Three other towns have already approved statement
By Tom Gresham
The Williston Selectboard will consider a resolution next month that expresses strong reservations with a proposed alternative to the Circumferential Highway.
The resolution, which has already been adopted by the governing boards in Essex, Essex Junction and Colchester, targets the Smart Growth Collaborative’s proposal to install a series of roundabouts on Vermont Route 2A.
The resolution, which was generated by Essex Junction, requests that an environmental study currently underway measure each alternative against a list of standards. It also asks that the environmental impact statement consider the Circ as one of the alternatives.
Essex Junction Village Manager Charles Safford said the governing boards in Essex Junction and Essex approved the resolution jointly because of concerns about the “roundabout solution.” Safford said residents in the two municipalities see potential problems with the plan.
“Our concern is that whatever alternative they consider should be given the same level of public and technical scrutiny as the Circ has historically received,” Safford said.
Safford also said the boards in Essex and Essex Junction did not want existing plans for the Circ to be ignored. He said municipal planning in the two communities has been based for years on the eventual arrival of the 16-mile highway linking Williston, Colchester and Essex.
Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire said Monday night he did not believe the Selectboard should consider the resolution.
“I don’t see where it’s necessary given the alternative study is underway,” McGuire said. “I don’t see the need to give any extra direction.”
However, Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons and Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs both expressed an interest in considering the item.
Preliminary work began on the Williston stretch of the Circ last spring, but a federal judge halted the project in May. U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions said a new study of the project that more thoroughly examined the environmental impact of the Circ and other transportation alternatives needed to be completed.
The resolution lists 11 specific concerns that should be considered as part of the environmental impact statement of alternatives to the Circ. The items echo concerns that have already been raised publicly about the roundabout plan, including its impact on pedestrian safety, the widening of Vermont Route 2A and the impact on traffic volume through Taft Corners and Five Corners.
The wording of the resolution excludes the Circ from needing to address the 11 concerns, but Safford said that does not hold the Circ to a lower standard.
“The boards feel comfortable that the Circ does meet these standards,” Safford said.
Fehrs said he saw a couple of items he would like to see changed on the resolution, but believed the concept of the resolution was “fine.” Safford said he believed the Essex boards would be willing to alter their proposal to add Williston concerns as long as there are no substantive changes to the items already listed.
Lyons said she wants to hear more details about the various proposed alternatives to the Circ, including the roundabout solution.
“I’ve heard concerns that the decision has already been made and that the alternatives won’t be taken as seriously as the Circ proposal,” Lyons said.
However, she said she might be interested in a resolution that announces “strong reservations” with the roundabout proposal. Lyons said the Selectboard has previous noted its aversion to seeing a roundabout at Taft Corners.
The discussion was one in a series the Selectboard has had in recent months about the level of involvement it should have during the review of the highway’s environmental effects. The Environmental Impact Statement process requires the state to consider all options when deciding whether to build the highway.
The resolution advocates a strong voice for the municipalities. One item says the selected alternative should be “acceptable to the local legislative bodies, businesses and citizens of the communities … where the implementation of the chosen alternative will likely have the greatest impact.”
Holiday shoppers help sales tax revenue exceed expectations
By Tom Gresham
The town enjoyed record-setting revenue from the local option sales tax during the final quarter of 2004, reaping the benefits of a busy holiday shopping season in Williston.
The tax yielded $791,371 for the town during the period of October, November and December — traditionally the year’s biggest retail sales period. The previous high was $738,838 for the same quarter in 2003.
“We beat it by a fair amount,” McGuire said. “That’s really good news.”
Williston had several new retailers in place this holiday season, including the Christmas Tree Shopd in Maple Tree Place. The sharp increase in revenue over the previous year marked a departure from the previous two quarters, which showed returns in line with the 2003 revenues.
Also, the local option rooms and meals tax produced $54,120 for the town in October, November and December. Combined, the local option taxes have produced more than $1.56 million so far in the 2004-05 fiscal year, which ends July 1. The Selectboard budgeted for $2.7 million in revenues from the local option taxes for the fiscal year.
The revenue from the local option taxes is projected to lower the municipal property tax rate from 39 cents to 12 cents for the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1.
Public safety building
A town committee directing the $6.8 million public safety facilities building has settled on a project manager.
Tom Barden will handle the responsibilities. Barden operates Barden Inspecting and Consulting Services in Hinesburg. He has been involved in the $18.4 million expansion project now underway at Champlain Valley Union High School. His letter of qualifications also mentioned work on the previous CVU construction project as well as on the new fire station in Ripton, an office addition at S.T.Griswold in Williston and the Higher Ground renovation in South Burlington.
The project manager will serve as the town’s advocate in the construction process, starting to work with the town as early as this month.
The building committee’s contract with Barden is for an amount not to exceed $74,000. The committee had budgeted $75,000 for the position.
The committee is currently reviewing the qualifications of 10 architectural firms that officially notified the town of their interest in the project last week. Among the interested architects is Kaestle Boos, the Connecticut firm that produced the conceptual designs used to formulate the project’s $6.8 million price tag.
The committee hopes to have the architect selection process completed by early next month.
Workers in Wood
The Selectboard approved a lease agreement for the former Workers in Wood building in Williston Village.
The lease will be set up in three-month increments and include a rent of $600 per month plus utilities. The tenant is Leslie Trifilio, who plans to sell paintings, crafts and other artwork. McGuire said the incremental aspect of the lease will provide flexibility for both the town and the tenant.
Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs said he had concerns about a retail use for the building and the traffic it might produce, but McGuire said he did not expect Trifilio’s business to attract so much traffic as to cause problems.
The Development Review Board has approved the use for the building.
The Selectboard vote to approve the lease was 3-1. Selectboard member Andy Mikell opposed the lease because he believes the funds to raze the building should be in the municipal budget for the upcoming year.
The town agreed to tear down the building years ago and use the vacant space to expand the Town Green. The School Board later signed off on an expansion of the library with the understanding the Workers in Wood building would be razed.
McGuire said a decision to keep the building and not demolish it would likely require a town meeting vote, as well as the approval of the Williston School Board. Some Selectboard members have expressed a willingness to have a public discussion of whether the building should still be razed.
Town service officer
The Selectboard reappointed Dawn Philibert to the position of town service officer. The town service officer is expected to assist individuals who require emergency food, fuel or shelter assistance. Typically, the service officer is called upon during evenings and weekends when the Vermont Department of Social Welfare is closed.
Philibert has served the past two years in the position.
“I can honestly say I can’t think of anyone better qualified to do this job,” Fehrs said.
Police have no leads in bizarre abduction
By Tom Gresham
The Gumby kidnapping case remains as impossible to break as the pliable claymation character at the center of it.
Barb Giardi said there have been no new developments in the abduction of the 8-foot-tall Gumby replica that she and her husband, Norm Reuss, posted prominently in the front yard of their Spruce Lane home for 14 consecutive winters. The replica of the television character has been missing since the overnight hours of Jan. 27.
The perpetrators left behind a ransom note with such quixotic demands as removing President George W. Bush from office, decriminalizing marijuana and establishing a national holiday in the name of the Blockheads (Gumby’s arch enemies). However, they have not contacted Giardi and Reuss since the abduction.
It is possible the kidnappers have elected to stay underground in light of widespread interest in the case. Giardi said she has been surprised at the public’s reaction to the kidnapping, which was detailed in the Feb. 3 Observer.
“I get asked about it every day,” Giardi said. “Every time I go to work or to the store and somebody recognizes me, they want to know if we’ve gotten it back yet. Unfortunately, nobody has had any information.”
The statue features a beaming Gumby with his left hand raised in a cheerful wave. He is wearing a smart red bow tie. Reuss built the statue, which was paired in the yard this winter with an equally buoyant Frosty the Snowman. The kidnappers’ note included a demand to replace the snowman statue with Pokey, an orange horse and Gumby’s sidekick.
The public appears to have reacted to the theft with the same mixture of humor and regret that Giardi feels.
“People really sympathize with us,” Giardi said. “They think it’s kind of funny and that the ransom note was wacky and stuff, but they also think (the kidnappers) should give it back now.”
Giardi said the kindhearted response of her neighbors and fellow Williston residents has helped ease the disappointment of losing Gumby.
“It has been appreciated,” Giardi said. “To me, it shows we live in a town where people care about each other. Somebody loses something and people are concerned.”
Williston Police Chief Ozzie Glidden confirmed last week that there had been “no breaks” in the kidnapping case.
Giardi finds it hard to believe that something as conspicuous as a towering Gumby replica can completely disappear and says she’s hopeful it reemerges soon.
She said her husband has not decided whether he will build another Gumby next winter if the kidnapped version never resurfaces.
“We haven’t talked about it,” Giardi said. “We’re still hoping this one turns up. We hope people keep a lookout for it. They should remember to investigate a little closer if they see a little green poking out from behind something.”
By Tom Gresham
The Selectboard has accepted the road that bisects Maple Tree Place as a municipal public street. But the town is requiring that Starwood Ceruzzi, the Connecticut-based owners of the development, to make improvements that will help trucks navigate the road’s roundabout.
The plan to make the road, which is also called Maple Tree Place, a public street was approved years ago during the local permitting process. The half-mile road snakes through Maple Tree Place, connecting Vermont Route 2A to U.S. Route 2. The board on March 21 also accepted a portion of bike path that runs on the north and northwest ends of the development.
The town’s acceptance of the road comes attached with a requirement that Starwood Ceruzzi complete construction work on approaches to the roundabout.
The roundabout has worked well for passenger vehicles and smaller trucks, but not tractor-trailers, said Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden. A recent test with a 65-foot-long truck showed there was insufficient room to maneuver around the roundabout without drifting off the road or across so-called “inlands,” which divide each of the four approaches to the roundabout.
The modifications will improve the ability of large trucks to navigate the roundabout, Boyden said, allowing trucks to drive over the islands without sustaining damage.
Starwood Ceruzzi provided a $25,000 cash bond to insure the work is completed. Boyden said if the company does not complete the roundabout modifications, then the town will use the money to fund the work. Boyden said the work would cost much less than the bond amount.
By Tom Gresham
Chittenden Solid Waste District General Manager Tom Moreau declined to celebrate after a judge cut a major chunk out of the potential purchase price for Williston property that CSWD hopes to transform into a landfill.
“It was a favorable ruling, but who knows what the next one will be?” Moreau said Monday. “It’s just part of a long, complicated process. It’s like one of those back-and-forth basketball games. We’re up two, which is better than being down two, but it’s not over.”
Chittenden County Superior Court Judge Matthew Katz ruled last week CSWD would not have to pay the $4.8 million in business losses that a jury found Hinesburg Sand and Gravel would suffer if CSWD seized its Redmond Road property. The jury had last year awarded the business a total of $8.8 million, including $4 million for the cost of the land itself.
Robert O’Neill, an attorney for Hinesburg Sand and Gravel, said the business plans to appeal Katz’s decision to the Vermont Supreme Court. O’Neill noted Katz’s ruling was a matter of the interpretation of a statute and did not indicate the jury’s verdict had been unsubstantiated by the facts.
O’Neill said Hinesburg Sand and Gravel represents an unusual situation because its business is so closely associated with its property. O’Neill compared it to a situation with a warehouse filled with raw materials. By seizing the land, O’Neill argued, CSWD was not just taking Hinesburg Sand and Gravel’s warehouse, but its raw materials, too. O’Neill said Hinesburg Sand and Gravel has one of the most sophisticated aggregating operations in all of North America.
Moreau said the Supreme Court appeal, which could take as much as two years, would not affect the timeline of the proposed development of the landfill. CSWD disclosed plans this winter to open the regional landfill by July 2008. CSWD hopes to start the design process in April.
CSWD plans to develop most of the landfill on the 76-acre Hinesburg Sand and Gravel property. Hinesburg Sand and Gravel declined to sell the property, prompting the plan to condemn the land for the landfill. However, the seizure cannot take place until compensation for Hinesburg Sand and Gravel has been settled.
One potential scenario could cause major delays in the project, Moreau said. Katz did not rule on the $4 million land price, instead leaving it up to CSWD to decide whether it wanted him to consider the motion. If Katz did reduce the land price, it would likely lead to a new jury trial. Moreau said if the court proceedings returned to a jury trial, the development of the landfill could be postponed another two years.
Moreau said the CSWD Board of Commissioners will hold a special meeting on April 13 to consider whether it should ask Katz to rule on the motion. Moreau expects the board to reach a decision before the end of April.