UNION — The Union Select Board closed marketing on a tax-acquired property on Coggins Hill Road following a two hour discussion with more than 20 members of the public about three offers on the property. A decision on the sale will be made at the next meeting.

Residents asked if there was a conflict of interest for the board, while the board asked if public access to the property would be available for everyone or just neighbors.

One offer is from a group calling themselves the Coggins Hill Preservation Association to make the land an open access green space.

Two other offers are from private residents, including select board member Josh White, who recused himself from all votes related to the sale.

Members of the Coggins Hill Preservation Association said there is public access to the property, and they plan to make the property available to everyone, including visitors from out of town.

Multiple residents spoke about the importance of protecting the Coggins Hill Road property from development and for public use.

Allan Boyan and Karina Shorten said they moved to Union because of the town’s rural nature and often drive to the Coggins Hill Road property and bring their children.

Kathleen Thornton, speaking for the association, said their plan for the property matches with the town’s comprehensive plan. She said the association is confident they can establish a right of way for foot traffic.

Heather Jackson said she felt the association’s offer was the best option for the town.

Patrick Sebrey encouraged the board to make a decision that has the best possibility of preserving the land.

Board Chair Adam Fuller said all meetings about the sale of the property have been held in the open, and White recused himself from all votes about selling the property.

He also pointed out that White learned about the sale of this property at a public meeting that was open to all residents.

“Everything we do on the select board is public,” Fuller said. This includes meetings and communications.

Fuller also said the idea that White would take advantage of his position on the board is something he and the other board members, as well as the town office staff, would never allow to happen.

“If I thought Josh was somehow abusing his position, I would go after him,” Fuller said. “… and I know the board would do that to me.”

Fuller did admit he has a personal relationship with White, but added that he has a personal relationship with many people in town. Those close connections are part of living in a town like Union.

“It’s something I have to be conscious of when I make my decisions,” Fuller said. “I feel it’s a very integral part of small communities, and something personally I feel we’re lucky to have.”

Board member Martha Johnston-Nash said while she does know White from her time on the board, she knew two people involved in the other offers longer.

Johnston-Nash also expressed concern about nonprofits owning land in town, and the loss of property taxes that brings.

Town Manager Jay Feyler said White contacted him about his intent to purchase the property, and they followed the advice of the town’s lawyer.

“If he was not ethical, he could have come in as a blind buyer,” Feyler pointed out. “He was right upfront from the very beginning.”

Lombardi agreed that all meetings about the land were open to the public, but said more information could have been shared with the public about these meetings.

Lombardi said the town should make all documents for select board meetings available to the public with the agendas. This way residents would have known the Coggins Hill Road property was being sold before the first meeting about it.

Lombardi also described White has having the utmost integrity, and said the sale of the land was not about which the money, but about the future vision of the town.

White and neighbor Scott Bisset, who are both abutters of the property, made an offer July 22 through realtor Mary Bumiller. Their offer is for $75,000 with a $25,000 deposit.

White said he and Bisset intend to allow public access to the land except during blueberry harvests, and may be open to negotiations with the association to sell the property at a future date.

White plans to build a home and a farm on his current property, and use the property in question for farming and harvesting wood. Bisset would use the property to harvest blueberries.

White said he may build the home and farm on parts of the new property if he purchases it.

Bruce and Wendy Reinemann, owners of Guini Ridge Farm and property abutters, made an offer Aug. 1 through realtor Timothy Given. Their offer is for $50,000 with a deposit of $2,500.

The Reinemanns included a letter to the town stating their love of the land and desire to protect it from development. The letter said they would use the land to expand their farm and harvest the blueberries, and would offer informal access to the local public.

The Coggins Hill Preservation Association made an offer on the land Aug. 1 through realtor Melanie Crane. Their offer is $49,375 with a $1,000 deposit.

The association included conditions in their offer that they will create a non-profit corporation to preserve and protect the property.

The conditions state the association will pay the town in lieu of taxes for the property “in the amount equivalent of the property taxes.” This would be written into the bylaws of the corporation.

Thornton, speaking for the association, said they would preserve the space from any development.

Thornton said 29 people pledged donations so far.

The association also plans to lease the land to blueberry corporations for harvesting.

To give the board more time to deliberate, and because board member James Justice was not in attendance, the board voted to table the issue until their next meeting Aug. 17, where they will make a decision about the sale.

They also removed the property from the market so it was not available for further purchase offers.

Fuller told all those in attendance that he appreciated how everyone remained calm during an emotional issue.

A recording of the meeting can be viewed at townhallstreams.com.

Related Headlines