June 16, 2019

Maple Tree Place announces design contest winner

Two local women awarded $1,000 for best entry

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A versatile design that could accommodate everything from farmers’ markets to romantic walks has won Maple Tree Place’s “Make a Green Come True” contest.

Mary Jo Childs of Williston and Judy Goodyear of South Burlington won a $1,000 prize for their plan, which will be used in remaking the one-acre grassy square at the heart of the shopping center. It was among eight contest submissions from around the state.

The design features a central plaza surrounded by sugar maples. Walking paths radiate outward from the plaza to the green’s edge.

An arbor is located on one corner of the green. On the opposite corner, the design situates a second arbor, a stage and a terraced area where spectators can sit. That corner can also accommodate farmers markets and art fairs.

Among the items listed as optional are a pillar-mounted clock, a sundial and a sculpture people can climb on.

The overarching idea was to provide a setting where every square foot of space is useable by people, Childs said. The plan is designed to allow a farmers market to set up shop during the day and couples to take a stroll at night.

“I’ve always been interested in how space affects people,” Childs said. “Basically we wanted to create a space where people of all ages could get together. If you bring people to the space, you bring business to the shopping center.”

Judging was based criteria that included functionality, design value and creativity. Entries were scored by a six-judge panel.

The Childs-Goodyear design was the clear winner, scoring substantially higher than the other entries, said Rachel Carter, who coordinated public relations for the contest and who works for Paul Kaza Associates of South Burlington.

Patrick McLean, one of the judges and Vermont chapter president of the American Society of Landscape Architects, said the winning entry was the most complete plan and the best fit for the shopping center.

“I thought they had a good explanation about where they were coming from and what they wanted to do,” he said. “It was not like a spaceship coming in. It just fit.”

Some of the elements are flexible, which will allow the shopping center’s owner some leeway as to how much is spent on the project. But both Childs and Goodyear said the design is likely to cost considerably more than the $75,000 budgeted.

Representatives from Inland US Management LLC, the company that manages Maple Tree Place, have said the budget is flexible. They suggested the winning project could be done in phases, spreading the cost out over several years.

Childs and Goodyear met several years ago through their mutual involvement in a Williston gardening club. Both women had planned to enter the contest when Goodyear e-mailed Childs and suggested they work together.

“We brought our files and compared notes,” Childs said. “Then we realized our ideas dovetailed.”

Childs and Goodyear toiled nearly full-time for two weeks on the design, brainstorming ideas and drawing sketches. Goodyear said they were “doodling for a couple of days” until a clear plan began to emerge.

Childs owns MJ Childs Landscape Design. She has designed the playground at Williston Central School and a project at Vermont Respite House in Williston. Goodyear owns a landscaping business called A Very Goodyear.

Connecticut-based Starwood Ceruzzi sold Maple Tree Place for $102.3 million last year to The Inland Group of Companies in Illinois. The retail center includes a mix of big-box stores and smaller shops as well as office space.

Williston Town Planner Lee Nellis had first proposed the contest to Starwood Ceruzzi, which was unenthusiastic about the idea. Inland Group representatives, however, thought it was a good way to make a connection with the community.

The design must gain approval from the town and the state, and so is subject to change. Inland officials hope to start work on the project this spring.

The contest has significance beyond finding a functional design for the green. Town officials have long envisioned Maple Tree Place as Williston’s downtown. They hope an improved green will help the shopping center coalesce into a community gathering place.

Childs said she had always thought it was a shame that the space – a largely featureless grassy square – wasn’t better employed for that purpose.

“I’d always been bothered that the original developer left a blank slate,” Childs said. “When they announced the contest, I decided I’d better put up or shut up.”

[Read more…]

Long-delayed village subdivision wins approval

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A Williston man’s eight-year battle to build homes on his land ended last week when the Development Review Board approved the small subdivision he proposed.

The approval means John Remy can now construct eight homes in Williston Village. The 7.7-acre parcel, located along U.S. Route 2 east of Williston Central School and next to Williston Bed & Breakfast, is the site of Remy’s home and business, Slate Barn Antiques.

“At this point I’m really happy I finally got the project approved,” he said. “The process started in 1998, and it’s been a long, hard road.”

Remy was sharply critical of the review process. He estimated that he spent $50,000 for permit, engineering and legal fees.

He blamed changes in town staff and shifting development review rules for the delay. He noted there had been three different town managers and three different town planners since the project was first proposed. That’s significant, he said, because rules governing development can be viewed differently depending on who is in charge.

“The problem I ran into over all the years was that there were so many changes with the town,” Remy said. “Everybody has their own interpretation of things.”

For example, Remy said he was originally told zoning allowed him to build 16 homes. But later, when planning staff changed, he was informed he could have fewer units because of wetland areas.

Town Manager Rick McGuire defended the review process. He said Remy was warned from the beginning that the project would face sizable hurdles because of its location in the historic district and the wetlands on his property.

“At the time I first heard about this project, he was told he would have a long road ahead of him,” McGuire said. He also noted that the review process is almost a moot point because until recently the town did not have enough sewer capacity to serve new developments.

In 2004, Remy appealed Williston’s growth management system under which the town decides what homes can be built and when. The state Environmental Court upheld the town’s rating system but using the town’s own point system calculated a higher score for Remy’s project.

Even as the final approval was granted last week, one Development Review Board member expressed reservations. Bill Sheedy cast the lone dissenting vote, saying the development was suburban in character and therefore not a good fit with the historic district.

As approved, the development, called Slate Barn Estates, will include four three-bedroom homes and four four-bedroom homes.

Remy said the custom-built homes would likely have sale prices in the $400,000 range. He expects to begin construction this spring

[Read more…]

Kindergarten Back to half days

Full day options wanted

Next year’s kindergarteners will attend school five days a week and most days will be longer, if the school budget passes in March.

The Williston School District announced last week the proposed change to the kindergarten schedule in its public budget information session.

The new schedule will have kindergarteners attending school five half-days a week.

Since September 2001, Williston kindergarteners attend school one full day and three half-days a week.

“I think it’s better for the kids,” said parent Christine Fuller, whose son will be attending kindergarten next year. “It’s more consistency for them. I think it’s very inconsistent the way it is today. … Even better is that they’re extending (school) a half hour each of the half days if the budget passes.”

The lengthening of the kindergarten day is dependent upon transportation, which is why the budget must pass before the new schedule can be finalized. Changes to bus routes may be required to make a modified schedule work, necessitating additional driver time and fuel that could cost as much as $10,000.

The new kindergarten schedule would mean up to 30 additional minutes each day, excluding transition time – the equivalent of 26 additional half-days a year, administrators said. That increase is significant. At 11.75 instructional hours a week, Williston has the second shortest kindergarten program in Chittenden South Supervisory Union. Hinesburg has the shortest week at 11 hours; Shelburne has the highest at 15.75 hours, according to a supervisory union study.

Lorene Spagnuolo, who has worked at Allen Brook School for 23 years, said she and the other Allen Brook kindergarten teachers “are really excited to return to a five-day schedule.”

The biggest potential adverse impact, Spagnuolo said, will be on full-time teachers who will have 30 minutes in between sessions to eat lunch and prepare for the afternoon class. Support staff will help morning session students pack up belongings and get to the bus, and greet early arriving afternoon students and engage them in reading or play time.

In spite of those logistical challenges, Spagnuolo sees many benefits, including eliminating what is currently a three-day weekend for kindergarteners and making it easier to meet the needs of students with learning or physical differences who require the assistance of paraprofessionals to accommodate individual education plans.

“We’re hoping that by extending the length of the day we’ll be better able to meet the needs of both the children and the families,” Spagnuolo said, though she emphasized that Allen Brook kindergarten teachers welcome a full-day kindergarten schedule when the budget and space allow.

In 2004-2005, 47 percent of Chittenden County kindergarteners were enrolled in full-day programs, according to the Department of Education Web site. Though not all Williston parents want to send their children to full-day kindergarten, a number of parents said they would like the option.

Laura McClure, who has a daughter about to turn four, isn’t sold on the proposed new schedule that she called “quarter days.”

“I would rather keep the one (full) day a week,” McClure said. “There’d at least be one day with some continuity with it. … It’s a lot of transitions for a young child,” she said, getting bused to and from school and daycare when parents work outside the home.

McClure said she would rather have curriculum instead of transition time, so she already is looking into private kindergarten programs for her daughter for fall 2007. For after school care on “quarter-day kindergarten” days, parents still have to pay for full-day care, McClure said.

“I’m at the point where I might as well pay a little bit more money and have the continuity for her being in one place, having a calmer day, with curriculum throughout the day,” McClure said.

Full-time preschool costs close to $8,000 a year, she said; a full-day private kindergarten the McClures are exploring costs $8,530, with pickup at 5:15 p.m.

Full-day kindergarten would require more classroom space than currently is available, said Williston School District Principal Walter Nardelli. Administrators also need more time to study the logistics.

In offering full-day sessions, “there is a rippling impact across the system,” Nardelli said, citing as examples music; art; librarians; bussing; support staff; and hot lunches. “What we had was a very rough estimate of what the teacher side of it would cost, not the impact on the entire system and all the other resources.”

A 2005 supervisory union study estimated increased teaching costs alone at $175,000 to convert all seven kindergarten classes to full days.

Before going ahead, Nardelli said, “let’s make sure we understand all the impacts. …

We’re going to have a lot more answers next year.”

[Read more…]

Judge changes sentence for Williston sex offender

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

A Vermont district judge changed the sentence for a Williston sex offender at a sentence hearing last week in a heavily guarded courtroom.

After hearing from Georgia Cumming, director of the state’s sex offender treatment program for the Department of Corrections, Judge Edward Cashman last week changed one part of the sentence he originally gave to convicted sex offender Mark Hulett. Under the new sentence, Hulett will spend at least three years behind bars, a step up from the controversial original 60 days in prison Cashman prescribed.

In the packed courtroom, which was guarded by 10 officers from the Sheriff’s Department, two Burlington police officers and a state trooper, Cumming testified that the department had effectively changed its policy, and would now treat all sex offenders as long as they were in prison for at least 11 months. The original policy, adopted in 2002, provided treatment in prison only for sex offenders with a high risk of re-offending. Hulett was classified by the department as less likely than other sex offenders to re-offend, and therefore ineligible for treatment. Cashman argued that the public would be safer if Hulett received treatment, even if it was provided outside of prison.

After Cummings’ testimony, Cashman heard from state’s attorney Bob Simpson and defense lawyer Mark Kaplan.

Simpson argued that Hulett had not been given his “just desserts,” and that the state demanded that he be punished more severely.

Kaplan countered that the state had not provided enough reason to send Hulett to prison for an extended sentence.

“It’s not the public that makes the decision,” Kaplan said. “It’s got to be based on evidence and the law.”

Cashman listened to both sides, then read from a prepared statement that changed one of Hulett’s three sentences. As the judge read the sentence, Hulett’s father, sitting in the front row, slowly shook his head.

Hulett was charged with two counts of Aggravated Sexual Assault on a Child, and one count of Lewd and Lascivious Behavior with a Child. The first assault count was amended to give Hulett no less than three years and no more than 10 in prison. The other two sentences, which were three years to life and 2-5 years respectively, remained the same. Those sentences were probated, which means they won’t be activated unless Hulett violates the conditions of his probation.

After Cashman read the sentence, Hulett, his parents, and his lawyers left the room to discuss whether or not he would change his plea, which would have sent the case to trial. However, when they returned Kaplan announced that Hulett would accept the new sentence and Hulett was escorted out of the courtroom.

[Read more…]

Get ready for a real adventure

man’s company to host first winter adventure race in Vt.

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

In these digital days of Google maps, GPS-equipped SUVs, and cell phones, there is little need for the art of analog navigation.

Unless, of course, you are one of the brave souls who take part in the burgeoning sport of “adventure racing.”

Adventure races are team-based races, which include a combination of “disciplines” such as hiking; mountain biking; skiing; horseback riding; skijoling (having a dog pull you on skis); canoeing; and the arcane art of orienteering, or navigating with a map and compass.

Williston Web developer Chris Yager took part in an 8-hour race near Ottawa several years ago and was immediately hooked. In 2003, Yager, 29, founded the nonprofit Green Mountain Adventure Racing Association to accommodate his and his friends’ desire to explore nature competitively.

“People don’t go on expeditions any more to explore unknown territory,” Yager said. “This is about as close as you can get for the Average Joe.”

Races last anywhere from 8 hours to several days, and take place year round in any region of the world. Yager’s company hosts 12-hour races in Vermont twice a year, and this year GMARA will hold its first winter race, the Frigid Infliction Winter Adventure Race at Bolton Valley Resort on March 4. All of GMARA’s races are held at ski resorts, but the other two races, the Bitter Pill and the Pillage Plunder Booty Siege, are held in summer and early autumn.

Yager said one of the most unique things about adventure racing is the lack of a marked course. At the start of the race, teams (usually 2-3 people) are given maps and a series of checkpoints. At each checkpoint teams may be instructed to proceed using a different discipline. For example, contestants might pick up their bikes or canoes at one checkpoint and leave them off at the next. The course area typically covers dozens or hundreds of acres, and teams must use topographical maps and compasses to find the best way to the next checkpoint. Often, teams will choose completely different routes.

“You can go anywhere from two hours to over a day without seeing anyone else from the race,” Yager said.

A team wins by being the first to get to the final checkpoint, but Yager said much of the challenge is even finishing the race at all. Teams must stay together or be disqualified, and if a team takes too long getting to a checkpoint, they are rerouted to an easier end point, but are then out of the running for the win.

“It makes it more than just a physical challenge,” Yager said. “It’s not just who can move the fastest, it’s who can make the best decisions.”

Adventure racing has grown in Vermont in the last few years. Yager said he started out with 6 teams competing in the first GMARA race, and in the most recent race there were 21 teams.

Two other companies host races in Vermont. Killington-based Ultimate Sports Association holds a series of races in Vermont, New York and New Hampshire. Another company, Racing Ahead, says on its Web site it will host races this year in Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

The disciplines for GMARA’s winter race will be snowshoeing; cross-country skiing; navigation; post-holing (hiking in snow without snowshoes) and Tyrolean traverse. Tyrolean traverse involves using ropes to get across a ravine or a river, but Yager said racers don’t need special rope skills in order to complete the course. However, learning to navigate with a map and compass will be crucial to getting through the race.

“It doesn’t matter how fast you are going,” Yager said. “If you are going the wrong way you just get lost quicker.”

[Read more…]

Early education program continues to grow

Program one of few budget additions

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

When her two youngest kids were toddlers, Julie Watson realized they were developing a little differently than her eldest son had.

“I could usually understand them,” Watson said, explaining how they later were identified to have speech delays. “But with other children, with other adults, they weren’t able to get their needs across.”

Watson said within a month of entering the Early Essential Education program, her kids’ communication skills improved. “As soon as they went in with the peers, they started blossoming,” she said.

The Early Essential Education (EEE) preschool program was allocated about $86,000 in new money in the proposed Williston School District budget before voters on March 7.

“Triple E,” as it is often called, is a publicly funded preschool program that exists to meet the special education needs of children age three to five. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) mandates states to identify children with disabilities and offer individualized plans to meet each child’s unique needs.

In each EEE preschool class, about half of students receive special education services and half do not. The law requires school districts to educate disabled students with their non-disabled, same-age peers, according to Carter Smith, director of student services for Williston schools.

“We have typical child models,” said Beth Peloquin, early childhood special educator at Allen Brook School. “It’s so that kids who are struggling can see other kids doing things that are maybe their goals.”

Students with a 40 percent developmental delay in a fundamental skill area are eligible for EEE services, Smith said. Skill areas include speech, language, gross motor (such as walking), fine motor (holding a pencil), self-help (dressing oneself), social, and cognitive. A medical condition that impedes learning also can qualify a student for EEE services.

The proposed EEE budget – $517,683 – is a 39 percent increase over this year, part of which is contracted salary and benefit increases. About $86,000 is “new” money would fund a new part-time (80 percent) licensed teacher and the equivalent of 1.5 teaching assistants. The additional staff would allow for one more preschool class to be added to the three already in existence.

Currently, of the 40 students receiving EEE services, only 24 of them receive services in the classroom setting; the other 16 are served by occupational, speech and language or other therapists at home or in another private setting.

For a few of those kids, their needs are better met outside the classroom; but for most of them, there simply hasn’t been space – or the staff – to have them join their peers in class.

An additional preschool class means most, if not all, of those students could get in-class services, Smith said. In-class services will reduce the need for various therapists to spend extra time and gas money driving to individual homes, Smith said.

“It’s going to be a more cost-effective way to serve kids,” if the budget is approved, Smith said.

Space for the additional class is still an issue; the program has been in a holding pattern, Smith said, as plans for a planned expansion of Allen Brook School were put on hold several years ago. In order to accommodate two morning and afternoon EEE programs three days a week, space will have to be squeezed out of somewhere, though administrators don’t yet know where.

“We just can’t wait any longer,” Smith said.

In the last three years, the EEE population has increased by 30 percent – from 31 to 40 kids. The number of students with severe disabilities, such as autism, also has increased, Smith said.

Williston School District’s EEE population is disproportionately higher than its counterparts in Chittenden South Supervisory Union (CSSU). Though Williston has only 38 percent of the CSSU kindergarten through grade eight population, the town has 58 percent of the EEE population.

No one is certain of the reasons for such a discrepancy, though administrators suspect Williston is a draw due to a positive reputation of special education at Williston schools and the high school, and proximity to the hospital.

Educators say an early investment of resources pays off in the long run.

“Our whole philosophy in early intervention is to beef up skills as much as we can,” Peloquin said, to “either alleviate how much intervention is needed in later grades, or eliminate the need for intervention later.”

Watson said without the in-class EEE experience her daughter, now a kindergartener, “ would definitely be struggling a lot more. I know she would. She would always be playing catch up. I think we started her off with more of a level playing field.

[Read more…]

Donations keep refugee reading program alive

Stern Center grateful for donations

It is not every day that an anonymous check shows up for $13,300.

But for the Stern Center for Language and Learning, such a check arrived in December. It was the beginning of a generous outpouring of money to save a specialized reading instruction program for refugee children in Burlington schools.

The program, which officials were certain would end in December, will continue half-time this spring as a result of the donations, according to Sally Conant, vice president of programs at the Stern Center.

More than $40,000 has been donated to support the reading program since word got out in December that funding was about to dry up. Yesterday, Citizen’s Bank of Williston presented the Stern Center with a check for $10,000. The Stern Center scholarship committee previously had agreed to commit $11,000 of donor funds. The remainder came from staff and friends of the Stern Center in denominations ranging from $100 to $500.

Jeanne Collins, Burlington School District superintendent, said the district is thrilled the partnership with the Williston-based nonprofit will be continuing.

“It’s had a very significant impact already with students who were brand new to the world of print now being able to read and move up in levels of literacy,” Collins said by phone last week. “The intensity of the support that they’re receiving through this partnership is helping them make headway very, very quickly in their progress in literacy and language.”

Since September, the Stern Center has provided one-on-one explicit reading instruction to more than 100 Somali Bantu and Republic of Burundi refugee children in Burlington schools. This one-on-one instruction is on top of traditional English as a second language and mainstream classroom instruction by Burlington teachers.

Prior to enrolling there, none of the refugee children had attended school; they spoke an African dialect no one in the school system spoke; and they had no written language, said Lyman Amsden, an advisor to the Burlington School Board, in December.

Last fall a $50,000 one-time block of federal money offered to the district by the Vermont Education Commissioner helped fund 60 instructional hours per week; the Stern Center estimated it put forth the equivalent of $40,000 of in-kind work and money additionally to support those 60 hours. Four Stern Center instructors instructed pre-kindergarteners through fifth graders at Lawrence Barnes, H.O. Wheeler and C.P. Smith Elementary schools.

Brigitte Ritchie, vice president of public affairs and community relations for Citizen’s Bank, said when she learned of the impending end of a program that was benefiting so many children, she knew her company could do something to help.

“We take seriously our responsibility of responding to community needs,” Ritchie, a Williston resident, said in an interview. “We’re not just a community bank; we’re part of the community.” Ritchie said she hopes Citizen’s Bank’s $10,000 donation will encourage other companies and individuals to step forward and give.

Conant also hopes the recent donations will help spur new partnerships between schools and nonprofits like the Stern Center.

“Apparently there is a lot of money out there and a lot of people who want to give to schools,” Conant said, but there are restrictions to giving directly to schools. “But they are very happy to give (money) to nonprofits” who work with schools.

Of the money collected to date, Conant said, “it’s overwhelming to us, to be frank.” Conant said the community response to Burlington schools’ needs has been tremendous.

“I think the Burlington School system needs to be given credit for all of their work … to provide a safe and enriching environment for all of the new community from Somalia.”

[Read more…]

Contest entries show dreams for a better green

Winning design yet to be announced for Maple Tree Place

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

One design included a giant treehouse. Another featured quirky touches like a pedestal-mounted clock and a sundial. A third had paths crisscrossing extensively landscaped areas.

They were among the eight entries revealed last week in the “Make a Green Come True” contest held to determine the design of the 1-acre square at the heart of the Maple Tree Place retail center.

Contest judges huddled around the entries displayed on easels in the lobby of the shopping center’s Majestic 10 multiplex on Friday. They were impressed.

“It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be,” said Andy Mikell, a Williston Selectboard member and one of the six contest judges, as he studied one entry. “There’s some good talent here.”

The entries offered wide-ranging approaches to creating the park-like setting and attractive venue for community events the contest called for. Judging criteria included functionality and design value, use of climate-appropriate landscaping and creativity.

Perhaps the most original entry was submitted by Forever Young Treehouses, a Burlington nonprofit. It showed a treehouse accessed via a long, gently sloping ramp. Other features included paths, plantings and labyrinths laid out in stone.

A somewhat more conventional but still quirky approach was advocated by Williston resident Mary Jo Childs, who owns a landscaping company. Childs, along with South Burlington resident Judy Goodyear, submitted a design that featured a path radiating out from a central plaza. The plan offered “options” that included a pillar clock and a sundial.

Williston resident Sharon Gutwin, owner of Rehab Gym in Maple Tree Place, submitted a pet-friendly design. In addition to a gazebo, paths and a playground, the entry suggested that “dog stations” where droppings could be deposited.

The remaining plans largely stuck to traditional park designs. Some included areas where concerts could be held; others had paths crisscrossing the green. One called for a meadow dotted with wildflowers and ringed by a gravel path.

The contest has implications beyond attracting more customers. Town officials have said they hope the green will help Maple Tree Place congeal into a downtown for Williston, a destination for both shoppers and community events. Judges seemed aware of that goal.

“A lot of thought, a lot of hard work went into these entries,” said Philip Daniels, another judge who lives in Williston and is president of TD Banknorth Vermont. “One of these will definitely make Williston a better place.”

The entries were revealed during a Feb. 1 open house at the Majestic 10. About 50 people attended the event, viewing the entries displayed in the movie theater’s lobby.

The winning entry will receive a $1,000 prize. The budget for the project is $75,000, although officials with Inland US Management LLC, the Illinois-based company that manages Maple Tree Place and is overseeing the contest, say that budget may be stretched by completing the selected project in phases or using in-kind donations from local businesses.

Inland representatives also emphasize that the chosen design will be subject to local and state land-use approval and may be modified to comply with regulatory requirements. They hope to begin work on the project this spring or summer.

Judging results were tallied Monday, but the winner’s name was not released before the Observer went to press. Lindsey Burke, marketing manager for Inland US Management, said Monday that the results could not be announced until she ensured that the contest’s legal requirements were satisfied and the winner was notified.

Interest in the contest was slow to build, with only three complete entries submitted in the days leading up to the deadline. The remaining entries came in at the last minute.

“We’re got eight solid entries,” Burke said. “We’re really pleased with the results.”

[Read more…]

Circ options rolled out for review

Residents express opinions on design details

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The long-running review of alternatives to the Circumferential Highway inched forward last week with a series of meetings designed to gather public input.

A total of more than 100 people attended the three sessions, two in Williston and one in Essex Junction. They were held so transportation officials could hear public comment on design details of the eight alternatives before producing a draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Each of the sessions covered a different portion of the project area. The first meeting in Williston on Feb. 7 concerned Vermont Route 2A; the session in Essex Junction the following day covered Park Street and the Five Corners. The Feb. 9 meeting in Williston centered on the proposed highway route between Taft Corners and Williston Village.

The eight options can be broken down into three broad categories: build the Circ or another road along the originally planned route between Interstate 89 and Essex; widen Route 2A and/or replace traffic lights with roundabouts; or combine elements of both plans. A no-build option also remains a possibility.

Much of the comment heard at Tuesday’s meeting revolved around potential obstacles to widening Route 2A and replacing traffic lights with roundabouts, said Rich Ranaldo, project manager for the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

Roughly 30 people attended the session, which was held jointly with the Williston Planning Commission.

Ranaldo said some people were concerned that widening the road would affect pedestrian and bicycle access. Others said installing a series of roundabouts would mean there would be no break in the traffic for motorists exiting the dozens of side streets and driveways that line Route 2A between Taft Corners and Essex Junction.

“People still appear to be skeptical about how well roundabouts would work and how safe they would be,” Ranaldo said.

Widening Route 2A would have to overcome a big obstacle, said George Gerecke, Williston’s liaison to the Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization. He noted that adding a third or forth lane as some options propose would involve acquiring private property, greatly slowing the road-building process.

During Wednesday’s meeting in Essex, several of the 40 or so people who attended expressed sometimes emotional opposition to road improvement plans.

“It was really clear that folks were really not supportive of any improvements that added lanes” on Park Street or at the Five Corners, Ranaldo said. “They don’t want more traffic coming through the village center.”

At last Thursday’s meeting, residents living in Williston’s Brennan Woods and South Ridge subdivisions were among the roughly 50 people who attended. The neighbors revisited previously expressed concerns about the impact on a highway running so close to their homes and to nearby Allen Brook School, Ranaldo said.

Others opposed any alternative that included an interchange at U.S. Route 2, Ranaldo said. The original Circ design called for the highway to run under Route 2 and had no interchange. But some alternatives, which include a boulevard-style road, do include a connection to Route 2.

Not everyone was opposed the interchange, noted Gerecke, who attended both Williston meetings. Some residents who live in nearby Williston neighborhoods liked the idea of hopping on a highway near their homes.

The latest meetings are part of drafting an updated Environmental Impact Statement for the Circ. As originally proposed the Williston segment would run from I-89 to Essex Junction, with an interchange at Redmond Road.

Construction of the segment had begun in May 2004 when a federal judge ordered the project halted in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of environmental groups that said the existing EIS was outdated.

Ranaldo said transportation officials will now refine designs based on the public input and model the affect each alternative has on traffic throughout the region.

After that, a draft EIS that will be produced and the preferred alterative picked. Ranaldo estimated the final EIS will be completed by fall.

[Read more…]

Brownell credits husband with longevity

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Mary Hester Brownell , who turns 90 on Sunday, has one piece of advice on living a long and happy life: “Be married to Lincoln.”

She was not referring to Abe Lincoln, with whom she shares a birthday. This Lincoln is her husband of 65 years who gave her two parakeets when she turned 89.

As parakeets Molly and Huck chattered on nearby and the rain pattered on the deck, Jerry, as Mary Hester is called by family and friends, declared with no hint of joking last week that her secret to longevity was “right there,” with a slight nod to her husband.

Born in Mays Landing, N.J., outside of Atlantic City, Brownell started life far from Williston, where she has lived for the last 30 years. After graduating from the University of Tennessee in 1938, she taught high school in Decatur, Tenn., a tiny village.

“It had only one bathroom in the whole county,” Brownell said.

She met Lincoln at a party in New York City in 1941 when Lincoln was a lawyer on Wall Street. Their first date was “sort of” a blind date, she said, at a nightclub called the Stork Club. There was a moment of spontaneity.

“We went dancing on Fifth Avenue,” she said. “Linc had a taxi driver turn up the music on his radio and we danced on Fifth Avenue on the sidewalk.”

“At two in the morning,” Lincoln added.

“I grabbed him off the market very quickly,” Brownell said of her husband, whom she married in 1941. “We were very compatible.”

The couple was separated during World War II – he was a pilot with the National Guard, she was in Washington, D.C., doing research and analysis work on China for the Office of Strategic Services, a loose precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. When the war ended, the couple returned to New York City where they had three sons, two of whom – Peter and Rick — now live in Williston. Before moving to Williston in 1975, the couple lived in Vietnam for 14 years due to a firm Lincoln started up which sold American products in Indo-China.

Lincoln comes from a long line of Vermonters – his parents, grandparents, great grandparents and great-great grandparents all lived here, he said. In 1942 his father and uncles sold nearly all of the family homestead – the land around Imajica horse farm – which had been in the family since 1829. In 1952, they planned to sell the 60 acres they had retained on Brownell Mountain, Lincoln said, so he bought it for $2,000. When Saigon fell in 1975, the Brownells moved back to the U.S. and built a house on the property to retire in.

Brownell said earlier in life she was an avid bridge player. She enjoys the people of Williston and likes the convenience of the shopping developments near Taft Corners. She loves war movies and is a fan of “The West Wing,” a television drama about the White House. Jerry laments this is the show’s last season.

“If you see a lot of crying all around town, that will be it,” she said.

Brownell has no plans for her big day Sunday, nor does she have a long wish list for gifts.

“For my birthday last year I said I wanted a fire place, and that worked out very well, “she said, nodding her head toward a gas-burning fire place nearby in the living room. “But I can’t think of anything except a more comfortable chair.”

[Read more…]