Where does Manchester end, and Dorset begin? No one's really sure

Northshire towns mull over the idea of a boundary-line survey

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Two neighboring Northshire towns chartered centuries ago may finally pursue a seemingly critical but long-deferred project: a definitive survey of their approximately six-mile boundary line.

"Neither the Town of Dorset nor the Town of Manchester have direct knowledge of the location and status of their mutual town line boundary," states a proposal prepared in September for the two municipalities by Daniels Survey, P.C., of Manchester Center. "Boundary surveys by others have depicted the approximate town line boundary location in different locations based on best available information at the time of their surveys."

Compilers of tax maps and "other authorities" have also depicted approximations — efforts "sufficient for past purposes," according to the proposal. But now there's "a need to be able to say with certainty just where the town line boundary exists on the ground."

It remains to be seen whether the two towns will move forward with the survey, the haziness of which recently has factored into at least three property-related matters in the vicinity of Squires Road, accessible via North Road in Manchester near Route 30.

A couple who own acreage there — and whose children attended Manchester Elementary Middle School — have sought, unsuccessfully, to obtain a permit to build a house on land that Manchester's planning and zoning director, Janet Hurley, has determined to be in Dorset.

Nearby, the Taconic and Green Regional School District owns an undeveloped, surplus parcel that it has sought to sell — but now, for clarity, is waiting on the boundary-line survey.

"We're just in limbo on it," said Jacquelyne Wilson, superintendent of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union, which includes Taconic and Green.

The property appears on Manchester's grand list, though Hurley thinks it "is fully within Dorset" based on recent surveys submitted to her as part of applications by other parties for lot line adjustment permits, she said in an email.

And a complaint in September addressed to both towns' zoning administrators alleging unpermitted contracting activity in the area yielded considerably different responses.

"To the extent that these uses are occurring in the Town of Manchester, I determine that they constitute zoning violations," Hurley wrote to the property owners, Brent Herrmann and Thomas Ouellette.

Dorset Zoning Administrator Tyler Yandow did not reach the same conclusion. "In order to determine if a zoning violation exists, I need to determine if the alleged activity is taking place within the Town of Dorset," he wrote to the complainants last month. Based on Dorset's tax map, Manchester's online map and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources' online atlas, Yandow continued, "I am unable to determine the location of the town line, and therefore if the alleged violation is in the Town of Dorset."

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Herrmann and Ouellette have denied wrongdoing and suggest the uses have been grandfathered in because they commenced more than 15 years ago, placing the activity outside the reach of a state law that governs municipal land-use enforcement proceedings.

Their appeal of Manchester's determination was slated to be considered by the town's Development Review Board on Wednesday night.

A 'big deal'?

The two towns' select boards separately discussed the survey proposal during meetings last month. Members of both boards wondered about the ultimate impact the project — expected to cost a total of $30,000 — might have on their respective grand lists, which seems, at this point, to be unclear.

Dorset board members encouraged Town Manager Rob Gaiotti to pursue an intergovernmental agreement with Manchester related to the survey proposal. Manchester's board, however, appeared to be less convinced of the proposal's urgency and took no action that night.

"It seems that Dorset is really interested in getting this done," Manchester Select Board Chair Ivan Beattie said at the meeting, according to GNAT-TV video footage. "And I wonder why it's such a big deal to them."

Manchester Town Manager John O'Keefe said on Oct. 21 that the town "does not have a position at this point" on partnering with Dorset on the full boundary line survey.

Asked about the proposal again last week, O'Keefe replied that "intergovernmental agreements aren't as simple as one might think" and shared a five-page agreement from 2013 between the two towns related to public safety and emergency services that addresses cost sharing, liability and other matters.

"At this point I don't have anything along these sorts of lines" pertaining to the more recent proposal, he wrote.

Dorset is "supportive" of the survey proposal, Gaiotti said in email last week, and "we await Manchester to decide on how/when they would like to move forward."

Contact Luke Nathan at lnathan@benningtonbanner.com.


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