November 27, 2014

Youngest-ever member take seat on Recreation Committee

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Tianna Tomasi, 16, will bring teens’ perspective

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Tianna Tomasi admits to being nervous when the Williston Selectboard interviewed her she interviewed last month for one of the openings on the town’s Recreation Committee. Board members were fanned out before her at a grand-looking table, while she sat alone before them, answering their questions. A television camera was poised nearby.

“It was so formal,” she said. “It was kind of nerve-wracking.”

However, Tomasi earned the board’s approval and an appointment to the Recreation Committee, becoming the youngest member of the town’s numerous boards and committees. Tomasi, 16, said she sees her new position as an opportunity to repay her hometown.

“I’ve grown up in Williston,” said Tomasi, whose first committee meeting will take place next month. “I’ve lived here since I was 3-1/2 years old, and I thought this was the least I could do to give back to the community that has done so much for me. And I’ve just had a wonderful time in the recreation (department) sports.”

Tomasi has participated in a number of municipal recreational offerings and has also served as a youth basketball and soccer coach. In addition, Tomasi is one of 23 adopted siblings in her family, ranging in age from six to 44. Many of them are veterans of the town’s municipal recreation programs.

For instance, Tomasi first started playing organized sports when joined a tee ball team when she was 6 years old. She had three siblings in the league with her that summer.

“I figured having a Tomasi in general on the committee would be helpful,” said Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Finnegan, who urged Tomasi to apply for the committee opening.

However, Finnegan asked Tomasi to apply for more than just her family affiliations. He said Tomasi has shown abundant enthusiasm for town recreational activities, as well as a maturity that indicates she would hold her own on a committee filled with older members.

Finnegan points to Tomasi’s experience coaching a youth basketball team as an example.

“She’s got great experience working as a basketball coach,” Finnegan said. “She approached me about coaching and she pretty much ran her own team. She showed a lot of maturity and did a great job.”

Tomasi said she has reveled in the coaching experience.

“It was so rewarding to me,” said Tomasi, who was home-schooled this past academic year but hopes to join the junior class at Champlain Valley Union High School in the fall. “It is such a good feeling to be able to help teach a little kid how to shoot a soccer ball.”

Finnegan said teenagers represent a demographic that has not been directly represented on the Recreation Committee. He said he hopes Tomasi can contribute a voice for teens, similar to the work committee member Caroline Ford has been doing for Williston’s seniors.

“I thought it was incredibly important to have a teen representative,” Finnegan said. “I thought we needed to have somebody who represented that population. We’ve got a lot going on with the Student Lounge and other ideas, and I think we need somebody to start mobilizing teens.”

Tomasi told the Selectboard in her application letter that she would like to represent her age group on the committee and “make things happen for the youth of our town.”

Tomasi said she will not join the committee with big plans for the town’s recreation offerings, though she would like to see the basketball open-night program at Allen Brook extended to the summer to give kids something to do during vacation evenings.

“I don’t have huge ideas,” Tomasi said. “But once I’ve been on the board and see what’s going on, I will give my opinion.”

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Town settles suit over housing project

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110-unit proposal near Taft Corners can move forward

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The town recently settled a lawsuit filed by a developer over a housing project near Taft Corners. However, it appears the developer gained little from the two-year legal battle.

Burlington-based Village Associates filed the suit after the town refused to allocate sewer for the project. The recent settlement does not give the developer anything it would not have received from the town otherwise, according to Williston’s town planner. But a Village Associates representative maintains the suit still served a purpose.

The settlement, which has not been lodged into court record yet, gives Village Associates the sewer capacity to construct the 110 residential units it originally planned in the Taft Corners area over the next six years.

The sewer will be allocated starting in the current 2005-06 fiscal year, during which Village Associates will be allowed to construct 21 units. The remaining sewer allocations will be meted out on an annual basis until 2010-11.

Town Planner Lee Nellis said Village Associates likely would have received a similar allocation without the lawsuit. Village Associates had re-entered the development review process while the lawsuit was still pending, and the development would have been considered for phasing, which determines how fast construction can occur, along with other proposed projects discussed by the Development Review Board last month.

Every project that applied for a sewer allocation received it under new growth management rules recently approved by the Selectboard.

“It’s probably no different from what would have happened without the lawsuit,” Nellis said. “It’s conceivable it might have varied by a couple units from year to year, but that’s what would have happened more or less.”

Brett Grabowski of Village Associates agreed with Nellis’ assessment, but noted the lawsuit was filed under the former regulations in order “to gain some assurances that we weren’t going to be locked out at the end.”

Grabowski said the Selectboard’s move to adopt new growth management regulations — an action he credits in large part to Nellis –— gave credence to Village Associates’ suit.

“The fact that they changed their regulations validated our lawsuit,” Grabowski said. “It basically showed us that the town agreed with our case that their regulations were faulty and that not all projects were viewed as equals.”

Village Associates filed the suit in March 2003 after the town denied sewer capacity for the project, a residential and commercial development named “The Hamlet.” The town claimed it did not have the sewer capacity available to support the project, nor did it want to grant capacity before it was available or hand out a partial sewer allocation.

Village Associates had already received concept plan approval and phasing allocation from the Williston Development Review Board, but under the previous town rules it had to return to the beginning of the review process when it could not secure the sewer capacity needed for the project.

Williston has since added 200,000 gallons of sewer capacity through the expansion of the Essex Junction wastewater facility.

The settlement includes the requested sewer allocation for Village Associates with a stipulation that at least 30 percent of the residential units remain perpetually affordable housing.

Village Associates had sought unspecified punitive and compensatory damages, but the settlement provided no financial compensation for the developer. The Hamlet still must receive a final plat permit from the Development Review Board and an Act 250 permit from the state.

Nellis insisted the recent changes in the town’s growth management rules, which were beneficial for large projects like the Hamlet, were not driven by the Village Associates’ lawsuit. Grabowski agreed.

Instead, Nellis and Grabowski said, the concurrent applications from Village Associates and an even larger mixed-use development at the former the Pecor horse farm on U.S. Route 2 just east of Taft Corners highlighted problems in the previous growth management process that spurred the changes.

“We didn’t forget about the lawsuit — that’s impossible to do, really — but it didn’t drive the way (the growth management changes were) written,” Nellis said. “The reality of the big projects was really behind it. It is the 110 units next to the 356 units that really motivates here.”

Nellis said the Hamlet will be reviewed in the next few weeks by the Design Advisory Committee, which advises the Development Review Board on projects in the Taft Corners area. Grabowski said Village Associates hopes to begin construction next summer.

Grabowski said the lawsuit and the wait for sewer capacity cost Village Associates money, particularly considering the company hoped to start construction three years ago. He said one result was that the units built next summer that are not among those tagged as perpetually affordable will be pricier than they would have been.

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