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Sixth-Generation Tunbridge Family Fears 'David And Goliath' Fight Against Utah Developer

Rebecca Sananes
From left to right, Cliff Pease, William Pease and Ingrid Van Steamberg outside their home in Tunbridge. Pease's family has owned the property for a century. Now a Utah developer is planning a 20,000-person settlement nearby.

A Utah developer’s plans to build a 20,000-person settlement in Orange and Windsor counties could make it difficult for a Tunbridge family to keep living their rural lifestyle.

Recently, 9-year-old William Pease took off on a full sprint through a field lush with early May grass. He is the sixth generation in his family to love these 300 acres in the Tunbridge hills. And he's helped farm this land since before he could walk.

His father, Cliff Pease, remembers swaddling William in the barn for the first time, his baby’s tiny body bundled in a pouch warm against his chest as he milked the cows.  

“I remember that day like it was yesterday,” he said fondly. "I was really careful getting him into the barn, getting him all situated in his seat and making sure he was all right. And we went in and did our chores.”

Pease says it is memories like this that make this land special.  

The Pease family has owned, worked and lived on this property for a century. Today, Cliff Pease and his brothers still make their living running a 90-cow dairy.

Cliff says he wouldn’t trade it for all the riches in the world.

“Until you’ve worked the land and built fields, you don’t know what it means to you," he says. "Everybody says 'Well, you’ve got all this land look what you could get for it,' but money’s not everything. There’s heritage here and love."

"Everybody says, 'Well, you've got all this land, look what you could get for it,' but money is not everything. There's heritage here, and love." — Cliff Pease, Tunbridge dairy farmer

Property all around the Pease's land is being bought by developer David Hall. His proposed New Vistas Foundationeco-city would be a 5,000-acre sustainable community near the birthplace of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or the Mormon church.

Hall has the settlement will not be a reality for another 50 years.   

Cliff and his wife Ingrid Van Steamberg stand on the knoll where they were married 18 years ago after meeting at the Tunbridge Fair.

“You think of David and Goliath,” Van Steamberg said. “We’re this small little guy and when are we going to be taken down?”

Van Steamberg remembers laying down a marble chip path through the woods for their wedding guests to get to the spot she stands on today.

“We wanted to get married outside on the property,” she recalls. “I’ve even talked about this [being] where I want to be buried, where we got married. Where it all started.”

Credit Rebecca Sananes / VPR
Ingrid Van Steamberg and her husband Cliff Pease walk on their property near the spot where they were married 18 years ago.

Before marrying his wife on the property, Cliff and his father used to come onto the field and look up at the stars at night.  

“My dad loves to look at the stars,” Cliff said. “He’d come up from the barn at night and he’d be naming off all the different stars.”

Now, light pollution is the least of their worries: The Pease property is becoming an island on Dairy Hill as developer David Hall buys large parcels of land all around their home — paying premium prices.

This has not affected property taxes, yet. But if he continues to buy land at above market-value, residents fear their property taxes will go up.

As of now, New Vistas is just a vision; Hall has yet to submit a formal proposal to be reviewed by Act 250. Hall would face significant hurdles to comply with the Vermont law which regulates development in order to protect the environment.

Still, if Hall is successful, the result would be a 30-percent increase of population in the region: a whole new Winooski-sized community plopped in the heart of rural Vermont.

Cliff says change is inevitable, but that the scale of Hall’s purposed project “boggles his mind.”

"He hasn't really said where his ideal land is but we're in the middle of what he's bought. My family owns 300 acres and there's outside pressure on us." — Cliff Pease

Until now, the land-market has been pretty stagnant in this area.

So when someone like David Hall offers large sums of money to buy the land, it can be hard to say no. And that keeps Ingrid up at night.

“Our neighbors, they want to sell. They don’t want to be in Vermont in the winter anymore,” Ingrid says of their closest neighbors over the ridge. “They’ve assured us they don’t want to sell to him, but who’s to say what will happen?”

This has been the catalyst for many discussions in Tunbridge and the surrounding areas.

“So then you think about, 'Wow, how can we work with them to make it possible so that they don’t sell to Mr. Hall?' I think that’s something that the town as a whole is really thinking about – how can we come together as a town,” Ingrid said.

Since April Tunbridge and othertowns have come together for meetingsabout how to create tight town plans in order to prevent Hall’s expansion.

There has even been talk among the neighbors about how to create a community fund to buy up some of the property David Hall covets.

Credit Rebecca Sananes / VPR
William Pease, age 9, runs through the fields he has helped farm since before he could walk.

For now, Pease and his wife simply want people to know what they cherish about the place.

“Listen to the beauty and how quiet it is right now,” Cliff says.

“Yes. Listen to the silence,” Ingrid agrees.

“You hear the wind, the water, the trees blowing through it, the geese. I don’t think you’ll hear that in 50 years if [the settlement] comes,” Cliff says.

As Hall continues to buy property in the area, the family wonders what the four towns of Tunbridge, Royalton, Sharon and Strafford can do to stop the project. They say the effort will involve much more cooperation among the communities.

Correction 10:19 a.m. 5/17/16 The original version of this story misspelled the name of one of the towns in which David Hall is buying property. It is Strafford, not Stafford.

Rebecca Sananes was VPR's Upper Valley Reporter. Before joining the VPR Newsroom, she was the Graduate Fellow at WBUR and a researcher on a Frontline documentary.
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