By Ben Moger-Williams
After months of discussion and a two-week-long public hearing, the Selectboard on Monday finally adopted the Comprehensive Plan of Development for the town of Williston. The plan, which is revised every five years, provides a blueprint for the development of the town.
Several residents attended the hearing Monday, which had been recessed at the previous meeting two weeks ago to give Town Planner Lee Nellis time to respond to residents’ concerns.
Most of the concerns voiced were in regards to a proposed bike path on North Williston Road. However, the concern was over the path’s placement and width, neither of which is specifically laid out in the plan. Residents will have a chance to discuss the plans with town officials when a specific plan is proposed for the path, Nellis said.
The Selectboard voted unanimously to approve the plan, although Selectman Jeff Fehrs voiced his concerns about certain sections. Fehrs worried that giving developers at Taft Corners “flexibility and intensity” as stated in the plan, could have “negative consequences.” But ultimately he accepted the plan.
“Although I have some concerns, I can vote for the town plan to adopt it,” Fehrs said.
Park and Ride alternatives proposed
Representatives from the state Agency of Transportation and an engineering consulting firm presented to the board a list of potential sites for a proposed Park and Ride facility in Williston.
Greg Edwards of Dufresne-Henry and Wayne Davis of Vtrans told the board they had identified and researched nine properties as possible sites for the Park and Ride, where commuters could park and carpool or catch a bus.
The team rated the sites based on economic considerations, location criteria and site considerations. The site that scored highest was a piece of property across from Hurricane Lane, off Vermont Route 2A south of Interstate 89. Nellis had some concerns about the site, which is owned by Raymond Ramsey of York Beach, Maine, because use of that site would require extensive grading, stormwater installations and also a re-zoning of the area. Nellis said in an e-mail that the site lies in the town’s Ridgeline/ Wooded Hillside Protection Zoning Overlay District. This zoning district was designed to protect the visual character of the town, and so under the current regulations only 1/2 acre of space may be cleared, not enough for the 120-lot Park-and-Ride proposed by the state. However, Nellis said the area could be re-zoned to allow the facility, and Davis noted that under state statutes the Park-and-Ride might be exempt from town zoning laws anyway.
Other possible sites are a piece of property off Hurricane Lane owned by Bill Dunn; and the site of the State Police Barracks, which may be moved in the next few years.
Planning Commission Chairwoman Judy Sassarossi expressed concern for the safety of women going to their cars after dark if the parking area were located south of the Interstate.
Meredith Burkett of the Chittenden County Transportation Authority said the public transit organization would support the Park-and-Ride.
“We would love to see one built in Williston,” Burkett said. “To the extent possible we would make adjustments to serve (the Park-and-Ride).”
The board will discuss the alternatives and is scheduled to meet again with Davis and Edwards on Feb. 27.
Local Option Tax revenue Task Force
The board also heard from the Local Option Tax Revenue Task Force, which delivered its final report Monday. The task force was charged with researching alternatives to the 1 percent local option sales tax on rooms, meals and alcoholic beverages. The tax is currently scheduled to expire in 2008.
The tax was adopted at town meeting in 2003, and was designed to augment property taxes. The task force’s report states that municipal services to businesses in Williston cost more than the businesses generate in property tax, so without the 1 percent tax, property taxes would rise.
The group recommended that Williston should try to make the local option tax permanent. Barring that, the task force said the next best alternative is a tax classification system to equalize the tax burden among residents and businesses. Other alternatives are increased user fees for services, additional impact fees, and forming tax increment finance districts.
The board will consider the options and will likely schedule public hearings on the matter in the future.
By Kim Howard
It’s a bit like the college admissions process. There are a number of options; research is required to find the right place; and once you find it, it costs a pretty penny.
While many parents of high school students expect to travel this road with their teens, few new and soon-to-be parents realize a similar journey is in store for them as they search for day care.
Parents “should be attempting to arrange for infant care as soon as they know they are pregnant,” advises Elizabeth Meyer, executive director of Child Care Resource, a Williston-based nonprofit. “ Infant care is always difficult to find, and particularly in Williston.”
Meyer should know. Her organization maintains a comprehensive database of nearly 400 Chittenden County childcare programs – centers and homes; accredited and not. The nonprofit helps hundreds of families find childcare and determine how to pay for it.
Currently Williston has seven openings for infants and toddlers in childcare centers, but only one of those slots is at an accredited facility, which often denotes higher quality, Meyer said.
Though there are more options for three- and four-year-olds, Meyer said, “ if you want the program that meets your needs in particular, it’s a good idea to get on the list six months ahead of time.”
Needs do vary from family to family.
“As an IBM employee, one of the biggest challenges is the 12-hour schedule,” said Williston resident Laura McClure, who works at IBM and is on the board of directors for Child Care Resource. “There are employees at IBM that struggle with it because you work 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.” and it’s difficult to find daycare programs that accommodate those hours.
Without childcare, parents of young children cannot go to work, Meyer said. Businesses realize that and use the nonprofit’s resources for employees, too.
IBM went a step further, according to McClure, when it gave a grant to Child Care Resource so that it could buy a private Williston daycare center that was planning to close.
“They recognized that there are a limited number of slots for daycare and wanted to make sure that daycare didn’t go out of business,” McClure said. Child Care Resource operates the daycare at the Williston Federated Church.
State law now requires towns to incorporate daycare into town planning in part because of the connection to economic development. The new Williston town plan incorporates day care into its vision by promising “its planning and development review process do not place unreasonable limitations on child care facilities.” According to the town plan, efforts include changing bylaws to allow home childcare in residential zoning districts and plans to revise bylaws “to make it clear that child care is a permitted accessory use” in schools, churches and places of employment.
Child Care Resource information indicates there are 15 licensed childcare centers and eight registered family childcare homes in Williston, and that an estimated 45 percent of the slots are filled by Williston children. It is unknown how many Williston children are in daycare facilities outside of town, though an estimated 70 to 80 percent of Williston families have all parents in the workforce, based on the organization’s interpretation of 2000 census data.
Meyer said that the financial burden of childcare also is significant for most families. Estimates from a little over a year ago indicate that facilities with a four-to-one child-teacher ratio cost about $8,840 a year – more than a semester’s worth of tuition at a Vermont state college.
Meyer said some families are eligible for state assistance, though she warns that policymakers need to bring the eligibility scale up to date as it is based on 1999 salary data.
“Families are making more than scale says, but they really need childcare subsidies,” Meyer said. With or without subsidies, childcare is “a great financial burden for families.”
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Bus loading area redesigned
The temporary buildings at Allen Brook School will be around for at least another four years.
After nine months of discussion, the Development Review Board on Tuesday night approved a four-year permit for the double-wide trailers at Allen Brook School, with the stipulation that school officials present a long-term plan for the site to the DRB two years from now.
A re-design of a potentially dangerous bus loading area also is in the works in response to concerns expressed by the DRB. An unconventional bus driveway required that some kids had to walk in between buses to load them. A state official last fall said that such a system was “ill advised” and “not a safe practice.” The school ended that practice in November.
The new bus loading area, to be constructed this summer, will allow all students to load directly from a curbed sidewalk. The construction of a new sidewalk and paving of the bus loop area, an estimated $50,000, was approved by the School Board last week.
Since the end of September, the school’s temporary buildings have been in violation of a town zoning ordinance. Prior to their construction in 2002, the Development Review Board granted the temporary buildings a permit on condition they be removed after three years and the site returned to its original state.
“We passed temporary buildings three years ago,” Kevin McDermott, DRB chairman, said by phone after the meeting. “They were approved as temporary. We don’t want to pass temporary buildings ad infinitum; then they are no longer temporary. What we’re looking at it is, what is your real plan?”
The Williston School Board originally assured the public the double-wide trailers would be in place only three years while the board assessed enrollment trends and more permanent options. The new four-year permit – which does not take effect until after the DRB minutes are approved at its next meeting March 14 – means the trailers will be in place for a total of at least seven and a half years.
The temporary buildings have generated controversy from the beginning. Parents expressed concern over studies that showed materials in newly built trailers emitted toxic vapors. Exhaust fumes from nearby school buses were also a worry. Air quality testing later showed no cause for concern, according to Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union. CSSU helps administer schools in Williston and other area towns.
Growing student enrollment in Williston led Allen Brook School to install the temporary buildings, which accommodate about 80 students, for more classroom space until the School Board could assess options for permanent expansion.
Soon after construction of the temporary classrooms, however, student enrollment leveled off. After years of adding an average of 36 students to its roster, the district saw a slight drop in enrollment over the last two years. Earlier this year, enrollment showed a drop of about 36 students. School officials said it wasn’t prudent to move forward with earlier plans to permanently expand the size of the school given that reversal of enrollment trends.
Mason said he is comfortable with the condition that the School Board returns in two years with a long-term plan. The board should regularly share its long-term plans with the town and with town committees, he said. “I think that’s a reasonable request by the town.”
The long-term plan required by the DRB in 2008 is just one of 18 conditions imposed with the permit approval. Other conditions include new lighting outside the school and motion-sensor operated lights after hours. Parking will be eliminated and grass planted in an unpermitted gravel parking area meant for deliveries. The DRB had expressed concerns that a number of students run through the area before and after school hours.
In June of last year, school officials requested a three-year extension of the temporary building permit, which the DRB denied. The permitting process exists in part for public safety, board Chairman Kevin McDermott had indicated, so a new application was necessary.
“I’ve heard it from the public: ‘you’re being mean to the kids,’” McDermott said in an interview, referring to the protracted discussions. “Almost everything we worried about is the safety of the kids.”
Fundraiser for local family ends Sunday
Rocky Leary needs your help. The owner of Rocky’s N.Y. Pizza in Williston is holding a raffle to benefit the children of a local man who died last year of melanoma skin cancer.
“We help a member out once a year in the community,” Leary said. “This year, the Kohlasch family was picked.”
Williston resident Bill Kohlasch, a long-time coach of Far Post Soccer Club, died of melanoma skin cancer in April at age 46. He left behind his wife, Cathy, and three school age children, Kendal; Tucker; and Kaelyn.
The family established an education fund to help the children before Kohlasch died, Leary said.
Leary said the proceeds from the raffle will go entirely toward the children’s fund. Tickets are $5 each, and first prize is a 32-inch LCD wide screen television. Second prize is four one-day learn-to-ski package passes from Smugglers’ Notch.
Sales for the raffle, which ends at 12 noon on Sunday, Feb. 4, have been slow, Leary said. As part of the prize, Leary said he would throw in three large pizzas and a case of 2-liter sodas to provide for a Super Bowl party.
“Please support a great cause and a great family,” Leary said.