inspected what was, presumably, the camp infirmary, we discovered a bed, still made with blankets and pillows, as well as an old TV set, books, clothing and various other odds and ends suggesting that someone had squatted here recently. In an adjoining room we found a medical backboard and head braces for immobilizing a patient. Based on their vintage, I half expected to find an iron lung parked in another room, just beyond the tuberculosis ward.

In another, much larger building, which presumably served as the camp's main dining hall, we discovered a motorcycle, snowmobile and outboard marine engine, all of which most belong to the property's caretaker. Although this building is in somewhat better shape than the others, it, too, is in dire need of repairs and renovations, not to mention a good fumigation.

Holy Cross 5 One of the few charming structures in the camp is a handicapped-accessible treehouse (right) that overlooks the lake. Like the one in Burlington's Oakledge Park, it has a long, meandering ramp and live trees growing through the inside. This one, however, is more shielded from the elements, which may explain why someone parked a camping tent inside, along with recently used camping gear. Another squatter, perhaps?

Although I would have liked to attend the monthly selectboard meeting that was held immediately following the open house, it was preempted by the nightly duties of tending to my 2-year-old daughter.

Still, as we made our way home, we discussed the many possible uses of the property. In additional to the expected recreational activities of fishing, camping, boating, as well as ice fishing and cross-country skiing in the winter, the land could easily be rented out for wedding ceremonies and receptions, community meetings, concerts, conventions and events such as car shows and festivals. Got other suggestions? Send 'em my way. 

Whether town residents will choose to fork over this much money for the camp remains to be seen. After all, Colchester residents are notoriously tight-fisted when it comes to approving school budgets. Nevertheless, selectboard members will get another chance to make their case at a second open house, scheduled for Sunday, September 25, from noon to 5 p.m.

And, for those residents who may be skeptical about investing $4.5 million in property without a plan in place, another town meeting is scheduled for Monday, August 29, at the Colchester Senior Citizen Center, where residents will present various ideas on how the property should be used. Or not.

I am leaning towards voting yes, but it is a bitter thing. I and my neighbors live in Colchester well away from the Bay and we know that the Selectboard has no interest in providing us with services like town water, sewer and natural gas that some take for granted.

So. Who paid for the food? Taxpayers? Is this the correct way to sell it? Nearing bribery?
I urge Colchester residents to ask the tough questions we in Burlington are guilty of not asking(well at least some are guilty, I asked but really got no answers) concerning BT and Moran.
Just be careful out their.

Hey Ken, why don't you just pay the bill and let everyone enjoy it? I am so sick of all this socialism and "we're all in it together" mentality. We're in a recession right now, remember? Keep your checkbooks locked up and smarten up people. How about taking the $5mil and lowering everyone's taxes?

Ah, yes. The dreaded "S" word: Socialism! The idea that the collective good is served by publicly sharing the cost of certain goods and services we deem as important: primary education, police, fire, EMS, transportation, occupational health, consumer product safety, border protection, etc. Want food that doesn't give you e. coli? Water that doesn't cause cancer? Baby cribs that don't suffocate your kids? All are funded through a socialized model.

It's funny how no one labels it socialism when we give billions of taxpayer dollars to companies such as General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Halliburton and Blackwater . That's free-market job creation at work, and patriotic to boot! Or, when we hand over trillions of dollars to Wall Street investment banks that are "too big to fail." That's smart fiscal policy!

If Colchester voters ask the tough questions, as Dale Tillotson rightly suggests, and don't get satisfactory answers, then by all means, they should vote no. But even the most cowboy of Republican presidents in the 20th century, Teddy Roosevelt, recognized the value of setting aside large tracts of public land in perpetuity. That's why, during his presidency, he created five national parks, 18 national monuments and 150 national forests, totaling some 230 million acres of conserved lands. Socialism? No, just wise long-term thinking.

The town of Colchester can always sell off that Holy Cross land down the road if it's facing imminent fiscal crisis. In the meantime, making a smart real estate purchase, at a reasonable price, sounds like a good investment. Sure beats giving our money to Wall Street, especially this month.

Jen, if I had an extra $5 million to kick in toward buying a public park for my fellow Colchester residents, I'd certainly consider doing so. I'm also well-aware we're in a recession. My wife was laid off March 1 and has yet to find work. And yes, I DO believe we're all in this together. That's the very definition of community.

Ken I wished that the selectboard shared your attitude about providing equal public services to all residents.

As for the beach, if I were King I'd split the baby and make the beach public property with a public access and let the rest of it go for residential or commercial development. There are some very wonderful beaches in Massachusetts that are set up this way.

The Town of Colchester states that the total cost for each tax payer comes to $1,500, however they that is just the cost to make the purchase of the land.

The ongoing costs of development and maintenance of infrastructure are totally unknown.

They have not even discussed the opportunity costs associated with lost property tax revenue. (Based on the current market value of the land it would generate in the neighborhood of $120,000 annually, and significantly more if the land was improved.)

Asking tax payers to vote without disclosing this information is deceptive and irresponsible.

Colchester has just finalized a 300% increase in assessments for many owners of camps and homes near the lake. Now they want to increase the tax burden even more through this purchase.

Ken Picard suggests that Colchester's justification for purchasing this property include profit making investment potential:

"...Colchester can always sell off that Holy Cross land down the road if it's facing imminent fiscal crisis. In the meantime, making a smart real estate purchase, at a reasonable price, sounds like a good investment..."

This is a terrible idea. Let's make it clear that no town in Vermont should be in the business of borrowing large chunks of money to make speculative real estate investments. Nor should any town venture into the wedding rental business.

If there is no clear plan for for how this property will benifit the citizens of Colchester, then the purchase should not be made.

There is clearly NOT a need for another public beach down the street from TWO other public beaches. The Town already owns at least 5 waterfront properties in a 3 mile vacinity.

Also, Colchester is already struggling to find the funds to repair the Causeway bike path.

By the way Ken, the Town states that it would cost around $75 per year in additional taxes for each resident, not the $20-40 figure that you list.

"The idea that the collective good is served by publicly sharing the cost of certain goods and services we deem as important"

It's simply astonishing that someone who makes their living as a journalist doesn't seem to have the faintest idea of what Socialism is. I mean, you're not even close.

"The idea that the collective good is served by publicly sharing the cost of certain goods and services we deem as important"

It's simply astonishing that someone who makes their living as a journalist doesn't seem to have the faintest idea of what Socialism is. I mean, you're not even close.

Jimmy, please enlighten us. Please share your wisdom as to what socialism is, because I'm sure - having seen your posts on this website before - that we should hold you up as an expert on socialism.

Let me share my $0.02: This commenter Jen doesn't know what socialism is either, since she is complaining about an item being placed before voters, which is a hallmark of democracy.

As for anyone being against the "we're all in this together" mentality, I hope that you made it through the hurricane just fine and don't need assistance from your friends, neighbors or government. For that matter - I hope you don't need to ever use anything built for the public good you hypocrite.

"As for anyone being against the 'we're all in this together' mentality"

Who would that be, and what would that have to do with objection to a profoundly inappropriate "investment," exactly?

"Please share your wisdom as to what socialism is"

What, your browser loads this site but not Google?

Find me one legitimate definition that comes close to Picard's. Here's a few that don't:

What's simply astonishing, "Jimmy," is how someone like you, who expresses his opinions with such unmitigated arrogance, doesn't even have the balls to identify himself by using his real name. Why should anyone even bother engaging you in a real discussion?

I am willing to bet Jimmy is in fact his real name.

Also, only because this crap really burns my arse, its a freaking internet message board. WHo the hell knows ken if you are really Ken Picard. I could type Barack Obama in as my "name." The very fact there is no verification means it's anonymous so stop bitching. Jezuz, who cares who Jimmy is. Does it matter? Does it somehow discredit his opinion or make it less valid? Does it really make him have less balls? If he gave you his name and address Ken would you go over to his house?

It's simply childish. John Briggs pulled this shit several times over at the BFP when someone critized him..... ironically under the guise "City Hall."

Classic if you can't refute the message, discredit the messenger.

Per this:
"It's funny how no one labels it socialism when we give billions of taxpayer dollars to companies such as General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Halliburton and Blackwater ."

Ken, I would like to point out that our Constitution specifically states that all citizens provide for the protection of our country. We BUY products from these people to full fill our obligation and do our constitional duty.

Where exactly does our constitution say we are obligated to provide public beaches to everyone?

Finally, I would support it if I were/having been a Colchester resident. I don't disagree with the point of the story. So don't get me wrong. But I do disagree with the analogy and comments.

Hear, hear

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