July 23, 2019

Park and ride discussion slated for later this month

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Town Manager Rick McGuire told the Selectboard last week that a meeting to address a new study for a proposed park and ride facility in Williston has been postponed.

Town officials have been frustrated with the slow pace of progress on studying a park and ride for Williston. The meeting, now set for later this month, will include a committee and a consultant selected to assist with reopening a scoping study for the project.

Last summer, the town asked the state to reopen a study done in 2000 that examined potential locations for a park and ride in Williston. The original study selected a field behind the state police barracks on Vermont Route 2A as the best site for the project. The field is part of the Maple Tree Place property.

Several obstacles exist for the property, including questions of right of way with Maple Tree Place and the traffic volumes on Vermont Route 2A. The steering committee asked the state to continue to evaluate the chosen site, while investigating other possible sites, too.

Municipal officials believe a park and ride facility would help ease the volume of traffic on Williston’s roads, particularly at the Interstate 89 interchange.


Local option taxes

Williston enjoyed a strong first quarter to 2005 in returns from its local option taxes.

The 1 percent sales tax brought in $598,386 in revenue to the town in January through March – a sharp increase over the $520,933 the tax generated for Williston from last year over the same period. The town also received $51,007 in rooms and meals tax returns, amounting to a 22 percent increase over the same quarter of last year.

In all, the local option taxes have produced $2,216,666 in revenue for the town in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The town had projected $2.3 million in revenue from the taxes. Now, Susan Lamb, the town treasurer, said a surplus of approximately $400,000 seems likely.

The 1 percent local option sales tax was added to the existing 5 percent state sales tax on July 1, 2002. The town receives 80 percent of the revenue produced by the tax; the state keeps the remainder in return for handling administration of the tax.

Williston added a 1 percent local rooms and meals tax onto the existing 9 percent state rooms and meals tax on July 1, 2003.

Williston used revenues from the local option taxes to lower the municipal property tax rate from $0.33 to $0.08 for the 2004-05 fiscal year.


Brennan Woods speeders

Stephen Casale became the second Brennan Woods resident in about a month to appear before the Selectboard to voice his distress at traffic speeds in the large residential development.

Casale brought along his two children, Sadie and Cole, to the Selectboard’s June 6 meeting to talk to the board about what he described as the frequently excessive speed of traffic in the development’s streets.

As an example, Casale said a pizza delivery driver was clocked going 50 miles per hour through the neighborhood. He said Sadie was in danger of being struck by the vehicle.

Casale noted that Brennan Woods currently has some “hot tempers” about the speed of traffic in its neighborhood.

“It’s only a matter of time before there is an altercation over this,” Casale said.

Fred Reiner, a Brennan Woods resident, had visited the Selectboard to register his concerns with traffic in the neighborhood in May. The town has worked with a consultant to formulate a traffic-calming plan for Brennan Woods. It sent the proposal to the Brennan Woods Homeowners Association for comment in April.

Casale thanked the Selectboard for the town’s work toward installing traffic calming measures. The town cannot move forward with any proposed measures until it assumes ownership of the development’s roads. Snyder Companies, the developer of Brennan Woods, still owns the roads.

“I find it frustrating that we’re not able to do more,” Selectboard member Ted Kenney.


Allen Brook study

The town will pay $6,000 a year for the next five years in an effort to document stream conditions at the Allen Brook.

The town’s expenses cover about half of the cost for the project, which involves the installation of a stream gauge in the Allen Brook. Participating agencies include the Agency of Natural Resources, the Agency of Transportation and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs asked whether the funds were available for the town to participate in the project. Town Manager Rick McGuire said the money was in the budget.

[Read more…]

Neighborhoods searching for exit out of life in the fast lane

Speeders creating safety concerns

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

For years, the children of Michael and Barbara O’Connor could play street hockey on Chamberlin Lane without worrying about passing traffic. Then Chamberlin Lane was extended to connect the family’s Indian Ridge neighborhood to the newly constructed Brennan Woods.

“And street hockey went away real quick,” Michael O’Connor said.

A quiet dead-end street instantly became a bustling connector road bridging not only the Indian Ridge and Brennan Woods neighborhoods, but also Mountain View Road and U.S. Route 2. Unsurprisingly, traffic speeds shot up.

The road linking the neighborhoods came out of Williston’s comprehensive plan, which calls for connected neighborhoods. However, the road’s opening also created undesired traffic hazards on a residential street replete with pedestrians and playing children. The speeds on the Chamberlin Lane have concerned some residents so much that they have taken to parking their vehicles on the side of the road instead of in their driveways in order to narrow the road and create an impromptu traffic calming measure.

The town is moving to improve conditions on the road. A consultant hired by the town recently released recommendations for traffic calming measures in the Brennan Woods development, including on a stretch of Chamberlin Lane. The measures feature speed tables, which are longer, flatter versions of speed bumps.

Increasingly, as Williston has grown, town officials are hearing from residents concerned about traffic speeding through their neighborhoods. At the same time, the comprehensive plan calls for roads to connect neighborhoods. When those connections are made, speeds tend to increase.

Traffic calming measures such as speed bumps are seen as the solution. The Brennan Woods recommendations came on the heels of the Selectboard’s recent approval of traffic calming measures on Van Sicklen Road.

Traffic calming steps are not as common in Williston as in nearby Burlington and South Burlington, because they are generally not needed, according to Public Works Director Neil Boyden. However, fast-moving traffic through residential streets tends to prompt concern among neighbors and calls for the town to take action.

For instance, Fred Reiner gave an impassioned speech to the Selectboard in May about traffic on Brennan Woods Drive. The O’Connors visited the board in October to highlight worries on Chamberlin Lane.

“There are a lot of children in this neighborhood and eventually someone is going to get hurt — or worse — if something doesn’t change,” Michael O’Connor said.

According to an engineering study, prevailing speeds on Brennan Woods Drive and Chamberlin Lane approach 35 to 40 miles per hour, despite posted speed limits of 25 miles per hour.

The Brennan Woods experience has served as a sort of test case for town officials, illuminating potential problems with large developments and with roads connecting neighborhoods. Ownership of the streets in Brennan Woods has not yet been transferred from the project’s developer, the Snyder Companies, to the town, greatly limiting the steps the town can take to control traffic.

For instance, Boyden said, “We can’t set the speed limit and enforce it without owning the facility.”

Based on the problems that have arisen, Town Manager Rick McGuire said the town might reexamine the process it uses for assuming control of a road. Also, traffic calming will be considered in the planning for a project — rather than after a development is complete and problems emerge.

“We will likely want to see traffic calming built into the construction of the road itself,” McGuire said.

Most of Williston’s subdivisions are not linked by connecting roads — a chief reason the town does not have more speed problems in its neighborhoods, Boyden said.

Though the town hopes to increase connections in the future, McGuire said it is unlikely that town would seek to connect existing neighborhoods. The focus would instead be on building such connections into new subdivisions.

The advantages of connected neighborhoods are many, according to town officials. Boyden said they improve access for public safety and maintenance vehicles. McGuire said connected neighborhoods ease congestion on main roads and improve convenience for motorists and pedestrians. The connections just must be accompanied by steps to keep traffic speeds in check.

Residents often ask for increased police presence at spots where they say traffic is too fast. However, it can be difficult for Williston’s relatively small police force, which typically has no more than two officers on patrol, to spend large amounts of time on traffic control. In addition, McGuire said, police presence only has a limited effect on lowering speed limits. Physical changes are often necessary.

The O’Connors agree. They said they are pleased the town is considering speed tables for Chamberlin Lane. The town sent a copy of the engineer’s traffic calming measures for Brennan Woods to the Brennan Woods Homeowners Association for feedback in April.

Most complaints about speed originate on the town’s larger connecting roads, like North Williston Road and Mountain View Road. However, the town frequently is restricted in the work it can do to install traffic calming steps on those roads.

For example, the Selectboard and a group of residents sought speed tables on Van Sicklen Road to subdue speeding traffic. But an engineering study showed that the speed tables were not warranted because of the current average speed of traffic, though that speed was well in excess of the posted speed limit. Implementing the speed tables when they were not warranted would carry significant risks, McGuire said.

“It creates a liability problem,” McGuire said. “If someone has an accident there and the traffic calming isn’t according to standards, then the town’s first line of defense has been lost.”

Instead, the town approved a set of less powerful traffic calming measures.

Perhaps the town’s most significant traffic calming project was the installation of speed tables in the Meadow Run neighborhood approximately two years ago. Boyden said the town had received complaints from Meadow Run residents about excessive speeds in the neighborhood. The town hired a traffic consultant and ultimately speed tables were recommended.

Boyden said he judges the speed tables to be a success based on one key piece of evidence.

“I haven’t heard any complaints since we put them in,” he said.

[Read more…]

Model train enthusiasts get museum back on track

Locals help bring small-scale railroads back to Shelburne

By Colin Ryan

Visitors to Shelburne Museum’s toy shop enter a painstakingly re-created world of trains, tracks, water towers, covered bridges, signs, stations and trees. But the new display is not just for show.

Visitors can operate by remote control the two sets of trains, direct the station, announce train times, operate the water tower, and animate other aspects of the display.

The intricate model train display reprises a Shelburne Museum tradition from decades ago. A group of local residents, including two Willistonians, lobbied the museum to bring the popular display back. It is carefully designed to evoke the original, which was displayed from 1954 through 1967.

In both the former and current displays, a shared passion for trains created a collaboration.

The original display came about because of a friendship between Shelburne Museum founder Electra Havermeyer Webb and A.C. Gilbert, a doctor from New Haven, Conn.

After graduating from medical school, Gilbert started his own company selling Mysto Magic Sets, then went on to design the Erector set. He later purchased the American Flyer toy train company and asked Webb to display his trains in her museum.

But Webb didn’t like his original layout, which wasn’t distinctly Vermont-themed. Gilbert sent workers to Shelburne to redesign the display, which was first exhibited in 1954.

After 13 years, the museum decided the display was too difficult to maintain and gave it to the Brandon Training School. It was later auctioned, and many of the details of its original design were lost.

The current display also involved collaboration, this time involving many local residents.

Ed Bianchi, a teacher at Charlotte Central School, came up with the idea of bringing the display back after reading an article in Classic Toy Trains Magazine written by one of the people who worked on Gilbert’s original display. It turned out that the museum had also wanted to pursue the idea. But the museum had two questions: Would it operate reliably? Would there be enough local volunteers to maintain it?

A group of train enthusiasts have stepped forward to help. Bianchi found eight other people to join the project to recreate the original museum’s display: John Gaworecki, John Malcovsky, Roger Brassard, Frederick Raab, Jack and Barbara Campbell, and Williston residents Mike O’Connor and Nick Hardin.

They pitched the idea to museum curator Hope Alswang in February 2003.

“We put together a display of items that would have been in display,” Bianchi explains, “using models, catalogues, and drawings to show what it would look like. They went for it.” The museum budgeted $2,000 for the display, and the train lovers put up $2,000 more.

Among the group members, O’Connor and Hardin are the most enthusiastic about American Flyer model trains. Construction of the set took place in Hardin’s basement. The unlikely group — two teachers, two electrical engineers and other devotees with various talents — met weekly for about 10 months to complete the job.

The museum prepared a backdrop that includes a poster modeled on one used in the original display and altered to look more like Vermont. One of the challenges was to keep the look and feel of the 1950s A.C. Gilbert design while meeting the museum’s reliability requirement. The group equipped the trains with modern motors and other up-to-date parts so that the display could be operated by children.

“We've made it so the kids can operate the trains all day long, but at the same time, a true S-Gauge collector would recognize this as an authentic display,” says O’Connor. “American Flyer trains are highly sought after, very desirable trains. That they run as well as they do to this day, having withstood the test of time, is a testament to everything A.C. Gilbert was about.”

The enthusiasts say that model train collectors are caretakers, not owners. Collectors understand that the trains they own were built to last lifetimes. They love the sleekness and perfection of the trains’ design and want to share them with others.

“Building this display is really about passing on the love of trains,” says Bianchi. “This hobby encompasses everything: collecting, electrical work (powering the trains), mechanical design (gears, motors, wheels and moving parts), artistic creativity (painting scenery and decorating cars), and a love of history (researching original details). And there’s a place in it for just about anybody.”

In an interesting way, things have come full circle for the group. They are planning a feature article on the display to be published in the September edition of Classic Toy Trains Magazine, the publication that inspired them to revisit the old exhibit in the first place.

The heyday of model trains ended in the 1960s. But the children who grew up with them still want to pass their love of trains down to their children. Bianchi facilitates the railroad club at Charlotte Central School, and each year kids come to him hoping the club will be meeting.

Kathryn Chase, Charlotte Central School’s librarian, says the museum display will allow her to share her memories of model trains with her granddaughter.

“As a little girl at Shelburne Village School, I remember walking over to the museum with my class,” she says. “We always looked forward to the train exhibit. I think it’s important for children to see the history of transportation, and the way things have changed and stayed the same.

“Trains will change a great deal in the next 50 years, so I’m thrilled that they’ve put the trains back,” Chase says. “Because of it, I can bring my granddaughter, the fourth generation of my family that will be able to see this train exhibit.”


Shelburne Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is $9 for adults, $4.50 for children ages 6-18 and free for younger children.

Organizers of the model train exhibit are looking for people who have memories, photos or other information about the original layout. Call Ed at 425-2771, ext. 155 or send e-mail to ebianchi@cssu.org.

[Read more…]

Maple Tree Place development sold for $103 million

Illinois-based firm purchases shopping center

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

An Illinois-based real estate company has purchased Maple Tree Place for a price topping $100 million, adding it to one of the country’s largest portfolios of shopping centers.

Rick Fox, a spokesman for the Inland Real Estate Group of Companies, confirmed that one of the company’s subsidiaries, Inland Western Retail Real Estate Trust, had bought the shopping center last month from Starwood Ceruzzi, the Connecticut real estate company that has owned the development since the 1990s.

Fox said the purchase price for the 71-acre parcel was $103.3 million. The property was recently reappraised at a value of $42.2 million — an increase of nearly $6 million over the year before, according to assistant town assessor Dick Ransom.

Fox said the appeal of the Maple Tree Place development was obvious.

“What’s not to like about this property?” he said. “Inland Western bought more than a half-million square feet of some of the top names in retail in an area that continues to grow.”

Maple Tree Place has developed into one of the state’s largest commercial developments, featuring national retailers like Best Buy and Staples, a 10-screen movie theater and tens of thousands of square feet of office space. It also has a residential component — a 50-unit affordable housing complex.

More development is permitted at the Maple Tree Place parcel. Fox said Inland Western is developing a strategy for continuing to build out the property.

“There is a plan for the additional land and we will be working with the sellers on that development as it moves forward,” Fox said.

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. Shopping Centers Today, a trade publication, ranked Inland as the fifth-largest owner and operator of shopping centers in the U.S.

Fox said Maple Tree Place shoppers will see few changes as a result of Inland Western’s purchase. He said the public should expect growth at the shopping center, but no major remodeling of the relatively new development.

“The real difference that people will notice is the continued development, but as far as the rest of the property is concerned, the average shopper won’t notice the change at all,” Fox said.

Fox said the closing date on the sale was May 20. The Williston Town Clerk’s Office had not received a property transfer form as of Tuesday, nor was Town Planner Lee Nellis aware if a sale had occurred, though he said, “I’m 99 percent sure something has happened.”

Cindy Ellis, senior vice president and associate general counsel at Starwood Ceruzzi, did not return a phone message seeking comment on the transaction.

Starwood Ceruzzi and the town of Williston have had ongoing discussions for months about whether Maple Tree Place has met several of the project’s original conditions of approval. Nellis said the conditions would not change with a change in ownership.

“Any new buyer would still have a legal obligation to meet the conditions of approval,” Nellis said in April.

[Read more…]

Library leader stepping down after booking 30 years

By Jen Butson

Now in its centennial year, Dorothy Alling Library offers more gee-whiz technology and shelves more old-fashioned books than ever. Rickie Emerson has had a lot to do with the Williston library’s evolution.

Emerson, the library’s director, recently announced that she would step down this summer after 30 years on the job. During that time, the library has been restructured and renovated from A to Z.

She notes with satisfaction that the collection has grown from its original 225 books in 1905 to a circulation just shy of 102,000 today.

“It is time for a new generation to come into the library,” she says. “It’s always good to have new blood.”

Though books are what first comes to mind when libraries are mentioned, Emerson has also helped ensure the public’s information technology needs are served. In recent years, the library has become fully automated, with 22 computers nestled in sunny nooks sprinkled throughout the facility.

The computers can be used to access the 20 databases the library subscribes to. And for those who bring their own laptop, the area outside the library — including a patio garden — offers free wireless Internet access.

“It’s part of our mission to get people and information together freely,” Emerson says. “In a democracy, you need an informed citizenry.”

Emerson credits the town’s citizens for the library’s top-notch offerings. She said that 93 percent of the library’s $311,000 operating budget comes from Williston tax dollars — $34 from every man, woman and child in town.

“We have a highly informed and educated town; over 57 percent of Williston’s residents have a bachelor’s degree or better,” Emerson says. “Residents want the best for their children and fortunately, they put their money where their mouth is.”

The library building has taken on an entirely new look over the years — with two major expansions that more than doubled the library’s original one-room space.

In 1986, the first expansion brought more room for the steadily growing collection and 1988 brought on the children’s wing, with wall-to-wall rows, stacks of picture books and a circular mural of Five Tree Hill overhead. An average of 30 children each day make this their after-school hangout.

“Some kids come every single day and stay until 8 p.m.,” Emerson says. Many come for the intergenerational programs, while others come to surf the Internet or meet friends.

For example, Chelsea Perron, 12, has made the children’s wing a second home for the last year.

“After school, it’s nice to have somewhere to go,” she says. “Otherwise, I’d be bored at home.”

Perron also enjoys helping others at the library. Nearly every Thursday, she participates in a program that pairs older students with younger readers. “I like to read to the little kids,” she says.

The library facilitates 38 adult programs and 224 youth programs yearly. “We serve people from the cradle to the grave,” Emerson says. “We think of this place as a community living room.”

Connor Eyssen, 12, also stops by every day. He said he doesn’t come for the books, but rather, for everything else the library offers. “I come here to meet my friends, e-mail and play computer games,” he says.

Debbie Roderer, assistant director of the library, has worked alongside Emerson for 18 years. She says the staff of 12 has tackled two major increases — the booming population and the growing use of technology.

“As the town has grown, so has the use of the library,” Roderer says. “Fortunately, Rickie has had the vision and I have implemented the details, so we compliment each other.”

Roderer suggests that Williston’s ever-increasing use of the library may eventually require yet another building expansion. In 2004, the library saw an increase of more than 10 percent in traffic — 46,881 patrons coming through the doors, and nearly 8,000 of them using the Internet.

“We may someday need more space and will want to incorporate new technology as it becomes available and cost effective,” she says. “We will maintain the level of public service that we currently offer, that’s our primary objective.”

Emerson’s official retirement date is June 30, but she says she intends to help with the transition to a new director. She plans to work through the summer on a part-time basis until the library’s Board of Trustees hires a new director, which is scheduled to take place in September.

Emerson sums up her work experience with an emphasis on education and a plan.

“I spent my first 30 years, growing and learning, and in the second third of my life, I’ve been helping people grow,” she says. “Now I’m in my final third, and I am going to spend time for myself, learning again.”

[Read more…]

Lawmakers irked by sales tax opposition

House speaker against extending 2008 sunset on levy

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Local legislators expressed frustration at roadblocks during the recent legislative session to firming up the local option taxes, pointing to rivalries among towns and a staunch opponent in a leadership post.

Sen. Ginny Lyons, who represents Chittenden County, and Rep. Mary Peterson, one of Williston’s two representatives, said the debate on sales and rooms and meals taxes was often contentious during the recent session and the lack of results maddening.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate approved separate provisions that would have kept the local option taxes in Williston beyond 2008, when municipalities authorized to use the levies lose that authority. Williston has a 1 percent sales tax and a 1 percent rooms and meals tax that intended to fund infrastructure needs connected with commercial development.

The House provision would have extended the sunset on the local option taxes beyond 2008, while the Senate provision would have extended the right to levy local option taxes to every municipality in the state.

However, Senate and House negotiators could not agree on a compromise, according to House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho. “We agreed to put things off until next year,” she said.
Peterson and Lyons, both Democrats, pointed to Symington’s opposition as an obstacle to expanding the local option taxes to more municipalities and allowing Williston to continue to use the taxes.

“I can’t underestimate how passionately opposed to the local option tax the speaker is,” Peterson said.

The stakes for Williston taxpayers are huge. The sales and rooms and meals taxes have allowed the town to reduce the property tax rate by roughly 27 cents per $100 in valuation. That equates to $540 in annual property tax savings for the owner of a $200,000 house.

Symington questions whether local option taxes have been fair. She said residents from other towns pay the tax when they shop, but they do not share the same benefits Williston residents enjoy.

She said representatives of some of the state’s smaller towns wonder whether their constituents are well served by the tax. Smaller municipalities with smaller commercial bases would not benefit from the tax and would therefore not be interested in gaining the option of using it.

“The local option taxes are paid by all Vermonters, but the bulk of the revenue only goes to the particular towns with the taxes,” Symington said. “I understand the towns have infrastructure needs, because they are centers of business, but I don’t think there’s been enough work to see who’s paying the bill and who’s benefiting from it. I’m not willing to just go ahead without looking at what the impact on taxpayers in smaller towns is.”

Symington has agreed to convene a study group to take a closer look at local option taxes. The group will meet in the fall or next January.
Peterson said she has encountered several legislators who believe a greater cut of the local option taxes should be distributed to the state. She called the suggestion “ludicrous.” She said most states allow local option taxes and ask for a much smaller cut of the revenue than Vermont does, if they ask for any at all. The 30 percent of local option taxes that are sent to the state government in Vermont is already “unprecedented,” Peterson said.

Resentment at Williston’s low property tax rate is behind some legislators’ opposition to the town continuing to have the tax, Lyons said. The town had a municipal property tax rate of 8 cents this year. Without the local option tax, the rate would have been around 35 cents.

“One of the basic problems for us is that the towns around us who don’t have the tax and want it use us as an example, so people get mad at us,” Lyons said.

Peterson said the discussion of the issue in the House of Representatives has been distinctively parochial.

“In instances like this, I don’t think folks are really being fair to Williston,” Peterson said. “They aren’t looking at the other side of the ledger and the amount of economic activity produced for the state here.”

Although the local option tax would not sunset until the end of 2008, Town Manager Rick McGuire said that is not distant for purposes of municipal planning. For instance, a town charter change that institutes a new funding source could take two years.

Peterson advocates starting a task force in Williston that would study the local option taxes and possible alternatives to them.

[Read more…]

Lake Iroquois Beach set to open

Cool temperatures delayed season’s start

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

This spring’s stubbornly cool, rainy weather kept Lake Iroquois Beach from opening as scheduled over the Memorial Day weekend. However, the beach is set to open this Saturday as the weather forecast brightens.

Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden said last week that temperatures were recently measured in the water off the beach at about 48 degrees — much too cool for most swimmers. May’s persistent rain and below-average temperatures have kept the water from warming, he said.

The frigid waters prompted the Lake Iroquois Recreation Board of Commissioners to delay the opening of the beach a week beyond its traditional Memorial Day weekend start. The beach is owned by the towns of Hinesburg, Richmond, St. George and Williston. The Board of Commissioners includes a representative from each town.

“The beach has always been weather dependent,” said Boyden, who is Richmond’s representative on the Board of Commissioners. “It clearly wasn’t warm enough to open it yet this (Memorial Day) weekend.”

The weather has evidently dulled residents’ interest in swimming. Kathy Smardon, Williston’s assistant town clerk, said last week that the town had sold only 12 beach season passes — about half of what it would typically have sold before Memorial Day.

Forecasts for the upcoming weekend show sun and temperatures reaching into the 80s. Boyden expects interest in swimming to escalate accordingly.

The beach will be open on weekends only for the next few weeks, until the school year ends. It will then be open daily.

There will be two notable differences this year for Lake Iroquois beachgoers. One is a change in food vendor. The operators of Bridge Street Cafe in Richmond will run the concession booth.

Boyden said Bob and Helen Koch, who had managed the food concessions at the clubhouse behind the beach for roughly eight years, informed the Board of Commissioners about a month ago that they would be unable to provide the services again.

Boyden said the Recreation District advertised locally in search of a new vendor, but received no responses. So, Boyden approached the Bridge Street Cafe about taking the job. He said the business agreed, on short notice, to assume the vendor responsibilities.

“They ought to be really good,” Boyden said. “We’re lucky to get them.”

The beach area will also feature a new playground designed to accommodate more children. The previous playground, which was installed in 1991, had been restricted to children age 6 and older. The new playground will suitable for children ages 2-12, according to Boyden.

“We’re getting a lot younger clientele there than six years old and we decided we needed to get the equipment to serve them,” Boyden said earlier this year.

The new equipment, which cost approximately $6,200, will be funded with a state grant. Boyden said the playground should be installed around June 18, near the time school lets out.

[Read more…]

Interstate projects will smooth bumps and reduce backups

Work to start in July, state official says

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Roadwork that will smooth the rough ride on Interstate 89 and ease congestion at exit 12 begins this summer.

The paving project includes 16 miles on the southbound side of I-89 between Bolton and South Burlington. The exit 12 work involves lengthening the deceleration lane and adding a lane to the southbound off-ramp that leads to Vermont Route 2A.

Motorists who suffer the bruising ride while dodging ruts and potholes during their daily commute say they are eager to see the repaving completed.

“It’s like a roller coaster ride,” said Bolton resident Kelly O’Brien, who commutes on Interstate 89 between Richmond and Williston to her job as a Vermont State Police dispatcher.

The stretch of Interstate 89 was last paved less then a decade ago, said Mike Hedges, paving program manager for the Vermont Agency of Transportation. A type of asphalt designed to reduce road spray and provide better traction was used.

But the state found that the pavement, which was supposed to last for 15-20 years, has a far shorter lifespan.

“It had many useful benefits,” Hedges said. “But we found that in modern applications it has a 9- to 10-year lifespan. Then it fails dramatically.”

Indeed, the quality of the southbound drive between Williston and Richmond has deteriorated rapidly over the past year. Shallow but wide potholes pockmark the stretch between Williston and Richmond. The segment between the Williston and Shelburne Road exits also has flaws.

Both stretches are marked by grooves and washboard pavement. Vehicles occasionally kick up pieces of loose asphalt, a distraction for drivers and a danger to windshields.

Williston resident Phyllis Etienne, who sometimes drives on Interstate 89 to reach Burlington, said she has seen the rapid deterioration.

“It’s definitely noticeable,” she said. “I find myself consciously steering from one lane to another to avoid it.”

Hedges, while acknowledging that potholes could present safety issues for motorists traveling at 65 mph, said many other roads are worse. “They are not as bad as the potholes we have elsewhere,” he said.

The limited lifespan of asphalt on Interstate 89 has been a problem since the state started using the new type of pavement in the 1990s. Last year, the state had to repave a stretch of I-89 between exits 8 and 10.

Was it a mistake to use the new type of paving, which allows water to drain better but apparently doesn’t hold up in Vermont’s rugged climate?

“When we planned it, we felt it was the best available product,” Hedges said. “That’s why we put it on the interstate. We anticipated it would last longer — 15-20 years — than it did.”

About 150 miles of interstate in Vermont have been paved using the asphalt. Hedges said much of it will need to be repaved in coming years.

The work of the exit 12 off-ramp is designed to reduce traffic backups, which sporadically cause vehicles to spill out onto the traveled portion of the highway. Residents and town officials have complained that the situation is a serious hazard, as vehicles traveling at 65 mph bear down on the line of stopped cars.

The state originally planned to do the ramp work in 2006. But that timetable was accelerated after town officials and resident complained that the traffic backups amounted to an emergency safety issue and the state concluded it would make sense to combine the paving and ramp projects.

A second left-turn lane will be added to the ramp to accommodate the majority of the traffic that heads north on Route 2A. The deceleration lane leading up to the ramp will be lengthened, and the timing of traffic signals may be adjusted, Hedges said.

The ramp project will cost an estimated $500,000, Hedges said. The interstate paving will cost roughly $4 million. Federal funding will pay 90 percent of the cost of both projects.

The repaving work will start just north of the 189 interchange (where motorists exit to reach Shelburne Road) and continue south to Bolton. The state will advertise the projects in May, with bidding taking place the following month. Hedges said both the repaving and ramp work would likely begin in July. The projects are expected to take one construction season, which runs through October.

No paving will take place on the northbound side of I-89. Hedges said a northbound stretch between Richmond and Bolton was repaved two years ago.

Motorists will have to deal with congestion as a result of the work, but Hedges said the state will take steps to minimize problems. He said no paving on Interstate 89 will take place during rush hours — 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Work will largely take place off the side of the exit 12 ramp, so Hedges does not foresee major traffic issues with that project.

“I think (the workers) will be somewhat out of the way of traffic,” he said. “But there will be some disruption anyway.”


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Giant project takes big step

Decision clears way for new housing

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The largest proposed residential development in Williston history was one of eight projects to receive phasing Tuesday night under new subdivision rules governing when and how fast housing can be built.

The developments receiving phasing from the Development Review Board will likely constitute a major portion of the total residential construction in town over the next decade. In all, the board allocated 377 units for phasing to the eight projects, including 320 units for the proposed project on the Pecor horse farm on U.S. Route 2.

Town Planner Lee Nellis said “200-some” units remain available for construction in the next 10 years.

“An awful lot happened, but not everything that’s possible,” Nellis said.

The projects receiving phasing, which requires developments to be built over several years, still have permits to secure before construction can begin. The minor subdivisions need to receive final subdivision approval, while the other projects need both preliminary and final subdivision approval.

In addition to those receiving phasing, Nellis said the Selectboard had approved a settlement Monday night with Village Associates, the developer that had filed suit against the town after not receiving a sewer allocation for a large multi-use project proposed for Zephyr Lane.

Nellis said Wednesday the settlement had still not been formally filed so he could not release the agreement’s terms. However, Village Associates was removed from the list of developments seeking phasing Tuesday night, suggesting that the project, which is named “the Hamlet,” had received phasing as part of the deal.

Under the town’s new subdivision regulations, which the Selectboard approved in May, projects do not compete with every other project seeking phasing but only with proposals within the same zoning district. Projects are ranked based on how well they meet specified criteria. The criteria include affordable housing, open space and available trails and paths.

Previous rules required small subdivisions to compete for phasing against major projects, prompting the Development Review Board to send a letter to the Selectboard earlier this year expressing concern with the system. The Development Review Board waited to distribute phasing until the Selectboard had passed a new set of regulations.

“I think it’s to everyone’s advantage to be judged based on your area,” said Kevin McDermott, the Development Review Board chairman.

The still-unnamed project planned for the Pecor horse farm on U.S. Route 2 received phasing that will allow most of its proposed 356 residential units to be built over nine years starting July 1, 2006. In addition to its remaining municipal permits, the project needs to secure a state Act 250 environmental permit to move forward.

The horse farm project did not receive enough phasing for its final 36 units. Nellis said there was not enough sewer to accommodate those units, and their phasing would depend on the town acquiring more sewer capacity in the next 10 years. Unlike in past years, the projects receiving phasing Tuesday are also guaranteed sewer allocations for the units they received.

Other projects to receive phasing included the DeSarno property on Old Stage Road (two units), two subdivisions on Oak Hill Road (three units), the South Meadow project on South Road (16 units), Randy Stevens’ subdivision on South Road (five units), the Barone/Goodrich senior housing project on U.S. Route 2 and Timothy Way (14 units), and Churchview Estates, another senior housing project, which is set on Old Stage Road (17 units).

Bob Snyder, president of the Snyder Companies, one of the developers of the horse farm proposal, told the Development Review Board that the project benefited from the move to new subdivision regulations. He said certain alterations made the development “financially feasible.”

“The change to the subdivision regulations and the sewer allocation process are all very positive,” Snyder said. “The letter you sent to the Selectboard spurred them on to get moving on this. I think it was very helpful not only to us but to the town in general.”

The new regulations gave the hearing Tuesday night an uncertain air. Most of the developers seeking phasing spoke to the Development Review Board about their project, specifically addressing the criteria the board considers when ranking projects for phasing.

However, many were still unaware of the new criteria. Nellis handed out a list of the new criteria to the developers while they waited in the audience for their turn to speak.

“It’s like a pop quiz,” McDermott said.

One prominent change in the criteria was the addition of energy conservation as a topic for ranking. Most of the developers speaking Tuesday night pledged to make their residential constructions meet the energy standards of Efficiency Vermont.


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Forum sparks mixed opinions on energy

GMP asks about preferences on power sources

By Mal Boright

The gathering was sparse, but the opinions were strongly in favor of wind power and the environment at a Green Mountain Power-sponsored energy forum last week at Williston Central School.

“We hoped for a slightly larger crowd,” said Dottie Schnure, corporate communications manager for Green Mountain Power. “But the people who came were very thoughtful and involved.”

Some 24 individuals expressed opinions when asked such questions as which renewable sources of power should be in GMP’s future, and what local environmental issues are of primary concern.

The gathering on Thursday, May 26 was the second of the local forums — the first drew 70 people in Montpelier — and, as explained by GMP Vice President Steve Terry, are designed to draw out opinions of Vermonters because, “important judgments must be made in the next several years regarding power sources we need in the future.

“They are going to be big and momentous decisions,” he said. “We now have time to think about it and involve our customers.”

Terry explained that the company’s current mix of power sources includes 37.5 percent from hydro, 36.9 percent nuclear, 18.7 percent from market purchases, 3.9 percent wood, 2.5 percent from natural gas and oil and 0.5 percent from wind generation.

He said that by 2012, “our current sources of supply will start to fade out” as the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon license expires that year while in 2016 the company’s power purchase contract with Quebec Hydro expires.

“Then the questions becomes, what sources do we have and what prices will we pay,” Terry said.

He pointed out current customer surveys show Vermonter’s No. 1 concern is reliability, while price “is a concern but further down on the list.”

Terry said Vermonters also want clean energy with the primary concern being “what goes into the air” rather than “what come from the ground or nuclear waste.”

The audience responses to some of the questions asked were:

Most important issue: 70 percent, the environment; 17 percent cost; 13 percent reliability.

Second most important issue: 45 percent reliability; 32 percent cost; 18 percent environment.

Local environmental issues of concern: 52 percent air emissions; 32 percent nuclear waste storage; 8 percent wind turbines on ridgelines; 4 percent wind turbines’ effects on birds and other wildlife.

What renewable power sources should Vermont utilities pursue: 64 percent wind generation; 16 percent solar; 12 percent small hydro; 8 percent biomass such as wood.

The hydro alternative as a future source was described by Terry as somewhat uncertain once the current contract with Hydro-Quebec expires.

He said the Canadians have increasing power demands in their own country to take care of as a first priority. As for additional small hydro projects in Vermont, there seems to be limited possibilities,

“I do hope we have more wind generation,” Terry said. “Wind will work in Vermont. It just has to be in the right place.”

“In principle I agree with wind turbines,” said Hinesburg resident Joe Donegan. “But in principle I also like locally produced power. A home should generate its own power which would eliminate big corporations and issues of power control.”

Doug Smith, technical director for the Boston-based La Capra consulting firm, responded that economies of scale are not good for the installation of home power systems.

Looking ahead to 2015, Terry forecast that by then, “more people will have home-based technologies and there will be more conservation.”

To express your opinion on what energy source Vermont should use more of in the future, go to Green Mountain Power’s Web site, www.greenmountainpower.biz.

The Green Mountain Power road show will take the summer off and then continue this fall starting in Vergennes.

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