April 17, 2014

Maple Tree Place green plans revised

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Next up: town and state reviews

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Plans for the park-like green at Williston’s largest shopping center have evolved to include more open space for playing and picnicking.

Maple Tree Place’s corporate owner announced last week altered plans for the green, a central feature of the retail and office center. The latest revision is still subject to changes by the company as well as state and local approval.

The plans keeps the major features of the design submitted by Mary Jo Childs of Williston and Judy Goodyear of South Burlington, winners of the “Make a Green Come True” contest. The contest invited residents to share their ideas about how the grassy and largely featureless one-acre square could be improved.

The original plans showed a central plaza surrounded by sugar maples. Walking paths ran from the center of the green outward from the green’s edge. A band shell and a terraced seating area provided space for concerts and other events in one corner of the green.

The band shell and the paths are included in the revision, but the terraced seating is eliminated. Landscaping has also been scaled back.

The changes will allow current uses of the green – people having a picnic and children playing, for example – to continue, said Rick Golder, property manager for The Inland Group of Companies, the Illinois-based firm that owns Maple Tree Place.

“It was a busier design,” he said of the original plans. “We didn’t want it to become so busy that it did not lend itself to being open for the existing uses.”

For example, omitting the terraced green frees up space and ensures that events will be accessible for people with disabilities, Golder said. Spectators will simply sit on the grass.

The original plans called for extensive plantings. Golder said the revised design reduces the planted area and makes the green more open.

“We’ve eliminating everything in the middle for the most part,” he said.

A post-and-chain barrier between the green and the streets that surround it was called for in the original plan. The revised plans replace that with a natural barrier formed by daylilies.

The idea is to keep children playing on the green from running out into the street, Golder said.

The new design includes one arbor instead of the two in the original plans. The clock tower suggested by Childs and Goodyear is replaced by flags surrounding a yet-to-be-determined memorial.

Childs declined to comment on the changes until she had a chance to look at the new plans. Contest rules stated that the winning entry would be subject to change without notice, and Childs said she has had no input into the project since submitting her design.

She previously said that her design would likely cost considerably more than the $75,000 Inland budgeted for the work.

No one element in the original design was deemed too expensive, Golder said. He acknowledged, however, that the use of less elaborate landscaping will save money. The project’s actual cost will not be known until bids are received.

Golder said the new design will be considered by officials at Inland’s corporate offices in Illinois and could be changed before it is submitted for town and state approval.

In Williston, the plans will be reviewed by the Design Advisory Committee, said Town Planner Lee Nellis. It will take approximately a month for the town to conduct the review. The town must issue a zoning permit before work can begin.

The state will also have a say through the Act 250 land-use process, said Stephanie Monaghan, co-coordinator of the District 4 Environmental Commission. The review will involve amending Maple Tree Place’s existing Act 250 permit.

Monaghan said she was unsure how long the review would take, but noted that statutory requirements mean that the process takes at least a month. The commission is entering its busiest time of year, she said, and any new project must get in line behind previous submissions.

Architect Stephen Yaw and Hamlin Consulting Engineering of Essex Junction have been hired by Inland to produce drawings for the green. Golder expected to receive a draft plan this week.

Subject to town and state approval, Inland hopes to build the band shell this summer. The remainder of the project are expected to be finished in 2007.

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Police station vote Tuesday

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Voters consider an additional $1.237 million

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Click for a larger image
On Tuesday voters will decide the fate of the proposed police station in Williston. Above is the plan for the first floor.

Williston voters on Tuesday will decide the fate of a proposed new town police station. The vote will take place 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. at the Williston fire station in what is believed to be the nation’s first-ever drive-thru vote (see story page 5).

Town officials have proposed spending an additional $1.237 million to complete a 23,000-square-foot new fire station and a 13,000-square-foot new police station. In 2004, voters approved $6.8 million for improved public safety buildings, but town officials say construction cost increases have put the project over budget.

A “no” vote on Tuesday means a new police station will not be built, Town Manager Rick McGuire said. The vote also will impact three fire and rescue station items, including a three-bay garage to house first response vehicles.

A public hearing Tuesday night drew seven residents in addition to members of the public safety buildings committee.

Project Manager Tom Barden, of Barden Inspection and Consulting Services, explained that construction costs have increased an average of 15 percent since 2003 project estimates. A new seismic building code also affected building requirements.

“We got hit with a double whammy,” Barden said. “Not only did we get hit with increasing costs inflation wise, but we also got hit with a new code.”

Committee members emphasized a “yes” vote would minimally change the town tax rate since the Selectboard has committed $950,000 worth of landfill revenue, town fund reserves and local option sales tax proceeds to the project. McGuire said that leaves only $287,000 to be borrowed.

“That’s money we won’t have later, that we’ll have to pay taxes on to fund something else,” resident Joel Reynolds.

McGuire agreed that was a possibility. He also said the town will retain more than $500,000 in reserves.

A “yes” vote on Tuesday will increase the town tax rate by $2.50 a year per $100,000 of a home’s assessed value, officials said. If the full amount were to be borrowed, which McGuire has emphasized is not necessary, town taxes would go up $10 a year per $100,000 of a home’s assessed value. The homeowner of a $300,000 house is currently paying about $120 a year for the project, based on the original approved bond.

Resident Pat Martel asked why residents were voting on approving $1.237 million if only about a quarter of that needs to be borrowed.

McGuire said it’s what the law requires.

“We can’t spend a penny over what has been authorized, which is $6.8 million, unless we have additional authorization,” McGuire said earlier this week. “(The authorization) has to be for the full amount we have to spend…. How it’s funded is an entirely separate matter.”

Resident Michael Mauss said at the hearing he can’t believe it would cost more to renovate the current firehouse than to demolish it and start new.

“When the existing footprint is used, the building becomes a three-story building instead of a two-story building,” Barden explained earlier this week. “They’re trying to squeeze the same square footage into a smaller footprint. The price goes up.”

When asked why the existing footprint could not be used for a two-story building, Barden said the square footage would be less than what the police department needs, based on the assessment of two design firms.

“Both design groups came up with square footage that was within a couple of hundred feet of each other,” Barden said. “The buildings as designed reflect that square footage.”

Williston resident Ginger Isham said in an interview this week she is leaning toward voting no on the request for additional funds.

“It seems like we’re building something for 50 years from now, that maybe we don’t need quite all of this,” Isham said. “They are in desperate need of more space and more room. But maybe instead of a luxury plan can we do something that’s not so costly?”

Looking at the floor plans, Isham said she questioned, for example, the need for two break rooms on the first floor; an exercise room on the second floor; and four holding cells.

Interim Police Chief Jim Dimmick said in an interview that other police departments also are busy.

“There’s not always a guaranteed room at the barracks that we can put people that we have in custody,” Dimmick said. “So it would be a shopping around” process to find available cells in Chittenden County.

Dimmick said his primary concern with the current station is the lack of rooms for private conversations with crime victims.

Resident Priscilla Miller said she went to the public hearing with an open mind, but her inclination was Williston couldn’t afford the project now. After hearing the discussion, however, she said it became clear the committee looked at all the options in their long-term planning.

“It makes sense to move forward with the proposal at this time as costs will never be less than they are at this juncture,” Miller said. “This is something that has to be done. That’s all there is to it.”

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Williston begins ‘plants a row for the hungry’

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Observer staff report

Avery Caterer tossed the potato spuds into the trench like a gardening pro.

Last Thursday the 10-year-old, along with mother Kristin Caterer and brother Ethan, 8, quietly kicked off the Williston Plant a Row for the Hungry program by planting a few extra seeds in their community garden plots.

“It will really help the community I think,” Avery said. “The hungry people will have organic food.”

Williston residents are invited to plant an extra row of seeds in their vegetable gardens for donation to food shelves later in the summer. Residents need only deliver the produce to bins behind the Town Hall Annex; volunteers will then deliver goods to either the St. George; Hinesburg; or Burlington food shelves.

The Williston Observer is partnering with the Town of Williston Departments of Recreation and Public Works and the Williston In Bloom committee to organize the program.

“There’s a big need out there,” Doug Gunnerson of the Hinesburg Food Shelf said. In addition to serving Hinesburg residents, the food shelf serves people from neighboring communities like Williston, St. George, Huntington, Starksboro, and Charlotte.

Donations to the Hinesburg Food Shelf are down $3,000 to $5,000 from a year ago, Gunnerson said, yet there is a 20 percent increase in clients since last year.

“A lot of the new people coming in, they just can’t make ends meet,” Gunnerson said.

According to the U.S. Census 2000, Chittenden County was home to more than 26,000 people earning 185 percent of the federal poverty level or less – the level at which individuals qualify for food assistance. For a family of four in 2006, for example, 185 percent of the federal poverty level is an annual income of $35,798 or less.

Gunnerson said the number of families seeking assistance at the Hinesburg Food Shelf has more than doubled in the last five years. The food shelf sees an average of 60 families a month.

“People are out there making a choice: ‘Do I eat today? Or do I pay this doctor bill?” Gunnerson said. “‘Or do I pay the insurance bill for the car? People are making hard choices.”

Williston Observer Publisher Marianne Apfelbaum said she hasn’t planted a vegetable garden since she was a kid, but she’ll be planting zucchini and cucumbers this year as part of the Plant a Row for the Hungry program.

“If you’ve never planted a garden, this would be a good time to try it because it’s for a good cause,” Apfelbaum said. “We hear of all kinds of people starving all around the world, and there are people hungry right here in our community. This is something concrete we can do to help.”

Plant a Row for the Hungry is a grassroots program created by the national Garden Writers Association.

Williston Plant a Row for the Hungry Program

I want to Plant a Row for the Hungry.

I will plant the following foods and deliver the harvest to the bins behind the Town Hall Annex on Thursdays over the summer: _________________________________

I can’t plant a row, but I’d like to help by making one delivery on a Friday morning this summer to the food shelf in St. George, Hinesburg or Burlington.

Name ____________________________

Phone ____________________________

Copy and Paste and email to: :

[email protected] with “Plant a Row” in the subject line

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Williston Women Wow at Vermont City Marathon

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Two place in top 10 Vermont women; dozens of Williston residents participate

By Kim Howard
Observer Staff

All seven marathons Williston resident Megan Valentine has run in her life she has run with her father.

They didn’t run together in the first marathon because her father took off early. Three races they’ve run side-by-side. On Sunday at the Key Bank Vermont City Marathon, Valentine’s father told her to leave him behind.

“This year he told me he’d only run one mile with me and then I was on my own,” Valentine, 27, said.

Valentine, who has lived in Williston since age six and started her running career at Champlain Valley Union High School, was the first Vermont woman to cross the finish line. Her father, Dr. John Valentine, came in 17 minutes and 30 seconds later.

“I’m still a little sore, but feeling good,” Megan Valentine said Tuesday, adding that she’s overwhelmed by all the attention. “I think anyone I’ve ever talked to at work came to see me today. Most of them were saying ‘Wow, Meg, we had no idea you could go that fast.’ And of course my response was I had no idea either.”

Megan Valentine’s time of three hours and seven minutes was her best marathon time to date, she said. Her goal had been to run it under three hours and ten minutes.

“When I crossed the finish line, I was ecstatic,” she said.

Kelsey Allen, 22, was the second Williston woman to place among the top 10 Vermont women. Allen moved to Williston in September from New Hampshire and works at the Pine Ridge School.

“I was happy because I still improved on my time from last year,” said Allen, whose net time was a second under three hours and 22 minutes.

Allen said a highlight of her second marathon was “all of the people who come out to cheer for you. It really gives you a lot of positive energy to keep going and have fun.”

Spectators lined the race route, with taiko drummers at Battery Street, bagpipers at the bike path on Staniford Road, and kids and adults in the neighborhoods through which the race route snaked.

“The crowd at the marathon is unbelievable,” said Jim Pelkey, 49, who has lived in Williston for 18 years. “Every year I always see faces of friends of mine that I don’t always see during the year but they’re in the crowd cheering me on.”

The last three or four miles are Pelkey’s toughest, he said, because “you’re purely running on your will to want to finish. … The crowd at the finish line is totally the best experience you ever have, besides your wife giving birth to your children, and marrying your wife.”

Lyman Clark, 48, said a highlight for him was catching up and running alongside Patti Dillon.

“I got to run with (Dillon) for about a mile or so on the beltline,” he said. Dillon is a four-time winner of the Honolulu marathon and the former American and World Record holder in the 20-kilometer and half marathon races.

Running all 26.2 miles was not necessary for Maddie Zebertavage, 14, to feel satisfied. Maddie ran 6.8 miles on the junior mixed relay team “Williston Wild Things.”

“It was really fun. It was a good experience,” Maddie said. Her favorite part, she added, probably was watching the start of the race, “just to see a lot of people out there running and putting their all into the sport.”

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New Williston policeman applied for job while serving in Iraq

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

In light of its perpetual struggle to maintain full staffing, the Williston Police Department has advertised its recruitment efforts far and wide. One recent hire inquired about a job from some 5,800 miles away.

Jason Brownfield was in the midst of a combat-heavy, 11-month tour of duty in Iraq with the National Guard when he learned of the openings for officers in the Williston department. Brownfield was serving as a military police officer in Iraq, escorting motor convoys down some of the country’s most dangerous roads. He thought law enforcement work would be a natural step into civilian life.

Brownfield, who resides in Jay with his wife and two children, phoned the Williston Police Department from Iraq to express his interest. Shortly after his return home from Iraq on Feb. 23, he interviewed for the opening and was hired. He started work with the department last week.

Williston Chief Ozzie Glidden said it was a surprise to receive a phone call from around the world from a prospective officer, but it was a pleasant one. Glidden said former military personnel can be ideal additions to police departments.

Williston also recently hired Christopher Simays, a member of the Coast Guard police force, to join its department. Kris Fullington, who resigned last month after seven months with the department, came to Williston after a career in the Navy.

“(Veterans) often are mature and ready to go,” Glidden said. “They are used to working within a chain of command. They just make great candidates. That’s why we’ve been recently trying to attract them to come here.”

Glidden said he has begun to target his recruiting pitch at organizations that can circulate the word among potential applicants with military backgrounds. He mentioned the offices of Sen. Jim Jeffords and Gov. Jim Douglas, the American Legion and the National Guard as places he has contacted in hopes of reaching the ears and eyes of Vermont-based military personnel reaching the end of their service.

“We’re hoping it gets us some strong candidates,” he said.

Brownfield, 29, was attached in Iraq to the First Battalion 86th Field Artillery, the National Guard unit with an armory next door to the Williston Police Department. He learned of the openings in the Williston police department from a superior officer in Iraq. Glidden had contacted the National Guard about the open positions, and an officer had sent an e-mail message to Iraq.

“I knew it was something I wanted to do,” Brownfield said.

Brownfield’s military career was eventful. He served more than six years in the U.S. Army as a forward observer. His service included stints in Kosovo, Bosnia and Afghanistan. He was in Afghanistan for a stretch between 2001 and 2002 and saw combat there.

He transferred to the National Guard in October 2003 and soon was activated for duty in Iraq. During his stretch overseas, Brownfield provided security for convoys traveling either to the Baghdad National Airport or to LSA Anaconda, a U.S. air base north of Baghdad.

The approximately 300-mile journey to LSA Anaconda typically took about 15 hours round trip, he said. Brownfield said the convoys included security personnel in two or three Humvees and then about 30 trucks carrying supplies like fuel, ammunition, vehicle parts and water.

The convoys were frequently targeted by insurgents. During Brownfield’s tour overseas, his convoys were rattled by 11 roadside bombs — an average of one a month. Seven of the bombs directly hit vehicles. Brownfield also was caught in multiple ambushes, including one firefight with insurgents that lasted more than three hours.

“We did almost start to get used to it,” Brownfield said. “There would be an explosion and we’d say, ‘Yep, there’s another IED (Improvised Explosive Device).’ Nothing else sounds like a roadside bomb.”

Brownfield earned the Bronze Star for his overall service in Iraq and the ARCOM (Army Commendation Medal) with Valor award for his performance in the firefight.

Brownfield acknowledges there will be significant differences between the duties of his new position and the responsibilities of his old one. However, he said, both circumstances are driven by the ability to effectively work with the public.

In Iraq, Brownfield frequently sought out Iraqi citizens for information, and he did not always have the benefit of a translator. He said he would occasionally ask Iraqis where roadside bombs might be planted or whether there were guns around by mimicking the sounds they make. Even the convoy drivers rarely spoke English and required creative communication.

“It was a really big task,” said Brownfield, whose first day in a Williston police uniform was May 9. “We had to use some pretty innovative means to learn what we wanted. I had to learn to read between the lines.”

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