July 25, 2014

Board may reconsider contentious vote on housing project

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Dispute turns on road access for subdivision

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The Development Review Board will revisit its controversial decision to reject a senior housing project based on reasoning that even some board members said was flawed.

Former Williston Selectboard member Herb Goodrich wants to build a 14-unit development on land he owns off U.S. Route 2 between Taft Corners and Williston Village.

The board on Jan. 24 voted 5-0 to deny preliminary approval because plans did not provide two ways in and out of the development. But immediately following the vote, the board learned there was in fact a second road in the adjacent Pinecrest Village subdivision.

The project’s would-be builder, Russell Barone of Williston-based Barone Construction Inc., has since submitted a written request to have the vote reconsidered.

Goodrich was bluntly critical of the vote and dismayed the board did not know about the other access road.

“They made a bad decision,” he said. “If they didn’t know what they were talking about, they should have tabled it.”

Board Chairman Kevin McDermott said the issue of a second access, which the town requires for safety reasons in case the primary road is blocked, was raised during closed-door deliberation of the project. Since board members couldn’t obtain more information at that point, he said, they had no way of knowing that there was another way in and out of the project.

“It would have been better if everything came up during the public hearing,” he said. “But we may have a second chance.”

McDermott said he would vote to reconsider the board’s decision “as long as it’s legal.”

Town Planner Lee Nellis said legal advice the town received indicates there is precedent supporting a reconsideration vote when new evidence becomes available. He said the board would review the decision at its Feb. 14 meeting. If the board votes to reconsider, another public hearing would be held to decide the project’s fate.

The unusual events surrounding the initial hearing came amid opposition to the project from neighbors. About 15 people from nearby Pinecrest Village and The Commons attended the meeting.

Neighbors from Pinecrest Village complained the new housing would clog traffic and asserted the new development’s driveway crossed their common land. Residents of The Commons worried the development could block their views and create stormwater problems.

After closing the public hearing, the board moved on to other agenda items. It later held a closed-door meeting to discuss the project.

Two members sat out to avoid conflicts of interest: Cathy O’Brien, who had surveyed wetlands for Goodrich before the project was proposed, and Brian Jennings, who lives in Pinecrest Village.

When the meeting was reopened, the other five members unanimously voted to reject the project. McDermott said the development failed to comply with a town ordinance that requires subdivisions with 50 or more units to have two means of access and egress. The board considered Pinecrest Village and the new project as one in counting the number of units because they would share an access road.

But Jennings immediately pointed out there was a second road in and out of Pinecrest Village. O’Brien criticized her fellow board members for raising an issue that was never mentioned during the public hearing.

Even if there hadn’t been a second access road, Goodrich said it was unfair to combine his project with the 81 condominiums in Pinecrest Village in deciding whether the plan met town requirements.

“You can’t make up your own rules in this game,” he said. “There’s nothing in the rules that says you can join these two together.”

If the board votes to reconsider its decision, it remains to be seen whether the other access road in Pinecrest Village will be viewed as adequate. The road – really more akin to a wide and winding path – runs from Cedar Lane in Pinecrest Village to U.S. Route 2. It is overgrown with grass and at times blocked by those parking in a visitor’s lot on the Cedar Lane end.

Barone said he believes the project would benefit the town by providing more housing for the rapidly growing senior population. He said he is confident that the board will do the right thing.

“We believe we are doing something good and nice,” Barone said. “It’s unfortunate the way things happened. But we think the town can find a way to remedy that.”

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Board backtracks on vote against senior subdivision

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Planning staff says rationale was flawed

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The Williston Development Review Board voted Tuesday to reconsider its rejection of a controversial senior housing project.

After a brief discussion, the board unanimously decided to hold another public hearing on the 14-unit subdivision in coming weeks and then vote again on whether to grant preliminary approval.

The decision came amid warnings from planning staff that a court would almost certainly overturn the previous vote because the rationale for rejecting the project was flawed. The board voted down the project last month because plans did not include two access roads.

“The decision was based upon a mistaken fact, really,” Zoning Administrator D.K. Johnston told the board. “We have since found that such an emergency road does exist, at least on paper.”

Former Selectboard member Herb Goodrich filed an application for the project in late 2004. He proposes to build senior housing next to his home on U.S. Route 2 between Taft Corners and Williston Village. The project would share an access road with the adjacent Pinecrest Village subdivision.

The Development Review Board rejected the project in January, saying that the proposal failed to provide a second or emergency access road as required under a town ordinance that applies to developments with 50 or more units. The board reasoned that because the project shared the access road off Route 2 with the 81-unit Pinecrest Village it was subject to the requirement.

But immediately after the vote, two members of the seven-member board, who had recused themselves because of potential conflicts of interest, pointed out that Pinecrest Village in fact did have a second road.

Following the decision – which prompted criticism from even opponents of the project – the would-be builder, Russell Barone, requested the vote be reconsidered. Town staff consulted attorney Paul Gillies, who said the board could reconsider the decision as long as new information was presented.

“To put it simply, the fact that the existence of a second access for Pinecrest Village was not considered in your deliberations is sufficient to allow for you to reconsider the decision,” Town Planner Lee Nellis wrote in a memo to the board.

Barone said after Tuesday’s meeting that the board had made the “appropriate” decision. He said because his project did not meet the 50-unit threshold, a second access road should not be a factor in the permitting process.

The proposal for senior house generated opposition from representatives of both Pinecrest Village and The Commons. Pinecrest Village residents complained about the project’s impact on traffic and claimed the drive leading into the development crosses some of its common land. Neighbors from The Commons worried about their views being blocked and about stormwater runoff.

But the opposition did not prompt the board to reject the project. Chairman Kevin McDermott said at the January meeting that the new housing would not generate enough traffic to create significant problems and asserted property disputes were not within the board’s purview.

Meanwhile, Johnston revealed on Tuesday’s meeting that the much-discussed second access road at Pinecrest Village did not meet town standards. The road is actually more of a wide path overgrown with grass.

Johnston said he has issued a zoning violation because the road has not been maintained as required when the town approved the project about 16 years ago.

Barone said that problem should not affect what he and Goodrich have proposed.

“I believe the issue with Pinecrest Village has nothing to do with the project Herb and I are doing,” he said. “I don’t believe Herb should be held hostage because of another subdivision’s problems.”

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50+ Expo

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

It was almost like being in Florida, except getting there didn’t take as long nor did it cost as much.

Dozens of natural spectrum lamps imitating the sun filled the walls and tables of the annual 50+ Expo in Burlington last Saturday. In its eleventh year, the daylong event features entertainment and information relevant for Vermonters age 50 and up. The natural spectrum lamps set up by one exhibitor brought sunlight inside the Sheraton Hotel to enhance this year’s theme of the “Southern Summer Experience.”

“I always look forward to it every year,” Evelyn Harrington said of the Expo. Harrington came to the event from Burlington’s Ethan Allen Residence with Paul A. Lyon. “I met so many people that I knew.”

Lifelong Williston resident Shirley Miles agreed.

“It’s a good place to meet other people and see people you don’t see that often,” said Miles, who with some Williston friends was listening to jazz under sun lamps and faux palm trees, before heading up to the afternoon dance party.

About 2,500 people attended last Saturday’s event, produced by Marianne and Paul Apfelbaum, publishers of the Williston Observer and Vermont Maturity magazines.

Twelve years ago, the Apfelbaums attended a similar event in Montreal after starting Vermont Maturity magazine, a publication for Vermonters age 50 and up. Realizing there were no events catering to seniors in Vermont, Marianne Apfelbaum said they thought it would be great to bring the concept here. For senior citizens in particular the Expo provides multiple benefits, she said.

“It gets them out of the house; it gets them socializing,” she said. “It provides a lot of useful information that they need in one place. There’s no other way they could get all this information so quickly and efficiently. And it’s fun.”

More than 85 exhibitors provided information about services ranging from health and finances to living options and pet food.

Linda Busier of Weybridge, who was attending the expo for a second year, said the exhibitor booths were great.

“I love stopping at tour booths,” said Busier, who had just signed up for a one-day trip to Montreal to see Dutch violist and orchestra conductor Andre Rieu. “When you’re our age, it’s very nice when you’re in a group to go together (on tours). You make new friends.”

Exhibitors, too, found the event beneficial.

“It’s wonderful because we see a part of the population that we might not otherwise have contact with,” said Deborah Unica, a representative with Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC). VSAC is a nonprofit organization providing grants, loans, scholarships, career and education planning.

Unica said the main inquiries she received were about continuing education options for seniors; saving for grandchildren’s education; and how to encourage someone who’s not been to college to pursue it.

Seven seminars also provided a wealth of information to attendees on such topics as sleeping problems, fraud, and managing home equity. Albert Moraska of Charlotte, who attended seminars on retirement planning and estate conservation with his wife, said they were a big help.

“The legislation and the tax rules change so that’s something you need to keep on top of,” Moraska said. “It did steer us in the right direction for what we need to do in the future.”

A portion of the proceeds raised by the Expo are donated to the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging (CVAA), a nonprofit community organization committed to helping people age with independence and dignity. Two additional fundraisers at the event – a silent auction and 50-50 raffle – raised $ 4,274 for CVAA. Marion Munsell of Williston won $743 in the 50/50 raffle.

“Those funds are vital for us to continue our programs,” said Sarah Lemnah, CVAA development director. “As seniors age and more people become seniors, our programs are being stretched so this fundraiser is very important for our cause.” The Expo also allows CVAA to inform more seniors about CVAA programs and services, Lemnah said.

Monica Croft, 87, of Bakersfield had two tongue-in-cheek recommendations for next year’s Expo. First, she recommended that the fashion show models “wobble” – or swing their hips – while walking down the runway. Croft asserted they had not, and demonstrated the proper walking procedure for onlookers.

Croft’s second recommendation, referencing the $5 entrance fee: “They should give a discount to the senior citizens.”

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