A land dispute in Chittenden County is raising questions about whether a dead woman's wishes are being ignored. Alice Rivers donated her 125 acres of land to the Underhill-Jericho Fire Department back in 1986 with the rights to continue living in her home until she died. She died 11 months ago and now the department is selling the land for $1.5 million.
Michael Kramer has lived in Jericho for 10 years. He never met Alice Rivers, but he says that she made her wishes for the land along Browns Trace Road very clear-- "Don't sell it if it can possibly be avoided." Those are the words of Alice Rivers straight from the notes of a Rivers Land Committee Meeting less than six months after she made the donation.
Reporter Julie Kelley: Was that in her request to the fire department?
Randy Clarke: That was not in that agreement that she signed.
Not in the legal agreement, but repeatedly in notes afterwards.
Former Underhill-Jericho Fire Chief Randy Clarke has dedicated more than 50 years to the department and knew Alice Rivers. In a letter dated Oct. 12, 2001, it stated, "It should be noted that our original agreement with Mrs Rivers states that ... We would keep the land open ..."
Julie Kelley: Do you need the money? Is that why you're deciding to sell?
Randy Clarke: I'm really not prepared to answer that question.
Julie Kelley: It sounds a little questionable to not be able to answer if the fire department needs the money.
Randy Clarke: The fire department gets its money from the taxpayers.
He went on to say if they sell the land, the interest will go to the bottom line and taxes will be impacted.
For some people, the concern is that this land known as the Gateway to Jericho will turn into another subdivision in Chittenden County.
Todd Odit is the town administrator in Jericho and says the Rivers land could be developed under current zoning.
"The portions in blue are zoned as rural residential, which means there is a minimum lot size of 3 acres under a traditional development," Odit said.
Kramer has set up a Save The Rivers Property Facebook page and is moved by Alice Rivers' constant mention of her husband's wishes.
"He worked hard for the land and this is how she would like to honor him by keeping it open," Kramer said.
The fire department runs as a nonprofit, so it doesn't answer to the public, despite getting tax dollars from them. Randy Clarke says they want to hear what people have to say. The fire department is holding a meeting Monday at 7 p.m. at the Underhill station to explain the decision to sell the land. And Thursday night (Nov. 14) at 7 p.m. the group Save the Rivers Property is meeting at the community center in Jericho Center.