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      Montpelier VT

      De-Mystifying Vermont's Current Use Program. Forest Management, Tax Reduction, Harvesting

      Vermont's forests

      are lush with treasure. Exquisite tiger maple, hemlock for tenacious post and beam house frames, sweet maple sap which sugared down, covers pancackes across the land and gives our green mountain state a claim to fame.

      Misty Trail

      Defining Current Use

      What then is Vermont's Current Use Program? It's often referred to as "the most important, most successful conservation program in Vermont."

      If you own 27 or more acres, you're already likely familiar with this increasingly popular land tax reduction and deferral opportunity, but to the layman less familiar with tree related tax breaks, the name Current Use itself is cryptic enough without tackling taxation intricacies.

      Current Use landowners practice long term forest management to achieve taxation based on forest valuation vs fair market valuation. This very substantial savings which can be as much as 70 to 80 per cent of what the taxes would be otherwise, comes at a cost. The state attaches a permanent lien to the deed until such time as the landowner withdraws, the legislature ends the program, or the parcel is discontinued by the Division of Property Valuation & Review.

      Woodpeckers of North America

      The Tax Benefits

      can be huge. By placing your forest or agricultural property in Current Use you can dramatically decrease your yearly tax burden. For forested land graced with valuable timber, periodically required forest management (ready the chain saw) can yield the added bonus of incoming checks for the land owner from the logger harvesting precious hardwoods.

      Starksboro Chain Saw Workshop, Addison County

      For forest land to qualify, you need at least 27 acres for 25 to enroll with a two acre exclusion for your house site. When purchasing land already enrolled, with the plan to continue enrollment, you can't move the excluded area but, assuming you have well over 25 acres, you can withdraw another section to build your home, though you'll incur a land use change tax. This withdrawal penalty is also levied if you decide to withdraw the entire property from current use. One of the most common questions and concerns: so how much will it cost me to withdraw from the program?

      Use Change Tax Calculation

      Elizabeth Hunt, one of the three Current Use personnel listed on Vermont's current use website is immensely helpful. According to Elizabeth, Use change tax determination is based on the assessed value of the land enrolled divided by the town's CLA, or Common Level of Appraisal or Adjustment, the tax department's attempt to adjust assessed values to fair market value. To get the state's assessment of your enrolled current use acreage, call Elizabeth or the state's current use department. Once you've divided the enrolled acreage current use assessment by the CLA, and multiplied that figure by the percentage of the number of acres being withdrawn, you've got your alleged fair market value of acreage being withdrawn. Your use change penalty depends on how long the land's been in current use. If ten or more years, the penalty is ten per cent of the fair market value of the land being withdrawn; if less than ten years, then 20 per cent.

      Pine, Areas to Prune

      H.237, a bill intended to strengthen the current use tax base, proposed a change in the percentages the use change tax is determined by. Property held less than 12 years would incur 10%, property held 12 to 20 years 8%, and property held over 20 years just five per cent. It passed the House in 2011 but not the Senate. An effort was made to incorporate it into miscellaneous tab bill H.782 this year but it stalled in the Senate Finance Committee. Proponents of the bill include the Vermont Natural Resources Council.

      Vermont Hemlock, Strong Post & Beam Frames. Billings Museum, Woodstock, VT.

      For more details on penalty calculation  see pages 16-18 of Vermont UVA (Use Value Appraisal) manual. Family members can step into the shoes of a current use owner but new owners inheriting an unrelated property owner's current use land have to start the clock ticking all over.

      State of Vermont Acres Enrolled in Current Use Graph

      For more details on the entire program, see the same manual and the Vermont Division of Forestry site.

      The Vermont graph below shows the increasing popularity of Current Use, especially in Forest.

      Foresters, Loggers & Harvesting

      Engaging a forester to prepare your forest management plan may run up to a couple of thousand, varying, including application fees.

      Be sure to get a contract with your logger once you get that far. There are stories of property owners wondering what happened to their checks once the loggers were long gone.

      Have Culvert, Will Travel

      Vermont County Foresters are excellent resources for current use information and can recommend non-county foresters to prepare forest management plans and help you oversee your forest  during program inclusion, as well as recommend dependable and honest loggers to work with.

      Click here for a Current Use Application, and here for a Change of Ownership Form.

      Before cutting any of your enrolled forest, you or your forester must submit your forest management plan, or all the land must exit the program, a change tax levied, and eligibility denied for the ensuing five years during which taxes would go back to normal.

      Gustav Klimt, Tree of Life

      If your management plan calls for cutting but the timber values are depressed, you can delay cutting up to a couple of years with county forester approval.

      On harvest yield, you might expect 1,000 to 1,500 board feet per acre. Harvesting may occur every ten years or more. Wind throw from storm damage can necessitate cutting earlier.

      Connect to maplesweet.com, e-mail info@maplesweet.com or call toll-free 1-800-525-7965 to arrange for showings,  list your property,  or look further into Vermont's real estate market.

      Referrals & recommendations are welcome & appreciated.
      Vermont Required Consumer Information Disclosure: please note Vermont  real estate agencies represent Sellers directly or indirectly. Buyer representation can be gained for properties not already listed by Maple Sweet Real Estate. To better understand the merits of or arrange for buyer representation, please email or call for further details.

      Information Disclosure: information provided and relayed by Maple Sweet Real Estate is not represented to be accurate or free of errors. While substantial efforts are made to obtain and convey information from sources deemed dependable, Maple Sweet Real Estate does not guarantee or warranty such information is accurate or reliable. All information should be independently verified.

      If your property is already listed for sale with another real estate agency, this is not intended as a solicitation of that agency's listing.

      Streamlining Act 250. Vermont Environmental Law Reform.

      Clear Air Clear Water

      Watching over Vermont's land & water. Act 250 is a public, quasi-judicial process reviewing & managing the environmental, social & fiscal impacts of Vermont development. Nine district commissions review permit applications based on criteria articulated by state statutes.

      In 2005 Vermont's legislature created the Natural Resources Board (NRB) with Act 115  to replace the Environmental Water Resources Boards. The NRB includes a full-time chair (state employee), and two citizen panels, a land use panel and a water resources panel, consisting of four persons each, with the chair serving as chair of each of the two panels. Act 115  consolidated environmental appeals and land use development law revisions. View the full text of Act 115 in which substantial previous language is stricken making deletions clear and new language underlined.

      Clear Air Clear Water

      The NRB administers the Act 250 process and has rule making and enforcement authority over land-use permit violations (significant time is spent prosecuting violations) as well as the right to participate in certain Environmental Court appeals.

      Clear Air Clear Water

      Northfield Attorney Peter Young chaired the NRB from 2006 when appointed by former Governor Jim Douglas following an appointment to the District 5 Environmental Commission in 2003. Young's challenges included dealing with applicants who had already developed: building a project and belatedly coming to the NRB for permits. Innocent oversight or planning to beg forgiveness later?

      Clear Air Clear Water

      In 2007 the Board appointed John Wakefield of Redstone, a Burlington Real Estate Development company permit specialist, as it's first Permit Compliance Officer.

      Clear Air Clear Water

      Burlington Attorney Ron Shems, formerly and co-founder of Shems, Dunkiel, Raubvogel & Saunders replaced Young April 1st of this year when Shems was appointed the new Natural Resources Board Chair by newly elected Governor Shumlin.

      Act 250 Proponents, since its 1970 enactment in 1970, see it as setting a reasonable set of guidelines for developers and business owners, protecting Vermont from odious American sprawl. Citizen participation and protecting the environment are the heart and soul of Act 250. They view Act 250 reform suspiciously as attempts to circumvent environmental protection and eviscerate regulations leaving Vermont vulnerable to unbridled exploitation.

      Business Proponents consider Act 250 unpredictable, unfriendly and decidedly antagonistic economically, causing in some cases many year permitting periods and exorbitant additional legal expenses. With interested party status, "the Interveners" can become unjust obstructionists.

      "To a developer, it doesn't matter if you're spending time before the local boards or the state or Act 250. It's all permits, and if you can simplify the process, the whole state benefits." James Pizzigalli, Co-Chairman of Pizzigalli Construction

      Clear Air Clear Water

      Former Governor Jim Douglas claimed the average permit took companies 278 days to receive but the NRB cited different numbers, with two-thirds of all applicants gaining permits within 60 days.

      Streamlining objectives & options:

      • Eliminating duplicate permitting requirements at the state & local level and within the state level.
      • Minimizing special consultants including attorneys, engineers and planners so applicants may run the process on their own except in the most complicated circumstances.
      • Adding a state facilitator. Bill H-475 called for a pilot program to add a facilitator to help council businesses on the Act 250 process.
      • Clear and consistent intervener standards. Predictability for who and how interveners can participate. Limiting interveners to those having legitimate interests.

      Clear Air Clear Water

      The Wetlands Regulations took over three years to hammer out.

      Act 250 revision includes the launch of the Permitting & Compliance Portal including a wealth of easily accessible information including an environmental permit summary and the Vermont Permit Handbook.

      Get a better idea of Vermont's Land Use & Development Act's history, hear Jane Lindholm of Vermont Public Radio here in an Act 250 special program including notes on the "culture of no" and the importance of working as well as looking at the view.

      Connect to maplesweet.com, e-mail info@maplesweet.com or call toll-free 1-800-525-7965 to list your property, arrange for showings, or look further into Vermont's real estate market or Act 250 reform.

      .....
      Thank you for visiting Maple Sweet Real Estate's blog, Light Amber.
      .....
      Vermont Required Consumer Information Disclosure: please note Vermont  real estate agencies represent Sellers directly or indirectly by default. Buyer representation can be gained for properties not already listed by Maple Sweet Real Estate. To better understand the merits of or arrange for buyer representation, please email or call for further details.
      .....
      If your property is already listed for sale with another real estate agency, this is not intended as a solicitation of that agency's listing.

      Tracking Harrison Snapp

      Snapp Geometry

      It all started with a condominium on a renovation quest. Vertical fissure over fireplace, kitchen cabinets having seen better days. In search of the piece de resistance, the missing link, how to spin some magic for spice, add sparkle 2 great bones. Celebrate. Coming down to a barn beam to crown the hearth, missing link. Distressed beauty. The search on.

      Valley to mountain peak, wretched wood frame to historic agricultural storehouse. Kerney Brown on site. Dan Eckstein at Yestermorrow and an upcoming deconstruction class slated to bring down the long-standing barn across from the Fayston Elementary School. Matt Groom on the challenges of finding a beam 11 inches deep, plank alternatives. And the returned email and disconnected phone for the Weather Hill Company.

      Snapp Geometry

      Weather Hill work stands tall, testament to tradition and integrity. The email bounced back, line no longer in service... Had they gone under? Morphed to snow birds? Curious given the caliber and performance.

      Today the break. Pulling onto the highway dividing the Mad River Valley, seasoned green pick up cruising the Mad River Scenic ByWay emblazoned with Weather Hill's logo, two cars out. A chase worthwhile. Mile and a half later the driver must think me out of my mind or be exceedingly worried something is horribly wrong with his rig.

      Out steps Harrison Snapp.

      A kind smile, beard of the ages, talking story. "An 11 inch deep beam you say..."

      Snapp Geometry

      Creating award-winning museum quality combinations of old and new, unforgettable residential & commercial spaces from top to bottom. Condemned, exhausted 200-year-old buildings on the verge of collapse find salvation at the hands of Weather Hill, aka Weather Hill Design Associates; Weather Hill Building Co.; Heritage Joinery Ltd. Homes saved from fire departments on the verge of a practice burn or a bulldozer clearing the way for commercial expansion.

      Design & architectural consultants, balance, proportion and scale. Quiet, radiant spaces of unmatched warmth, serenity & power. Owner Gregory & Carolyn Schipa, with Snapp, harking from Fayston, have been at it well over 30 years erecting and renovating landmarks across the eastern seaboard from here in the Green Mountains to Nantucket, Boston, the Carolinas, Virginia, DC, and beyond. Snapp's been with Weather Hill since 1974 and Greg started out on Nantucket. Val. Snapp's wife, works in color, painting & staining.

      Snapp Geometry

      Endeavoring to bring buildings to their former glory when most if not all  original detailing has been buried or eliminated during one facelift after the next. Using archival tools and techniques from hundreds of years ago, painstakingly bring history to the fore. Jack plane hand planing after removing modern mill roller marks in search of the 18th century.  Wooden Mallets & the Stanley No. 55, out of production since the early '50s, incorporating dozens of planes  for all Greek profiles: beads, curves, beak moldings, ogees, reverse ogees.

      Snapp Geometry

      Clients can select dismantled and stored structure elements from the Weather Hill collection or find their own. Existing footprints expanded with ells or carriage houses to encompass added bedrooms, a library or great room while upholding the Greek tenets of  fascia, soffit & frieze board proportions.

      Back to the disconnected phone line. Right, "we've moved" says Snapp, from Charlotte to Warren. New digs and direction, part of the Mad River Valley's nascent renaissance. Bloody good fortune for our Scenic Byway. And that barn beam... Snapp's checking for the appropriate element.

      If you'd like to receive an estimate from the Weather Hill Company for renovation or new construction, or learn more about this wonderful Vermont asset, email or call Maple Sweet Real Estate toll-free at 800.525.7965, or visit maplesweet.com for other options.

      William Maclay on Net Zero Energy Buildings: Providing Stable Returns In An Unstable World

      Maple Sweet Real Estate is proud to present the following blog submission on Net Zero Energy Buildings from esteemed and highly accomplished Vermont architect, William Maclay. William Maclay Architects and Planners mission is to enhance the world we inhabit through making places for people and nature to live and to flourish with dignity, spirit, and beauty.

      Green design has taken on increasing importance and relevance for Vermont real estate purchasers, investors and home builders.  Bill Maclay's team is particularly well equipped to design homes and projects on the cutting edge of the carbon footprint revolution.

      Net Zero Energy Buildings: Providing Stable Returns In An Unstable World, by William Maclay

      Faced with multiple challenges from environmental pressures due to climate change, energy price volatility and the economic downturn, there has never been a better time to build.

      But we're not talking about any ordinary buildings--we are talking about the design and construction of buildings that minimize the use of natural resources and energy. Such buildings protect the environment, pay for themselves through improved efficiency, lower operating costs through stable energy costs and avoid the need for outside (fossil-fuel based) energy sources.

      We call these buildings Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB). There are very few standing in the United States today--many more are on the drawing boards. But simply put, Net Zero energy buildings should become the new standard in "green" building as they can provide the best long-term solution to the environmental, energy and economic problems we face.

      Net zero energy buildings (NZEBs) generate as much energy as they consume on an annual basis. The energy used is usually produced on-site and comes from renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal or biomass. Typically, the net zero building is connected to the electricity grid, using the grid as a balancing mechanism to accommodate the fluctuation of renewable energy sources.  Often, people will ask whether it's possible to achieve NZEB in the cold climates of New England. While it's certainly easier to achieve in warmer, southern climates, the net zero goal is very reachable, albeit more challenging, here in New England and other similar climates.

      How to Get from Here to There: Efficiency First, Renewables Second

      Because renewable energy sources are usually more expensive than non-renewable energy sources, the goal in any Net Zero energy building is to first reduce the energy needs of that building. Typically energy usage must be reduced by 50% or more (over current building efficiency codes). We call buildings that meet this greatly improved energy standard micro-load buildings.  After that renewables can be added cost effectively to make net-zero buildings.

      Net Zero in New Construction versus Existing Buildings

      Certainly, achieving micro load energy efficiency standards is easier and typically more cost-effective to do with a brand new building--essentially building it into the design plans from the outset. But it's also possible to do when renovating existing buildings. With 300 billion square feet of existing buildings out there, bringing energy use down and improving building performance in the already built environment offers tremendous opportunities for savings.

      Conclusion

      Clearly, net zero energy buildings offer a tremendous opportunity for countering the environmental, energy and economic pressures we face today. But they will not become the standard for how we develop our buildings and communities overnight. It will take a concerted effort to educate business owners (and the public) about the potential these buildings offer and change the way we think. By taking a longer term view and seeing our buildings as the investments they truly are--investments into our energy future, the well-being of our planet and the health of our businesses--we will be moving toward a more stable, productive and sustainable way of life.

      Some examples of Net Zero projects by Maclay Architects:

      River House, Moretown, VT

      The River House is a Net-Zero residence set on a stone dam abutment above the Mad River. It directly connects to the location through the use of site-harvested stone in both the building and the landscape. The house uses a super-insulated envelope, a 15 kW on-site photovoltaic array, and a ground source heat pump to achieve its Net-Zero energy goals. The linear structure is accented with three daylight monitors rising through a sedum-covered extensive green roof.

      Dartt House, Waitsfield, VT

      Renovations to this 1800's era farmhouse, located in the historic village of Waitsfield, balanced concerns for preserving historic character and reducing energy demands. Insulating within the existing walls and roof preserved the historic quality of the building exterior, while improving efficiency. Similarly, high-performance, triple glazed windows were installed within existing frames. Energy reducing appliances, an air source heat pump, and heat recovery ventilation further reduced building loads.  These measures improve thermal comfort and indoor air quality to a micro-load building that is ready for an 8.5kW photovoltaic system to be installed in 2010 or 2011. This house is next to Maclay Architects offices which will be net-zero in 2010 with the addition of a 17.5 kW photovoltaic installation.

      Putney School Field House, Putney, VT

      The Putney School desired a new field house to meet their growing needs for high quality sports, wellness and social spaces, while seeking to create a model for the future that could be used as a tool for learning about the school's core values of environmental based learning, sustainability and social consciousness.

      The school also asked the design team to provide a building well-integrated into the existing campus and character of the local Putney community. With its 36.8 kW array, it is projected to be a net-zero building in 2010.

      Learn more about these projects at  www.maclayarchitects.com

      Special thanks to William Maclay for writing this, and to Lisa Sawin, Kevin Dennis & Eileen Hee of William Maclay Architects & Planners for their support in bringing this piece to press.

      To list or look for central or northern Vermont real estate, email info@maplesweet.com,  call toll free 1-800-525-7965 or visit www.maplesweet.com

      Radon, Taken Seriously

      January is National Radon Month, a great time to better understand this highly radioactive, odorless, colorless & tasteless gas that, given prolonged exposure, is the second leading cause of lung cancer.

      The United Nation's World Health Organization (WHO) states radon is a worldwide health risk in homes. Dr. Maria Neira of WHO said that "Most radon-induced lung cancers occur from low and medium dose exposures in people's homes. "  Click here for the World Health Organization's Handbook On Indoor Radon

      A Radon Electron Shell Diagram

      Here's a January Vermont Department of Health (802-863-7281)  Press Release on Radon:

      BURLINGTON - The winter heating season is the best time to test homes for radon, a colorless, odorless gas present at elevated levels in about one out of every seven homes in Vermont. Prolonged exposure to radon is the second leading cause (after smoking) of lung cancer in the United States, and is responsible for more than 20,000 deaths annually.

      The Health Department is encouraging Vermonters to test their homes for radon in January as part of National Radon Action Month.

      "Exposure to radon is preventable and fixable through proper venting techniques," said Austin Sumner, MD, State Epidemiologist for Environmental Health.

      The cost of having a certified professional properly ventilate a home can range from $800 to $2,500, depending on the home's characteristics.

      Radon gas can get into your home from the soil and the water supply. A house can act like a large chimney, with warm air rising and escaping out upper floor windows and through cracks in the attic. This creates a vacuum at the lowest level of the house, which can pull the radon from the soil into the house. Because radon levels can change daily, weekly and seasonally, a test of three to 12 months (ideally including a heating season) gives the most accurate measurement of exposure. Radon testing should be done in the lowest level of living space in the house.

      A Radon Electron Shell Diagram

      For a free long term test kit, email your request to radon@vdh.state.vt.us. Put the words "radon test kit" in the subject line of your email and be sure to include your name, phone number, and both your mailing and physical address, or call 1-800-439-8550.

      To obtain a short-term test kit for $25, contact the Vermont Health Department Laboratory at 863-7335 or 800-660-9997, or visit www.healthvermont.gov.

      Kits also are available through http://fairbanksmuseum.org (click on Explore, then Radon Education), or by e-mailing radon@fairbanksmuseum.org.

      From the Wikipedia article on Radon: "Although radon exposure has only been conclusively linked to lung cancer, further studies may be needed to assess the relationship between radon and leukemia. The effects of radon if ingested are similarly unknown, although studies have found that its biological half-life ranges from 30-70 minutes, with 90 percent removal at 100 minutes. It has also been shown that radon progeny can attach itself to the smoke of cigarettes, which then become lodged within the lungs. It is considered likely that the combination of smoking and radon exposure increase risk synergistically."

      The Environmental Protection Agency is a great source of information on Radon including their publication, A Citizen's Guide to Radon in which radon test levels are addressed. "The average indoor radon level is estimated to be about 1.3 pCi/L, and about 0.4 pCi/L of radon is normally found in the outside air. The U.S. Congress has set a long-term goal that indoor radon levels be no more than outdoor levels. While this goal is not yet technologically achievable in all cases, most homes today can be reduced to 2 pCi/L or below."

      Professional Radon Mitigation has been shown to effectively reduce the concentration of Radon and Vermont Radon Mitigation Specialists guarantee the house will re-test below the recommended EPA levels following the installation of the vacuum based ventilation systems.

      The map below is from the EPA and shows all but two Vermont counties have a Zone 2 predicted average indoor radon screening level of between 2 and 4 pico curies per liter.  Chittenden & Grand Isle Counties are Zone 3 with less than 2 pCi/L and are classified as low potential zones. None of the Vermont counties are in red Zone 1, which averages over 4 pCi/L.

      For more information on Radon, connect to www.maple sweet.com, email info@maplesweet.com or call toll-free 800-525-7965 with questions.

      A Radon Electron Shell Diagram