By Shaw Israel Izikson, Contributor and Mara Brooks, Editor
During their regular meeting on Monday, Sept. 27, the Selectboard approved a motion to move a property easement to the southern edge of a property owned by Margaret and Michael Russell at 2577 Lake Road.
The move was first discussed at the May 24 Selectboard meeting when the Russells indicated they wanted to move the existing trail easement on the northern boundary part of their property to a southern boundary.
“I appreciate the Selectboard for looking at doing this,” Michael Russell said to the board. “This is going to be a good thing for the town to have a trail in a buildable location that will connect to other aspects of the trail that are under development and consideration.”
Trails Committee Chair Bill Regan said the trails committee also supported the new easement.
“I just want to say we support this change,” Regan said. “The current [Russell] easement really doesn’t connect you to very much at all, but with the proposed change you have the opportunity for much more direct connection with the village loop trail and eventually for this becoming part of the extension of the town link trail all the way down to the beach. So, from a trails’ perspective, this is a good idea.”
The board motioned to approve the reconveyance of the municipal trail easement back to the Russells in exchange for a new recreational trail easement across their property.
Before the motion was approved, Lydia Clemmons, executive director of the Clemmons Family Farm, asked to be heard.
Clemmons told the board she believed the town was moving the trail closer to the Clemmons Family Farm property despite repeated requests during the past several months for the town to find an alternative route.
The Clemmons Family Farm is a black-owned, historic 148-acre property and multicultural center and the only one of its kind in Vermont.
At a previous Selectboard meeting, Clemmons expressed concerns that placing a trail near the property could make the farm a target for racially motivated hate crimes.
In late May, Clemmons expressed those concerns again when a scoping study proposed placing the Town Link Trail along the Clemmons Family Farm property line.
“I missed some conversations that have been held,” Clemmons said Monday. “But the last time we had a meeting on this particular part of the trail, I thought that the town had said that it would try to get the trail as far away from the Clemmons Family Farm as possible. And it seems like we are going on as if that conversation never happened, and as if the trauma that happened to my family never happened. As if maybe, you aren’t aware that we have a security guard service guarding the east part of our property on Greenbush Road.”
Clemmons’ safety concerns are not without merit. In June, the state’s Human Rights Commission issued a report that Clemmons was found to have suffered illegal racial and gender discrimination at the hands of Vermont State Police during a four-month period in 2017. During the time in question, Clemmons requested assistance from the police on multiple occasions in relation to an alleged criminal who fraudulently gained tenancy at the farm by pretending to be a sheepherder.
“You have routinely complimented the Russells on all of their hard work and all that they’ve done,” Clemmons said to board member Louise McCarren. “Do you know that our family has been here for 60 years holding onto this land and doing nothing but give back to the community? We are a historic site, and we are asking the town of Charlotte to care.”
“I was under the impression that this southern route takes the trail farther away from your farm,” McCarren replied. “If I’m wrong on that, I’m wrong.”
“We had this conversation before, Louise,” Clemmons said. “We feel, vehemently, that this makes our farm more vulnerable.”
Selectboard Chair Matt Krasnow suggested Clemmons had misunderstood the purpose of the motion.
“I think that Lydia, from what I am understanding what you are saying, is you are talking about the larger scoping study that was looking to place the town link trail on a determined path from the center of town to Charlotte Beach,” Krasnow said. “This has no bearing on that process at all. It may, or may not be, in a path that the town at some point in the future looks at placing on the Town Link Trail. But that is not what is before the Selectboard right now.”
Krasnow said that the existing trail easement going across the Russell property is closer to the Clemmons’ property.
“It runs more to the northern part of [the Russell’s] existing property,” Krasnow said. “What this does is that allows for more options to be further from your property on the southern end of their property. It creates an additional spur that could get it even closer to Ferry Road if needed.”
Krasnow said that no decisions were being made at the Sept. 27 meeting about the determined route of the Town Link Trail from the center of town to Charlotte Beach.
“Any process that would endeavor to do so, would be done thoughtfully and sometime down the road in the future,” Krasnow said. “But certainly, that is not what is happening tonight.”
“This is separate,” Margaret Russell said. “No matter what, the easement is being moved away from the Clemmons property. To me, that sounds like a positive for both of us.”
The board voted to pass the motion with member Lewis Mudge abstaining.
When reached for comment by The Charlotte News, Mudge explained his vote — or lack thereof.
“I appreciate the Russells changing their easement, people who provide easements are doing the town a service,” Mudge said.
He abstained, Mudge said, due to what he called “the trails issue”.
Mudge explained he was “dismayed” by the town’s attempt to avoid addressing Clemmons’ “legitimate concerns” at the Sept. 27 meeting.
“I was surprised that, although we had this endorsement from Bill Regan and the trails committee, that when Lydia Clemmons wanted to talk about her very legitimate concerns with regard to the trail, it was suddenly like, ‘no, no, no, we’re just talking about the easement,’” he said.
Mudge said Regan’s statement that moving the easement was “a great idea” for the town link trail “opened the door” for Clemmons to also voice her concerns.
“Lydia has every right as a townsperson to bring up her concerns, I consider them to be valid,” Mudge said. “This movement of the easement has been talked about in the past. I had been for it. But there was a very direct correlation between the trail and the easement. And then I perceived that all of a sudden we didn’t want to hear from the Clemmons family farm on that issue.”
Mudge said that he “regrets” not having spoken up more at Monday’s meeting.
“I was frankly, trying to collect my thoughts,” he said. “I thought, the Russells are doing a service to the town, [so] I didn’t want to vote against it, but I didn’t want to vote for it.”
Mudge added that Clemmons also raised a “salient point” in her statements at Monday’s meeting.
“We certainly speak often, and rightly so, about what townsfolk are doing for the town, but we haven’t spoken enough about thanking the Clemmons Family Farm for all that they do,” Mudge said. “I think it’s high time that we all take the time to thank them as well. They do a lot for the town, they do a lot for the whole community.
“The Clemmons Family Farm is a treasure, and we need to recognize that,” Mudge said.
In an email to The Charlotte News after the meeting, Clemmons said that she has stated her position on the Russells’ easement at previous town meetings and had no further comment at this time.