August 2, 2014

Williston may roll out new rules governing bike path

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

As the network of bike paths and sidewalks in Williston continues to expand, the Selectboard appears poised to approve an ordinance that would regulate the activities on them.

The Selectboard will hold a public hearing on a proposed sidewalk and bike path ordinance at 7:30 p.m. on Monday. Various drafts of the ordinance have already been reviewed by the Selectboard in recent months and survived the readings with only minor alterations.

The three-page ordinance includes penalties for those who violate any of the provisions. Fines range from $25 to $125.

Williston would follow municipalities like South Burlington in passing an ordinance governing bike and walking paths. Other communities, like Burlington, do not have an ordinance. Joanne Putzier of the Burlington Parks and Recreation Department said the city has posted rules for its bike paths, but not a formal ordinance.

Some users of the Williston’s sidewalks and bike paths sounded uneasy at the prospect of regulations.

David Bauer, who was preparing to go for a bike ride with his son, Jacob, and daughter, Kristin, on Monday afternoon, said he had never seen any safety problems on the path and believed an ordinance was unnecessary.

“It doesn’t seem like regulations is the way to go,” Bauer said. “I’d rather they left it up to people’s sense of individual responsibility. If they’ve had problems with people not being safe, then I’m not opposed to it. If they’re proactively looking to make some rules, then I’d have to say no.”

Steve Knowlden, an in-line skater who was using the bike path Monday, said the disparate users appeared to coexist peacefully and seamlessly in Williston. Knowlden said if Burlington did not have an ordinance for its bike path, he did not see a reason that Williston should.

“To me, it seems as though it would open up a can of worms,” Knowlden said. “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. It’s working fine the way it is now.”

Town Manager Rick McGuire said complaints about inappropriate behavior on the town’s sidewalks and bike paths have been scarce in recent years. However, McGuire said the town decided it had a legal need to enact a municipal ordinance for the paths.

McGuire said the ordinance could provide peace of mind for recalcitrant property owners worried about granting rights-of-way to the town for future bike path construction. McGuire said property owners often express concerns about their legal liability.

In a November letter to McGuire and Public Works Director Neil Boyden, attorney Joe Fallon said property owners have limited liability for those using paths if the use is allowed by state law or a municipal ordinance. Fallon recommended the town implement an ordinance.

“The main thing is to protect the property owner from any liability,” McGuire said. “That’s the goal with this.”

McGuire said town staff and the Selectboard did not want to create an ordinance that imposed onerous restrictions on bike path and sidewalk users.

“We tried to add something without getting too carried away with regulations,” McGuire said. “It’s not easy to enforce and we really haven’t had many problems.”

The ordinance includes provisions that give pedestrians the right of way on the paths, ban motorized vehicles and urge users to “travel only at such speeds and in such a manner as is safe under the circumstances.”

The many dog owners who take their pets for walks on sidewalks and bike paths could also face fines under the proposed ordinance. Dogs must be leashed, and dog droppings must be removed from the path and right-of-way.

McGuire acknowledged that enforcing the regulations will not be a top priority. He said fines could originate from citizen complaints or a police officer happening upon a violation.

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Williston Little League starts season with eye on improvements

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Directors seek better fields, more competition

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Six-year-olds will swing at balls perched on tees with bats seemingly as long as they are. Twelve-year-olds in the midst of startling growth spurts, teetering between being children and being teenagers, will peer in for signs from catchers, eyeing a target a mere 45 feet away for one final summer. Aluminum bats will ring; stiff, new mitts will pop; and parents will hoot encouragement from the stands.

Monday marks opening day for the Williston Little League and the approximately 320 boys and girls participating in the league’s five divisions. Ballplayers from the burgeoning local league will join nearly 3 million other youths around the world participating this season in leagues under the aegis of Little League Baseball and Softball.

The timeless action on the field will be the focus, as usual. However, the Williston Little League will be facing a number of changes in the next year designed to improve the league, and some of those matters will begin to be tackled this spring and summer, according to Dennis Lalancette, the league president.

Among the chief goals of the league board of directors is to improve its facilities and attract regional competitions to Williston. Little League rules dictate that the host fields for regional tournament games have certain specifications. Community Park, the field where the Major League of Williston Little League plays its contests, does not qualify, Lalancette said.

Lalancette said the league would be pleased to partner with the town to fund some of the improvements, but in order to do that the league will need to find new revenue.

Lalancette said the league does not want to hike current registration costs — $40 for one player, $45 for two, $50 for three — because the relatively low entry fee is something the league takes pride in.

Instead, the league is looking to improve its other revenue sources and hopes to launch a capital campaign to raise money for facility improvements.

Also, the league will borrow an idea used by some neighboring leagues and hold a Hit-A-Thon fundraiser this year. Players will take pledges that will be based on the distance they can hit the ball off a tee. Lalancette said the event, which is scheduled for May 14, should be a big day, complete with a barbecue and team pictures. He hopes the event can produce an atmosphere akin to the opening days other leagues stage.

“It should be a fun multipurpose function,” Lalancette said. “All the players will gather together in one place and it will be a way to celebrate youth baseball and softball in Williston.”

The Little League was offered an electronic scoreboard for its Community Park field by Coca-Cola, but complications with the town’s zoning requirements have put that donation in question. The league would also like to explore the possibility of placing advertisements on the fence at the Community Park during the season, but has held off that discussion until the scoreboard issue is resolved.

In the meantime, the fields are undergoing largely routine maintenance this week. The 2005 season was originally scheduled to start April 25, but town officials did not expect to have the three fields ready for competition until May 1. Recreation Director Kevin Finnegan said Monday that everything should be ready by the end of the week.

The league moved the start of the season back a week to adjust, shortening the schedule from 14 games to 12 games. Lalancette said the shift marks a break from tradition for the league, which has for years opened its season the Monday after school spring vacation.

Lalancette said he has received only favorable feedback from parents and coaches about the schedule change. He said parents are pleased the season opener does not come so close to the end of vacation, while the coaches are enthused to get an extra week with their team.

“It’s nice we’ve got that time to practice now,” said Bruce Allen, a coach for a Triple A team. “Usually, half of the players are here and the other half are in Florida the week before the season starts. Now, we’ll have a chance to get everybody together and practice a bit.”

Lalancette said the numbers for Williston’s baseball and softball leagues are down a bit from a few years ago. Still, only the fall youth soccer league, which included about 450 kids last year, is a larger youth sports league in town.

The numbers should grow next year when the league considers allowing 5-year-olds to participate.

“There’s a lot of interest in Little League and we want to make sure we provide opportunity for everybody that we can,” Lalancette said.

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Unleashed dogs not targeted by proposed ordinance

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Board tells dog owners that leash law will not be enforced

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The Selectboard told concerned dog owners Monday that a proposed bike path and sidewalk ordinance would not prevent canines from running free — even though existing rules requires all dogs to be leashed.

Board members and Town Manager Rick McGuire said the proposed ordinance would not be vigorously enforced unless the town received complaints. Public Works Director Neil Boyden said he could not remember receiving a complaint about dog behavior on the town’s bike path and sidewalk in the past eight to 10 years.

“We’re not going to be out there patrolling,” Boyden said.

Dog owners who spoke at the meeting said they frequently walked their unleashed dogs on the stretch of the bike path that runs through Community Park, typically in the early morning hours. They said they maintained control of their dogs and avoided conflicts with other path users.

The town already has a dog control ordinance that forbids dogs from running free unless the dog is being used for hunting or is being trained for hunting. Therefore, people who allow their unleashed dogs on the town’s bike paths or sidewalks are already subject to a fine. However, the ordinance is not strictly enforced.

The proposed bike path and sidewalk ordinance, which the Selectboard will consider approving at a future meeting, includes regulations on uses of the path and sidewalks. A provision that prohibited motorized uses was altered at Monday’s meeting at the suggestion of Planning Commission member Kevin Batson to permit motorized wheelchairs and other vehicles for the handicapped.

McGuire and Boyden told the concerned dog owners that the ordinance was not developed to limit the current uses on the paths and sidewalks, including the practice of allowing dogs to run free. They said the ordinance was designed to limit the liability of property owners who allow paths to cross their property.

The town is currently speaking with property owners to ask for easements that would allow for construction of future paths.

Three property owners spoke at the ordinance hearing, asking questions about potential liability for incidents off the path and about the behavior of those using it.

“Our biggest fear is an uncontrolled impact on our property and our lifestyle,” said John Butterfield, a North Williston Road resident.

Kerstin Hanson, a North Williston Road resident, asked why the town was passing the ordinance if it was going to look the other way when it came to enforcement.

McGuire said the town would not ignore infractions, but would make enforcement decisions based on the complaints it receives.

Both dog owners and property owners ultimately seemed satisfied with the ordinance and with the municipal officials’ explanation of its enforcement.

Selectboard members seemed surprised by the lively crowd of 14 who attended the hearing.

“Last week, I ran a public hearing in Brattleboro with 700 people on nuclear waste and it was quieter than this,” said Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons.

In light of a recent dog bite complaint, Selectboard member Terry Macaig, the town health officer, said he has never received a report of a dog bite case at the community bike path.

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Town officials named in developer

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Manager complains about ‘shotgun’ legal strategy

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Several Williston municipal officials remain listed as defendants as a developer’s lawsuit against the town nears trial.

The Village Associates suit, which seeks a sewer allocation for a proposed housing development near Taft Corners and unspecified punitive and compensatory damages, has been scheduled for trial May 25-27 and June 21-22 in Chittenden Superior Court. The suit was filed in the spring of 2003.

Despite the sustained efforts of the town’s attorneys to have the town officials removed as defendants, the lawsuit still lists Town Manager Rick McGuire, former Town Planner Mike Munson and Public Works Director Neil Boyden.

A judge ruled on May 12, 2003 that the officials could not be removed as defendants in the lawsuit, and Judge Meredith Wright, the Superior Court judge who will be hearing the case next month, has not responded to the town’s renewed request, made in April 2004, to remove the officials from the suit.

McGuire said the lawsuit does not expose town officials to financial liability, because they are each covered by professional liability insurance. The insurance company that holds the policy has an attorney contributing to the town’s defense.

Still, McGuire said, he does not believe he or the other defendants should be included in a lawsuit for doing their job. He said the Village Associates’ tactic of including officials in the suit suggested “a shotgun approach.”

“I don’t understand why I’m listed,” McGuire said. “All I was doing was administering a town ordinance. Why I’m being sued for doing my administrative duty, I don’t know.”

In its request to dismiss the suit against the officials, town attorneys said the officials were being sued in their capacities as town officials, which was identical to suing the town. Therefore, the suit only had one defendant, the attorneys argued.

However, the Village Associates attorneys cited preceding cases to argue that the question of whether the officials were acting in their official capacity could only be answered at trial.

Village Associates also argued that the inclusion of the officials was necessary for the plaintiff to receive “complete and adequate relief” financially in light of the town’s assertion that punitive damages could not be found against a municipality. Removing the officials, Village Associates argued, would also preclude its claim of punitive damages.

An attorney representing Village Associates did not return a message seeking comment on the case.

Village Associates filed suit against Williston after it did not receive a sewer allocation for a large multi-use project proposed for property on Zephyr Lane near Taft Corners. The project, which would include 110 residential units, had received phasing allocation from the Development Review Board for the first phase of the project. Many of the units are designed to meet the town’s “affordable” designation.

The Selectboard did not release enough sewer capacity to serve the Village Associates project, citing the dwindling capacity the town had at the time. The town recently received 200,000 new gallons per day of sewer capacity through an expansion at the Essex Junction wastewater plant.

Village Associates has argued the town’s denial of a sewer allocation for the project amounts to a refusal to allow the project to proceed. The developer said the refusal conflicts with the town’s comprehensive town plan goals of promoting affordable housing and development in the Taft Corners district.

Meanwhile, the town says the denial was made simply because there was not enough sewer available for the project.

Wright was also the presiding judge who ruled July 8, 2003 to deny the Village Associates’ request for a preliminary injunction preventing the town from handing out sewer allocations until the lawsuit had been decided. At the time, Wright appeared favorably disposed to the town’s argument that Village Associates’ inability to land a sewer allocation was not the result of illegal tactics by the town.

McGuire said there are no active discussions between the town and the Village Associates regarding a possible settlement to the suit. However, the Selectboard met with attorney Paul Gillies in a closed-door meeting Monday and possible settlement terms might have been part of the discussion.

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Town hires new police officer

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Scott Seitz was hired last month to fill an opening in the Williston Police Department.

Seitz, with four years of police experience, joined the force qualified as a full-time officer, meaning he can move quickly into the rotation. He was trained at the Vermont Police Academy and is familiar with state laws, Detective Sgt. Bart Chamberlain said.

Chamberlain said Seitz’s readiness to handle shifts immediately is critical because of a current officer shortage. The police department has two openings in its force, and two officers are currently unavailable.

Officer Jamin Whitehead is attending the police academy, and Detective Mike Lavoie remains sidelined with a shoulder injury suffered last August. Lavoie will have a second surgery on the shoulder later this month and is not expected to return to duty until this summer.

Seitz has work experience with the Barre and Northfield police departments. He occasionally worked with Williston Officer Dan Gowans during the latter’s time in the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, and is friends with Officer Scott Graham.

Seitz most recently worked for the police department in Fort Myers, Fla., but he said Vermont was a better fit for his family.

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Students get a taste of Qu

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By Colin Ryan
Correspondent

It’s pronounced keh-beh-kwa, and it is the traditional dance, percussion and song of French-Canadians and Franco-Americans. Last week, Williston Central School students were introduced to Québécois, the country dances and call-and-response laughter-filled songs of French Canada.

French teacher Michele Choiniere arranged the event as a cultural component of the school’s French curriculum. Thanks to her efforts, the students learned about Québécois music from an impressive set of instructors.

For the demonstration, Choiniere had the help of two Montreal-based fellow musicians, accordionist Sabin Jacques and pianist Rachel Aucoin. Originally from the Gaspé peninsula,Jacqueshas played the accordion since age 14. He is widely regarded as one of Québec's top accordionists, and has played at festivals internationally and on many albums.

Aucoin has also recorded with various artists, and is considered one of the best Québécois-style accompanists. Both Sabin and Rachel provided the accompaniment for the workshop held Tuesday, March 29 in the school auditorium.

Choiniere, a Franco-American and native of Vermont, is every bit an artist in her own right. From an early age she played traditional Franco-American music with her father, an accomplished harmonica player. In 1995, she began writing and composing her own songs and performing for audiences throughout New England, Quebec and France. In 2003, Michele self-released her debut solo album, “Coeur Fragile,” which was recognized as one of the top 10 Vermont albums of 2003 by the newsweekly Seven Days.

The workshop, which helped the French students learn traditional quadrille dancing, dance games and percussion with bones and spoons, was led by Benoit Bourque of the Montreal-based Québécois group, Le Vent Du Nord (“Northern Wind”). In 2004, Le Vent du Nord’s recording “Maudite moisson!” won a prestigious Juno ( Canada’s version of the Grammy awards) for best traditional music album.

“Rather than pressure the students to try something new, we worked hard to create this opportunity for the students,” Choiniere said. “Because of this, they can sing traditional songs and learn from the most famous step dancer in Quebec.”

Bourque is an energetic, charming sort of an artist. His eyes sparkle and his laugh is contagious — and so is his love of dance and song. His lighthearted persona made it easy for the students to catch a glimpse into the exuberance and community of Québécois, and helped them throw themselves into something new.

New for them, that is. Québécois music traces its origins to a blending of cultures during North America’s colonial days. The Scots came to the New World for the fur trade, and Irish immigrants built canals around Montreal during the Irish potato famine. Both influenced the repertoire of the local folk music of the day, which became Québécois.

Bourque clearly enjoys teaching Québécois, and he humored, cajoled, and encouraged the students to embrace the music. He sat them in a circle and taught them to play clappers made of animal bone, laughing at the curiosity his odd instruments raise.

"Spoons and bones are played in many countries, including France, the U.S., Sweden, Switzerland, England, Ireland, Scotland and Spain," he explains.

“You’re doing very well, but remember that in my tradition, a good step dancer can dance with a glass of water on his head,” Bourque said, as students’ eyebrows raised in disbelief. Then the youthful artist clapped his hands and laughed. “Try again!”

In addition to dancing and singing, Bourque plays the accordion, guitar, mandolin, and jaw harp. He has represented Québec in the North American and European folk music circuits for 25 years. He has a reputation as an inspired dancer, a choreographer and teacher, and a multi-talented instrumentalist.

He toured all over North America with the group Éritage, performing on the group’s five albums, and then as the artistic director of the troupe Les Éclusiers de Lachine. All the while, he has led step dance and traditional dance workshops in France and in North America.

“This is so fun!” one student exclaimed.

Although students took great pleasure in the lessons, the workshop wasn’t merely an exercise. The following day, the students displayed their newly learned skills for their fellow students, parents and the general public during two performances. In addition, the audience enjoyed a concert of traditional songs sung by the students and led by Choiniere.

Bourque insists that what makes Québécois music special is its combination of infectious energy and its community roots.

"Québécois music to many ears is a mix between Irish and Cajun. And there's also an aspect that's very strong in Québécois music — to just share with your neighbors, friends and family,” he says. “The music is meant to bring people together."

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Shopping center up for sale?

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Maple Tree Place draws national firm’s interest

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

One of the nation’s largest owners of shopping centers has made inquiries indicating it may buy Maple Tree Place.

Representatives from Inland Real Estate Group, based in Oak Brook, Ill., have asked for paperwork certifying that Maple Tree Place meets zoning requirements, said Williston Town Planner Lee Nellis. Inspectors have also visited buildings at the development, according to Maple Tree Place’s property manager.

“It appears (Inland Real Estate Group) is doing due diligence,” Nellis said.

Starwood Ceruzzi, a Connecticut-based real estate company, currently owns the mixed-use development.

Representatives from both companies would neither confirm nor deny that a sale is pending.

Rick Fox, a spokesman for Inland Real Estate Group, said Securities and Exchange Commission rules prevent the publicly traded company from disclosing any advance information about a potential purchase.

“SEC guidelines say we can’t talk about it,” Fox said. “I can’t even confirm that we are considering it.”

Ed Lingel, who manages Maple Tree Place and five other developments for Starwood Ceruzzi, said that there have been some “inspectors roaming around the property.” But he said he could not confirm that Starwood Ceruzzi was selling the property or what company the inspectors represented.

“I’ve heard the same rumors as you,” Lingel said. “But I haven’t been told squat by my people.”

Cynthia Ellis, senior vice president and associate general counsel at Starwood Ceruzzi, did not return a phone call to her office at the company’s Fairfield, Conn. headquarters.

If Inland Group buys Maple Tree Place, it would mark the first change in ownership since Starwood Ceruzzi purchased what was then an open field from Pyramid Co. in the 1990s. Over the past few years Maple Tree Place has grown into one of Vermont’s largest commercial developments. It now includes national retailers such as Best Buy and Staples, tens of thousands of square feet of office space and a 50-unit affordable housing complex.

The 71-acre project has an accessed value of $36,729,800, according to the Williston Town Clerk’s Office.

Inland Real Estate Group has more than $10 billion in assets and manages more than 95 million square feet of commercial space, according to the company’s Web site. The trade publication Shopping Centers Today ranked Inland as the fifth-largest owner and operator of shopping centers in the U.S.

Starwood Ceruzzi is also a big player in commercial real estate. Its parent company and affiliates have a combined portfolio valued at more than $6 billion, according to the company’s Web site.

It is unclear how serious Inland Group is about buying the property. Lingel pointed out that real estate companies sometimes look at many properties before making a purchase, much like an individual shopping for a home.

Starwood Ceruzzi and the town of Williston have had ongoing discussions over the past several months regarding Maple Tree Place’s conditions of approval. The town has expressed concerns that the development has failed to satisfy several of the conditions, which pertain to traffic improvements, landscaping and other aspects of the project.

Nellis said the town’s requirements would still apply if the development were sold. “Any new buyer would still have a legal obligation to meet the conditions of approval,” he said.

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Selectboard seeks solution to onslaught of new development

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Facing an onslaught of proposals for new housing, the Williston Selectboard might poach recommendations made during the process of formulating a new town plan when it revises the town’s subdivision regulations.

The Housing and Growth Management Task Force, one of the committees working on the town plan, has recommended changes to the criteria used to rank developments for phasing, which requires developments to be built over time. The Selectboard is interested in incorporating the changes into the proposed interim subdivision regulations that the board has been examining since late 2004.

However, some members of the board expressed ambivalence during a special meeting Monday about using the recommendations before the town plan is finished. The task force’s recommendations are not expected to be presented for public input until January, according to Town Planner Lee Nellis.

Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs wondered whether using the recommendations, which he said looked good at first glance, would be appropriate or whether it would be “putting the cart before the horse.” Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons expressed a similar concern.

Nellis said he believed the Selectboard could pick from the task force’s work without hurting the town plan process.

“The town plan is about understanding changes in the community and responding to it,” Nellis said. “I think that the process is more important than the product. What’s important is the public discussion.”

The task force’s recommendations include similar criteria for affordability, diversity, open space and paths and trails as those that already exist, Nellis said. The emphasis on growth near Taft Corners also remains.

Nellis said some proposals do mark a departure from the current regulations, including a component for energy conservation, an incentive for rural projects with no visual impact, a neighborhood design criterion in the medium-density district and emergency response time and paved roads rules for developments in rural areas.

The discussion comes amid a crunch that has developers proposing hundreds of units of new housing while town rules allow a fraction of that number to be built. The town’s phasing ordinance permits only 65 new units to be constructed in the coming fiscal year, and 80 units in subsequent years.

Closed-door meeting

The Selectboard also spoke for close to an hour Monday in a closed-door session that included Nellis and attorney Paul Gillies. The session allowed the board to discuss legal issues surrounding the possible transition from the current subdivision rules to the proposed interim regulations.

Specifically, the board has questions about how the transition would impact the lawsuit brought against the town by Village Associates, which has proposed a multi-use development near Taft Corners. A court date is set for May 25.

The board might consider allowing developers with projects already proposed to choose whether they want to be reviewed under the current regulations or under the new regulations. Typically, projects are considered under the regulations in place when an application was first submitted.

The Selectboard did not make a decision following the closed session.

The complex discussion at Monday’s meeting also featured a debate on the amount of residential construction that would be allowed for new projects in the next 10 years under the proposed interim subdivision regulations. The answer was not much.

Several large projects are already in line to receive phasing from the town and would account for the bulk of the units permitted. Few units would be available to projects not already in the municipal planning process, and no significant residential construction beyond the projects already proposed could begin until 2010.

“The question is ‘are we going to be fair to the people already in line now or to the people who are going to come in later with proposals?’” Nellis said.

Attachment A

Town Manager Rick McGuire said the Selectboard will likely revise the proposed sewer allocations — called Attachment A — for the upcoming fiscal year to better fit the proposed interim subdivision regulations and amendments to the sewer allocation ordinance.

The board was scheduled to consider the proposed allocations for Attachment A at its meeting Monday, but did not discuss the issue when the first part of the meeting ran long. The issue will be on the agenda for the board’s next meeting on Monday.

McGuire said he did not know whether the revised allocations would increase the sewer available for residential or commercial projects. The proposed allocations called for 33,594 gallons per day available for new development in the 2005-06 fiscal year.

The allocations for new residential development (7,665 gallons), affordable housing (3,285 gallons) and commercial/industrial (1,144 gallons) would not accommodate a large project. The proposed allocation set aside 20,000 gallons per day for commercial projects that are using more sewer than they had been allocated.

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Selectboard plans special meeting to discuss subdivision rules

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Proposed changes could raise legal questions

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The Selectboard must wrestle with the legal issues surrounding a potential transition from its current subdivision regulations to an interim set before approving the change.

Many of the residential developers currently waiting in line for a phasing allocation for their projects might find the proposed interim regulations more favorable. However, typically, projects are considered under the regulations in place when an application was first submitted.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said the Selectboard will need to consider whether it wants to provide developers with the option of being reviewed under either the current regulations or the new ones.

The legal questions surrounding such a consideration are substantial, McGuire said, and most directly applicable in the pending lawsuit of Village Associates against the town. The company wants to build a 110-unit subdivision near Taft Corners.

The board will hold a special meeting with an attorney present sometime this month to weigh the transition issues. McGuire said the meeting could be scheduled as early as this Monday.

A portion of the meeting will likely be held in executive session, because the discussion will involve the Village Associates’ suit. Village Associates sued the town when it could not secure a sewer allocation for the project.

“A large part of the transition discussion will probably involve strategies related to the lawsuit and we’ll need to have those in executive session,” McGuire said. “The discussion about the other developers might be in open session.”

The Selectboard continued to discuss the proposed interim subdivision regulations Monday night. The regulations have appeared regularly on the board’s agenda in various forms for several months. As part of the discussion, the board reviewed with Town Planner Lee Nellis how the town’s growth management works now and how it would work under the proposed interim regulations.

The Development Review Board sent a letter to the Selectboard last week, detailing the difficulties it is having distributing phasing to proposed projects.

Nellis said the DRB was attempting to make equitable decisions while lining up a small subdivision against a massive housing development.

“The situation in which they find themselves is juggling apples and oranges,” Nellis said.

Nellis said the current subdivision regulations make it difficult for large and small residential projects to receive the phasing allocation they need to build. Mid-sized developments make out much better.

The proposed interim regulations would change that, Nellis said. In fact, Selectboard member Andy Mikell asked Nellis whether the new regulations would reverse the bias, “shutting down the guy with 10, 20, 30 units.”

“That’s a possible result, not a guaranteed result, but a possible result,” Nellis said.

The proposed interim subdivision regulations have been on Selectboard agendas since late last year, but have been the subject of heavy tinkering. McGuire said the board would need to make a decision eventually.

“This is a constantly evolving document and at some time you have to say enough,” McGuire said.

The Selectboard is also weighing proposed changes to the town’s sewer allocation ordinance that would support the proposed interim subdivision regulations. The board voted to warn a public hearing on the sewer ordinance revisions, though a date has not yet been set.

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Selectboard fence-sitting on the Circ

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Other town boards have taken positions

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The Williston Selectboard does not appear likely to soon make the same public expression of support for the Circumferential Highway that other town boards have made in recent months.

The governing boards in Essex Junction, Essex and Colchester have each reemphasized their support for the construction of the Circ since a consultant began preparing an Environmental Impact Statement on the project and alternatives to it, but the Williston Selectboard has so far remained noncommittal.

Representatives of the other towns have explicitly stated their support for the Circ.

For instance, Charles Safford, Essex Junction village manager, said the village’s Board of Trustees’ support for the Circ is “unequivocal.” Tom James, chairman of the Essex Town Selectboard, called his board’s support for the project “overwhelming.” Dick Paquette, chairman of the Colchester Selectboard, said a representative of his board attended each of three public meetings on the EIS last month to express the board’s “100 percent support for the Circ.”

In contrast, the Williston Selectboard has been circumspect on the Circ, a stance that seems glaring alongside the other municipalities. The lack of advocacy for the project does not appear to reverse the town’s past support for the Circ, but it does leave open the possibility that the board will later decide there is a better alternative to the project.

The proposed Circumferential Highway would form a 16-mile arc from Williston to Colchester. Road crews were prepared to move forward in May with the construction of a segment between Williston and Essex Junction. However, U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions halted the work, ruling the environmental impacts of the project had not been sufficiently researched. The state has since begun the Environmental Impact Statement process, which is required to fully investigate alternatives to the Circ.

The Williston Selectboard has had several discussions about how to be involved in the EIS process — for example, how and when to make its feelings known about alternatives — but the possibility of reiterating its past support for the Circ has never been raised.

Williston Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons, a previous Circ supporter, said it would be irresponsible for the board to advocate for the project in the midst of the EIS process. Lyons said the board could ultimately be vigorous supporters of the Circ, but in the meantime has to maintain an open mind. For the same reason, she declined to state her current feelings about the Circ.

“I’m not going to say I support the Circ right now because I support the process we have and I can’t do both,” Lyons said.

However, Safford said the village’s advocacy for the Circ does not signal an unwillingness to consider alternatives — or a lack of support for the EIS.

“It just means the Circ is the one to beat,” he said.

James said the Essex Town Selectboard reiterated its support for the Circ in part to ensure it was on record favoring the project in the EIS. He said Essex residents overwhelmingly support the Circ and it was important that the town’s board makes that clear.

Other Williston Selectboard members seemed nearly as determined as Lyons to be noncommittal about the Circ.

For example, board member Terry Macaig said he has supported the Circ in the past and believes he will in the future, but thinks “it’s important to look at all of the alternatives now.”

Selectboard member Ted Kenney, who joined the board in March, said he supports the Circ, but remains unfamiliar with many aspects of the project and plans to use the EIS process to crystallize an opinion.

Similarly, board member Andy Mikell said in February he plans to base his opinion on what he learns through the EIS process.

The most concrete public position comes from board member Jeff Fehrs, who has opposed the project for years. Fehrs said he still does not support the Circ.

Fehrs said the fact the Selectboard has not renewed its support for the Circ does not show it opposes the project. He noted that the Selectboard passed a resolution supporting the Circ a few years ago.

“We’re perceived (to be undecided), but I think the board remains a pretty strong supporter of the Circ,” Fehrs said. “We’ve in no way rescinded the resolution we signed supporting it.”

A new proposed resolution was forwarded to the Williston Selectboard last month. It has already been approved in Essex, Essex Junction and Colchester. The resolution reveals strong reservations with the most prominent alternative to the Circ. The Williston Selectboard has not yet considered the resolution.

Earlier this year, a coalition of environmental groups proposed an alternative that would widen Vermont Route 2A and install a series of roundabouts at major intersections along the thoroughfare.

The towns’ governing boards are expected to contribute to the EIS discussion, though there is no formal role for them and their support for the project that is eventually recommended is not required. It remains unclear how much of an impact the towns’ preferences will have.

Rich Ranaldo, a project manager for the Agency of Transportation, did not return a message seeking comment.

There have been public concerns that the EIS process, which the state Agency of Transportation oversees, will not be an unbiased look at the alternatives and instead will tilt heavily toward the Circ. Gov. Jim Douglas has repeatedly stated that he supports the project.

Williston Selectboard members said they were confident that the state would in fact take an objective look at alternatives. Lyons said the concerns about bias illustrate why the Williston Selectboard should keep an open mind.

However, she said the board’s reluctance to push for the Circ now should not be interpreted as a desire to remain uninvolved.

“We need to weigh in each step of the way to make sure what’s best for the town is being discussed,” Lyons said. “We’ll be keeping an eye on all the issues as this thing goes forward.”

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