April 22, 2019

Village subdivision wins town approval

Churchview Estates will be located on Old Stage Road

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A subdivision that would offer relatively low-cost housing for seniors has received town approval.

The Williston Development Review Board last week unanimously approved the 17-unit project dubbed Churchview Estates. The development, designated for those 55 and older, will be located at the intersection of U.S. 2 and Old Stage Road in Williston Village.

The housing will include 14 duplexes and three single-family homes. Prices will start at less than $200,000 and go up to about $250,000, said Rene Thibault, who owns the land and will develop the project.

The prices are far below the median of almost $300,000 for newly constructed homes in Chittenden County. The units, however, will be smaller than most new homes built in recent years, ranging from 1,200 to 1,350 square feet.

Thibault said he has already received inquiries from homeowners who are thinking of downsizing as they approach retirement.

“They want something that is smaller and easier to maintain and clean,” he said. “I just wanted to keep (the units) smaller, which makes them more affordable, too.”

Thibault said the homes’ estimated prices are based on the current housing market and noted that additional permitting requirements could drive up costs. He still needs to obtain a state Act 250 land-use permit before construction can begin.

At its Sept. 26 meeting, the Development Review Board briefly debated the project before granting final approval. In addition to numerous standard conditions of approval, the board required some homes to be reoriented and some parts of the site to be left undisturbed. Not even mowing will be permitted in those areas.

The requirements are intended to protect an unnamed stream that flows through part of the 9-acre parcel, said D.K. Johnston, the town’s zoning administrator.

Planning staff also worked with the developer to reduce the parking lot’s size and to shorten the subdivision’s access road so stormwater runoff is minimized. Stormwater is a major source of pollution for lakes, rivers and streams.

Traffic was also a concern during the town’s review process. The state Agency of Transportation gives the intersection of U.S. 2 and Old Stage Road a failing grade during peak traffic hours.

But the agency will not allow an access road connecting Churchview Estates directly to U.S. 2 because it would be too close to the intersection. The development will instead be accessed via Old Stage Road.

A study done by Trudell Consulting Engineers in Williston, which is working with Thibault, found that the additional traffic generated by the development would increase the current 60 second peak-hour delay at the intersection by eight seconds.

The development will include a mix of housing styles designed to fit with the surrounding area. The duplexes will include both two-story “townhouse style” buildings and side-by-side flats, Thibault said. One of the single-family homes will be a cape; the others will be ranches.

Thibault is a masonry contractor by trade. He said Churchview Estates is the first sizable subdivision that he has developed.

Debra Bell, project manager for Trudell Consulting Engineers, said her firm is “aggressively putting permit applications together” with the goal of receiving Act 250 approval and other permits by winter. Thibault said he hopes to obtain the remaining permits in time to start construction when the weather warms.

“Hopefully it all works out well and we’ll build some units starting next spring,” he said.

[Read more…]

Child care staff mistreated toddler, investigation finds

Accused workers fired from Williston facility

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Workers at a Williston child care center sprayed water in the face of a 2-year-old child and spun the toddler on play equipment despite the child’s pleas to stop, a state investigation has found.

Kids & Fitness, a child care center at the Sports & Fitness Edge, was cited in August for “inappropriate guidance and discipline techniques,” according to documents obtained from the Child Development Division, the state agency that licenses child care facilities.

The documents did not specify how the child was mistreated. But Kim Keiser, deputy commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, Child Development Division, quoted from records compiled in the case in a written response to questions posed by the Observer.

“Interviews of staff members at the facility disclosed that two staff members had, on at least one occasion, sprayed water at the face of a 2-year-old child, and, on at least one occasion, the child was placed in an Exersaucer and spun after the child clearly indicated wanting to stop,” she quoted the records as saying. An Exersaucer is a device that young children can stand in while playing with toys.

Vermont child care regulations forbid “any form of corporal punishment such as, but not limited to: inflicting mental or emotional punishment such as humiliating, shaming, threatening, or frightening a child.”

Mike Feitelberg, president of Sports & Fitness Edge Inc., said the two employees accused in the case were fired. Feitelberg emphasized that Sports & Fitness Edge went beyond what the state required.

Following the investigation, the Child Care Division mandated that staff members accused of misconduct take a six-hour course and be kept under direct visual supervision.

“We concluded at that time that we would not tolerate conduct such as that,” Feitelberg said. “We took immediate corrective action, which included the termination of those two teachers.”

The child care center also provided staff training in “positive redirection methods” for disciplining children, he said.

Williston resident Kevin McDermott, who has two children, ages 3 and 5, at Kids & Fitness, said he was satisfied with how the child care facility handled the matter, which he felt was an isolated incident.

“We’re real happy with the place,” he said, noting that it has resources that other child care centers don’t offer, particularly the fitness club.

McDermott said he knows the parents of the child who was mistreated, but he declined to comment further on what he had heard about the case. “It’s a touchy subject – my kids are still going there,” he said.

Brigitte Ritchie, whose 6-year-old son attends a half-day session at Kids & Fitness, said her child is in a different program so she felt he was safe. But the incident, which she heard about from other parents, worries her.

“Does it concern me? Yes. It should worry all parents,” Ritchie said.

Some parents sought more information from the state. Three parents called the Child Development Division, looking for details on the case or reassurance the facility was safe, according to records obtained by the Observer. They were encouraged to contact Kids & Fitness staff for more information.

The Child Development Division, which is part of the Vermont Agency of Human Services, launched an investigation after receiving a complaint on Aug. 15 that a child had been mistreated, Keiser said. A state investigator visited the center on Aug. 18 and Aug. 21.

Citing privacy concerns, Feitelberg and Keiser would not identify the child who was improperly disciplined or the child’s parents. Nor would they disclose the sex of the child or the names of the employees accused in the case.

The Observer requested documents compiled during the investigation under the Vermont Public Records Act. Keiser indicated that the files would become public after the 30-day appeal period ended. The newspaper decided to hold the story until the records were available in order to provide a complete account of the violation.

The files released Sept. 22 were censored, with names blacked out and some documents withheld.

The division refused a second request for records that would verify the specific allegations. Christina Strobridge, director of the Child Development Division, said in a written reply to the request that the documents were exempt from disclosure.

The Child Development Division tries to protect child care providers against unwarranted complaints while encouraging the public to report concerns, Keiser wrote in response to a question about how the state balances privacy and the public’s right to know about a child care facility’s record. She said providers accused of a serious violation, as was the case at Kids & Fitness, are required to mail a copy of the site visit field form, which provides information about the allegations.

But the document, a copy of which the state provided to the Observer, said only that two staff members had used “inappropriate guidance and discipline techniques and “inappropriate methods of redirection.”

Kids & Fitness opened in 2001, Feitelberg said. About 20 employees work at the facility.

The state licenses Kids & Fitness as an early childhood program for children ages 6 weeks to 6 years. It is licensed to care for as many as 72 children.

In addition to the Williston facility, Sports & Fitness Edge Inc. owns other fitness clubs in Essex and South Burlington. Child care programs are also operated at those facilities, Feitelberg said.

The recent incident is not the first time the state has found problems at Kids & Fitness.

Last year, regulators discovered that a staff member had not taken a course required for her position, according to state records.

In 2004, Kids & Fitness was cited for failing to check phone messages every 15 minutes as rules mandate and for neglecting to supervise children walking to and from bathrooms, the records show.

Feitelberg said no parents have pulled their child out of the program, including those of the child who was improperly disciplined.

In fact, Feitelberg said his own child continues to attend Kids & Fitness. As a father, he said he is confident that his child is in good hands.

“We are saddened that such isolated incidents took place in our center,” he said in a written statement. “We feel we have responded in a swift and appropriate manner and the integrity of our center has been maintained. We remain a center that has built a reputation on trust and is filled with dedicated, caring staff.”

[Read more…]

Quaid seeks return to House

Former Rep. emphasizes affordability

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of profiles of the four candidates running for Williston’s two open seats in the Vermont House of Representatives.

Mike Quaid is on board with Gov. Jim Douglas’ re-election platform.

Capping property taxes, allowing Vermonters to purchase out-of-state health insurance, and requiring voter approval of tax increases would be among Quaid’s top legislative priorities if elected, he said. Those priorities are a reflection of Douglas’ proposals to reign in taxes and control the cost of living, according to Quaid.

“The principal reason I’m running is that I believe a lot in what Jim Douglas is trying to accomplish in Vermont,” Quaid said. “Without some help in the Legislature, he can’t get his programs passed.”

Getting the Circumferential Highway finished is another top priority of Quaid’s if elected.

Quaid is one of four candidates running to represent Williston in the Vermont House of Representatives. Incumbents Jim McCullough and Mary Peterson, both Democrats, and Republican Deb Beckett also are running in the Nov. 7 election. The four will be vying for two seats.

Quaid, a Republican, represented Williston in the Vermont House for two terms, from 1999 to 2002. He lost his seat by 75 votes in November 2002, when Peterson and McCullough were first elected. Quaid made an unsuccessful bid for the Vermont Senate in 2004.

Taxes and school funding

If elected, Quaid said he will advocate that voters must approve any income, sales or property tax increases.

“The polls I’ve seen (say) that people would like the chance to vote on that, and I trust the wisdom of the voters when it comes to stuff like that,” Quaid said.

Quaid gave as an example a House proposal this spring to increase the state gasoline tax by four cents.

“I can’t believe they (House representatives) actually believed that a majority of people supported a gas tax increase,” Quaid said.

Quaid also supports the governor’s proposal to cap property tax increases at the rate of inflation unless 60 percent of town voters approve higher taxes to pay for school and town budgets.

Quaid said the high threshold required for approval does not mean the state is assuming control of local government decisions, even though few school budgets in Vermont are approved by such a wide margin.

“The state isn’t saying ‘you can’t do it,’” Quaid said. “They’re saying ‘we have to get a handle on this somehow, and nothing else has worked, so a hard cap is what we have left to try here.’ If something in a town is so important that they need it, there’s an escape valve there, the 60 percent approval threshold.”

Quaid said he is not a proponent of what he calls “wealth transfer” between towns, as in Vermont’s current education financing laws, though he could live with it if parents could send their children to any public or private school they chose. He does support more parental accountability in education funding, while making allowances for parents with fewer financial resources.

“You should have some responsibility to pay for your children,” Quaid said. “Right now everybody pays the same whether you have kids or not.”

Getting bills into law

Quaid acknowledges that despite his focus on taxes, he can’t take credit for any tax legislation that passed while in office.

“My two years in (the) Ways and Means (committee) I found extremely frustrating,” Quaid said. “We had a 7-4 Republican to Democrat committee and the majority of the time … I was usually on the losing side of 8-3 votes, which I find frustrating on a Republican-stacked committee.”

Nevertheless, Quaid points to legislation that he is proud of personally introducing and getting passed.

“Two things I got passed: Getting towns a density bonus for affordable housing,” he said earlier this year. “I also got a bill passed to allow the highway department to lease out state property for cell towers.” Though Quaid said he hasn’t yet seen it put into use, the law allows for greater cell coverage for Vermont, helpful not only for business but also in emergencies, he said.

Health care is not a right

Though Quaid supports much of the Douglas agenda, he said he would not be an automatic “yes man” for the governor if elected.

“I wasn’t too happy he signed that health care bill,” Quaid said, referring to Douglas’ support of health care reform this spring. “I don’t believe government has any business being involved in health care at all. … I wouldn’t have voted for it.”

Quaid said guaranteed medical care to all citizens is not the responsibility of state government.

“You can’t have a right to anything that has to be provided by somebody else because then you’re infringing on their rights,” Quaid said. “That’s the basic problem I have with government-sponsored health care in the first place.”

Socially conservative

Quaid is a social conservative according to his voting record and responses to political surveys.

During both of his House terms, Quaid co-sponsored bills forbidding two women or two men to marry. He also co-sponsored a resolution urging Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit destruction of the American flag.

Quaid’s responses to a 2004 Project Vote Smart survey also point to conservative values: He supports abortion only when the mother’s health is in danger; he supports abstinence-only sex education; and he supports implementing the death penalty in Vermont. Quaid said none of these are topics on which he plans to introduce legislation.

Quaid also said he would have opposed a bill this spring passed by the House and Senate, but vetoed by the governor, that included gender identity as a protected category in employment discrimination. Proponents of the bill have said it was the only time a sitting Vermont governor had opposed civil rights legislation.

“I fundamentally disagree with the whole raft of anti-discrimination legislation, except where it pertains to government,” Quaid said. “When we try to impose those regulations on the private sector, on private individuals, I believe we’re going outside the bounds of what a limited government should be doing.”

A question of character?

In January, Quaid was fired from the Williston Observer for plagiarism after a 13-month stint as a freelance columnist. Quaid had written a bi-weekly conservative column until a reader wrote to the Observer pointing to similarities between Quaid and Wall Street Journal columnist Stephen Moore.

Quaid admitted this week that it was plagiarism, but that he has no comments beyond a 300-word statement he wrote that ran in the Observer in January.

“ ‘I always tried to give editorial acknowledgment when I brought ideas of great thinkers into my columns,’” Quaid wrote in the statement. “ ‘I now realize that I should have been more direct and transparent, and given greater credit to the writers who inspired me.’”

In a criminal records check of political candidates in 2004, the Observer learned that Quaid was convicted of driving while intoxicated in 1999. A Chittenden County criminal court records check last month revealed no criminal convictions among the other House candidates.

“Agenda of affordability”

Quaid said he most wants Williston voters to know that he supports what the governor is calling an “agenda of affordability” and that he signed the taxpayer protection pledge promising to vote against tax increases.

Quaid said what he appreciates most about being a representative of Williston is the following: “It’s the opportunity to be involved in the major decisions that will influence the future of Vermont.”

[Read more…]

Senate recount tally: McMahon wins

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

The Chittenden County Senate race recount completed Tuesday shows Dennis McMahon garnered 29 more votes than Williston resident Tim Palmer in last month’s Democratic primary.

Palmer had requested the recount after the vote tally revealed a 25-vote margin. In the original tally, Palmer earned 3,471 votes compared with McMahon’s 3,496, giving McMahon the last spot on the Democratic slate for Chittenden County representation in the Senate. Each major party is allowed six candidates on the ballot for November’s general election; eight Democrats ran for that office in the primary.

The tally after the recount was 3,506-3,477.

“It is beyond debate that by a very small margin I was not nominated to be a candidate in the general election,” Palmer wrote in an emailed statement. “I trust the results because of the diligent and hard work of the staff of Chittenden County Superior Court and the immense and honest efforts of dozens of voters … who generously gave of their time to count each ballot cast.”

After the recount was finished, McMahon said he was glad it took place.

“If he had won, I certainly would have supported him,” McMahon said. “Now we have to go on to November. It will be a good five-week campaign.”

The other Democratic candidates for senators representing Chittenden County are Jim Condos, Ed Flanagan, Ginny Lyons, Hinda Miller and Doug Racine. The Republican slate will include Agnes Clift, J. Dennis Delaney, Chuck Furtado, Robert Sims, Diane Snelling, and John Stewart. No Independent candidates filed.

[Read more…]

Landfill answers expected at next Selectboard meeting

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Most of the 25 people crammed into the Selectboard meeting Monday night left after learning the town had no new information regarding a proposed Chittenden Solid Waste District regional landfill off Redmond Road.

At the meeting, members of the recently formed landfill-opposition group, the Williston Neighborhood Coalition, requested a status report from the board. Town Manager Rick McGuire explained that the town had compiled a list of legal questions for town attorney Paul Gillies. The questions were based on those posed to the board at their Sept. 19 meeting, which was attended by about 200 residents.

McGuire pointed out that the questions were merely clarifying legal issues, and would not necessarily dictate what the board would eventually do.

Coalition President Steve Casale said he had faith in the board, and hoped that it would keep communicating with the public on the issue.

“I think it’s important that that bidirectional conduit of information continues,” Casale said.

On Wednesday, McGuire confirmed that the questions had been finalized and sent to Gillies. Some of the questions include:

“If the town cannot void the contract [with CSWD], but breached it anyway (somehow), what would the consequence be?”

“Does the host town agreement compel the Selectboard to support the landfill or limit their ability to speak out against the project?”

“What is the factual basis and legal consequence for the claim that the Town government should have been warning buyers of homes in the proximity to the proposed landfill?”

McGuire said he expected the answers to be available at the next Selectboard meeting Oct. 16, which might take place at the Williston Central School due to the high level of interest in the issue.


Williston voters in November will be voting on proposed revisions to the Town Charter, one of which could eliminate official positions that have existed for nearly a century.

A proposed ballot item that was to be finalized by Friday eliminates the positions of Fence Viewer, Grand Juror, Town Agent, Trustee of Public Funds, Surveyor of Wood and Timber, and Weigher of Coal. The same item would also change the Cemetery Commission and the Old Brick Church Trustees from elected to appointed positions.

Town Clerk Deb Beckett voiced opposition to the proposal to change the elected positions to appointed ones, especially for the Cemetery Commission, which she said has existed since 1917.

“I have a real concern with one elected board voting to eliminate another elected board,” she said.

The proposed Charter changes would have to be first approved by voters before going to the state Legislature for approval.

The three-part ballot was expected to be finalized by the Selectboard by Friday, even though there is another public hearing on the changes Monday, Oct. 9. One item asks voters to authorize a local option tax for the town, in the event that the state law authorizing the tax is repealed or if the current 70 percent allocation of the tax revenue to the town is reduced. The other item would clarify language in the Charter and authorize the town to make employment agreements with the police and fire chiefs.

The proposed revisions were based on the research of a Charter Revision Task Force, which reported its findings to the board several months ago. Residents can attend the public hearing Monday at 7 p.m. at Town Hall to express their views or hear more about the changes.

[Read more…]

Tennis court project held for school tests

Reconstruction work will now start Oct. 16

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Noisy construction and standardized testing don’t mix.

That was the conclusion of school and town officials, who agreed to delay work on tennis and basketball courts next to Williston Central School until students in classrooms closest to the site complete the tests.

The town had planned to tear up the worn courts’ surface this week. But then officials discovered that assessments in math, reading and writing required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act were scheduled for the same time. So the work will now begin Oct. 16.

“The timing is a little later than we’d like,” said Kevin Finnegan, director of the Williston Recreation Department. But he said school officials requested the work be delayed so students would not be disrupted by the noise of heavy trucks that will be used to tear up and cart away the existing asphalt.

The work will include reconstructing the surface of both the basketball and tennis courts on the western side of the school. A new foundation will be laid and asphalt will be poured.

In addition, new fencing and nets will be installed. The space between the two tennis courts will be increased to the standard 12 feet.

The resurfacing will occur in two phases, with the initial layer of asphalt laid this month and the final layer completed next spring. The process will allow the base layers to settle, said Public Works Director Neil Boyden. The courts should be ready for play by mid-May.

Finnegan said when he approached the district, he just wanted to make sure trucks did not affect school activities or cause parking and traffic problems. He did not realize construction would disrupt the tests.

Walter Nardelli, leader for the Williston School District, told Finnegan that he was specifically concerned about the classrooms closest to the construction site, Finnegan said.

Nardelli could not be reached for comment. But testing in those classrooms will apparently be completed before construction starts. The testing period runs until Oct. 24.

The project will cost $80,000, considerably more than the $55,000 originally budgeted. Boyden said savings on other projects in the capital budget will help fund the reconstruction.

The cracked tennis court surface has prompted complaints by players. The town has tried to patch the surface, but that was no longer a viable option.

Town officials had originally hoped to complete the work before school started, but they were unable to find a contractor to do the project that soon.

Finnegan said the late start is a blessing in disguise because the original schedule would have meant moving tennis classes organized by the Recreation Department and halting play at the courts by the town’s small but dedicated group of players.

“We were hoping to get it done earlier,” Finnegan said. “But doing it earlier would have taken the courts off line during prime tennis season.”

[Read more…]

Landfill meeting fills residents with anger

Town to discuss ‘buying out of’ landfill agreement

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Irate Williston residents left Monday night’s Selectboard meeting feeling disappointed and angry after hearing about their limited options for fighting a proposed landfill.

“I think the whole thing is an outrage,” said a visibly upset Moya Muller, a three-year resident.

Muller and most of the nearly 100 others who showed up at the Williston Central School auditorium Monday were there to hear about the town’s options for opposing a proposed regional landfill.

Attorney Paul Gillies was hired by the town to answer questions posed by residents at an earlier meeting regarding the landfill. The landfill would be located on 66 acres off Redmond Road, on land currently owned by Hinesburg Sand & Gravel Co. In 1992, Chittenden Solid Waste District initiated eminent domain proceedings for the land, and won the right in court to purchase the property. The price is in dispute and the case is currently before the Vermont Supreme Court, so there is still no proposal before the town.

At Monday’s meeting, Gillies read a five-page letter attempting to address the main concerns residents had with the landfill and the Host Town Agreement, which was approved by voters in 1992 and signed by the town and the CSWD. The agreement says Williston will support the district’s application for the landfill. The town received about $1 million from the initial agreement and has received funds every year since then. Town Manager Rick McGuire said the town has received about $300,000 a year for the last few years, but was unsure about the amount received in previous years.

Gillies said the town, as represented by the Selectboard, could not oppose the landfill, since they had signed a contract (the Host Town Agreement) saying they would support it. Even though the Selectboard that signed the agreement was composed of different people, the contract still applies, he said.

However, the landfill will have to qualify for at least three different permits – a certification from the Agency of Natural Resources, an Act 250 permit, and a local zoning permit – in order to be approved, Gillies said. If any of the permits are denied, the landfill will not go through. Gillies said in order to effectively oppose the landfill, residents would have to form a group and gain “party status.” The party could then call witnesses and experts to testify in front of the Development Review Board or Act 250 Group and fight the permits on whatever grounds they thought would be effective.

Muller, who said she is a breast cancer survivor, expressed concerns during the meeting about health risks, including cancer, associated with landfills.

Gillies offered some hope.

“If you can prove as a party that it’s unhealthy then it would not be permitted,” he said.

One person in the audience asked if the town could seize the property and escape from the landfill agreement that way.

“It’s a provocative question,” Gillies said.

After hearing all of the public’s comments, the Selectboard said it had recorded residents’ concerns and would discuss the issue at its next meeting on Nov. 6. The meeting is currently scheduled for 7 p.m. at Town Hall, but could switch to the school if a large crowd is expected.


Many people, upset about potential health risks and decreased home values due to the landfill, expressed frustration because they believed the Selectboard was not doing enough to help them.

“I’d like to ask the current board when you will be proactive and try to negotiate your way out of this mess,” said Craig Abrahams, a member of the landfill opposition group, the Williston Neighborhood Coalition.

“If your Selectboard decided to be proactive in opposing the landfill they would be quickly brought to task by the district itself on the Host Town Agreement,” Gillies responded.

Gillies explained that the board could not legally break the contract, but they could ask the CSWD about options.

McGuire said Tuesday that the board had decided to do just that.

“The board … decided to have the town, through me, approach the Solid Waste District with the request that we begin a dialogue or begin a discussion on the potential for the town to buy out of the Host Town Agreement,” McGuire said.

He added that Selectman Jeff Fehrs, who works for the state Agency of Natural Resources in the Waste Management Division, recused himself from that discussion. Fehrs has also consistently recused himself from previous discussions regarding the landfill.

McGuire said he was drafting a letter to CSWD this week.


Muller, after the meeting, appeared dismayed that Vermont, an environmentally conscious state, would have allowed the landfill.

“Everybody uses Williston already as a poster child of what not to do,” she said. “And now this.”

Many residents were incredulous that the Selectboard in 1992 would have approved the landfill, and wondered why members didn’t see it as a health and environmental hazard.

Several members of town boards at the time said the town benefited by signing the agreement. Prior to 1992, the town was operating its own landfill, which, unlike modern landfills, had no lining. After the agreement was signed, the CSWD capped the old landfill and created a new, lined one, which was operated for several years. George Gerecke served on the Planning Commission in 1992. He said that town voters approved the agreement so CSWD would create a new, safer landfill, and assume liability for the old landfill.

“That was more influential than any money,” Gerecke said.

Herb Goodrich, who was on the Selectboard in 1992, said he still thinks the landfill is a good idea for Williston.

“I think the town is better off with it here,” Goodrich said. “Once it’s done, the rates CSWD has to pay Williston will double because they don’t have to truck it out.”

Goodrich noted, however, that he empathizes with homeowners near the proposed site, many of whom say they had no idea about the proposed landfill.

“The real estate person should have been honest enough to say ‘maybe there’ll be a landfill site there some day,’” he said.

In a letter to the town planning commission dated Nov. 30, 1995, the CSWD recommended that the town make approval of the Ledgewood development contingent upon notifying potential homebuyers of the district’s plans for a landfill.

“While the District has no position concerning the appropriateness of XYZ’s proposed subdivision, it does feel strongly that any potential homebuyers of residential lots or homes in the area be made fully aware of the District’s activities, both current and future,” the letter says. XYZ Real Estate is the company that originally proposed the Ledgewood subdivision.

Another letter dated Oct. 15, 1996, was sent to the District 4 Environmental Commission, which decides Act 250 permits for Williston. That letter is similar to the Ledgewood letter, and urges the commission to impose a condition on the permit, which would notify homebuyers about the landfill site.


Mike Coates was appointed by the Selectboard to represent Williston on the CSWD board about six years ago. Coates was present at Monday’s meeting, and said he was not able to talk about the final plans for the landfill, because they don’t exist yet.

“It’s a work in progress,” Coates said in a phone interview.

He said the CSWD was planning a series of public meetings to inform Williston residents about the CSWD’s plans.

Coates said that one of the misconceptions people have is that there will be a 66-acre open trash pit in the town. He said that would not happen.

“What we’re talking about is a cell system with five-acre cells, and only one acre opened at a time,” he said.

He said the construction would be bowl-like and every night the trash dumped that day would be covered with dirt.

Coates also said he thought the landfill was a good idea. He cited a study done by CSWD which discussed the impact of trucks hauling Chittenden County’s garbage to the current landfill sites in Moretown and Coventry. He said the transportation costs $850,000 and burns 12,000 gallons of fuel per year.

“That all goes away when we have a landfill (in Williston),” he said.

Paul Gillies’ letter is available online at http://town.williston.vt.us/mgr/gillies.pdf

Staff reporter Marianne Apfelbaum contributed to this report.

[Read more…]

Racing for the rush

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Racecar driver Brian Hoar likens a speedway to Shelburne Road. When it’s glare ice. Before the salt trucks come through.

“Everyone is still going 50 miles per hour and … you are doing everything you can do to keep from crashing, but go the maximum speed and beat the guy going down Shelburne Road,” Hoar said.

The 34-year-old Williston resident should know what he’s talking about; he’s been racing for 16 years. This weekend, he and other members of the Goss Dodge racing team are going to Irwindale, Calif., for the Toyota All-Star Showdown – a “for fun” race with a purse of $200,000. Average speeds for that half-mile track are roughly 90 to 100 miles per hour, Hoar said.

While driving at those speeds, he said he’s mostly thinking “don’t crash, don’t crash, don’t crash.”

But crashing is part of the sport, he said; safety improvements of cars and tracks allow drivers to walk out of even the highest speed crashes unscathed.

“Racing is a crazy sport; anything can happen,” Hoar said. “Certainly people have been killed racing over the years. Percentage wise, knock on wood, it’s a very safe sport.”

He said his wife of eight years, Sandy, doesn’t typically fear for his life, though they talk about safety. They have two girls, ages four and six, and a 19-year-old stepson. Part of Sandy’s comfort may come from her knowledge of the sport; she, too, grew up in a racing family.

While other racecar drivers make their living at the sport, Hoar races part-time. By day he is the South Burlington Goss Dodge dealership general manager, the family business.

Hoar’s early memories of racing are sitting in the Catamount Stadium in Milton as a kid, rooting for Bobby Dragon. His dad raced for a few years. Motorcycles, four-wheelers, snowmobiles and other motorized “toys” were always part of Hoar’s life growing up; a racecar was the next natural thing, he said.

It is the adrenaline to which he is addicted, he said. And the competition.

“Driving is a lot more mental than it is physical,” Hoar said, though he notes that the strain on the cardiovascular system due to stress is enormous. “You’re trying to outsmart your competitors.”

He gives as an example, a young, inexperienced driver in Hoar’s racing division that he said is “trying to prove something to the world” and doesn’t mind “driving through me to get there.”

He needs to handle him differently than this year’s division first-place finisher Mike Olsen, he said.

“He won’t try to do anything risky…and every now and then you can take advantage of that.”

Hoar racked up successes early in his career. At 21, he became the youngest champion in the history of the American Canadian Late Model Tour, according to his statistics sheet. As of 2006, Hoar held the record (26) for the most American Canadian Tour victories. He won the Milk Bowl at Thunder Road (in Barre, Vt.) in 1998 and 1999 – wins of which Hoar seems particularly proud as he points to the trophies on the wall of the race shop. Racing at Thunder Road now, Hoar said, is like “coming home.”

This year Hoar placed fourth in the Busch East Series of NASCAR’s Grand National Division, a “minor league” proving ground for higher levels of competition, the top of which is the NASCAR Nextel Cup.

A lot of time is required for Hoar’s hobby – both for him and the volunteers and two full-time employees on the team. They race about 15 weekends a year. Then there are countless hours of car repair and maintenance and car testing days.

“The performance of the car is one of the most important factors in being successful,” Hoar said.

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Local schools outperform Vt. average on state tests

Scores vary by poverty, disability

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Local public school students outperformed their average Vermont peers on statewide tests, according to results released by the Vermont Department of Education last week.

“Community members can feel good about the results because they’re consistently higher than the state average across the board,” said Jude Newman, curriculum coordinator for the Chittenden South Supervisory Union.

Champlain Valley Union High School tenth graders scored between 10 and 19 percentage points higher than the statewide average in a range of math and reading categories. For example, 64 percent of CVU students met or exceeded the state standard for reading analysis and interpretation, compared with an average of 51 percent of Vermont tenth graders.

In early reading, the only skill on which second graders are tested, 88 percent of Williston public school second graders met or exceeded the state standard compared with 85 percent statewide average.

Students took the tests during the last academic year.

CVU tenth graders scored better on writing effectiveness and math skills than the previous year. They fared worse, however, in math problem solving. Williston second graders saw their reading scores drop slightly over the previous year.

Newman said the tests are a snapshot that helps educators understand how well the curriculum delivers the skills and information students are expected to master. Slight changes in scores from one year to the next may be attributable to cohort differences, meaning that one group of students took the test one year and a different group the year following, Newman said.

Gender differences in performance persist at the local and statewide level: girls outperform boys in all areas of reading and writing, and girls are slightly behind boys in math. It is socioeconomic background and disability status, however, which account for greater differences.

Students at CVU receiving free- or reduced-cost meals – a signifier of a lower socioeconomic background – scored substantially behind peers who do not receive subsidized meals. In basic reading understanding, for example, 48 percent of poorer students met or exceeded the state standard whereas 73 percent of their more financially secure peers did. In math problem solving, only 21 percent of poorer students met or exceeded the standard compared with 61 percent of their peers.

“Often kids with a low socioeconomic status come to school with a different skill set than those from middle income or higher socioeconomic status,” Newman said. Identifying students with those different skills early on – in preschool or kindergarten programs – is key in evening out differences between the two groups, Newman said. In kindergarten through eighth grade, teachers can look to individual student scores as indicators for those needing additional services.

“As kids get older, an effective strategy is understanding the individual learner,” Newman said. The high school’s ninth grade core classes program and their system of advisors, for example, help CVU educators know better how individual students learn, Newman said.

This is the last year the New Standards Reference Exam will be used in Vermont high schools to meet requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Next year, juniors will take the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) to assess if students are meeting government education standards. Third through eighth graders took NECAP exams this month.

As part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the state is required to publish reports of subgroups by race, socioeconomic status, disability, migrant status, and students for whom English is a second language. However, a subgroup score may be publicly reported only if the group comprises 10 or more students. There was no socioeconomic subgroup report on the state tests at the elementary level.

Though students with disabilities scored worse than their peers without identified disabilities, CVU students with disabilities did better than the state average in reading and writing, and two to three times better than state averages in math. Newman points to the supervisory union’s holistic approach to students pre-kindergarten through grade 12 as one explanation. The high level of teacher qualification in the supervisory union is likely another reason, she said

[Read more…]

Woodworking business rooted in nature

Partners transform old barns into new furniture

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Some see Vermont’s many falling-down barns and buildings as eyesores or safety hazards. Raphael Groten sees raw material for his craft.

Groten is the owner of Barnoire Furniture & Cabinetry, a Williston business that uses wood from old barns and other dilapidated structures to produce new tables, hutches and cabinets.

Groten recently restarted the business after a yearlong hiatus. He and his business partner, Scott Lamer, feel Vermont is the perfect place for an environmentally- friendly business that trades on tradition.

“Part of this work for me is a model for how we can live on the earth,” Groten says. “We don’t just have to go to the lumberyard and buy new wood that’s been cut down. We have all this old wood.”

Indeed, Barnoire is perhaps the ultimate recycling and preservation business. The wood comes from buildings that are at least 100 years old. Those buildings were often constructed using trees from old-growth forests, Groten notes, adding hundreds more years to the wood’s age.

That’s not to say that demolished buildings produce ready-to-use lumber.

“You have to understand when we look at this wood … it’s this pile of lumber covered in dirt and cobwebs and pigeon crap,” Lamer says. “And then you clean it off and you sand it down and all these amazing patinas come out.”

Groten uses wood from barns and other old buildings for his furniture, but he doesn’t tear the barns down himself. He buys much of his wood from a supplier in Charlotte.

He selects the best wood for the most visible parts of the furniture, using the less aesthetically pleasing pieces for structural components. He calls the choicest wood “character pieces,” which may be a board marked by a lumber mill’s saw or a beam scraped by a bear’s claw.

He tries to preserve the wood’s original character by applying a light touch, using only saws and sanders. Form follows function, with wood selected based on what best fits the piece being built. A barn door, for instance, makes an ideal table top.

Prices range from as little as $45 for a picture frame to $3,500 for a stained glass hutch. The idea, Groten says, is to offer reasonable prices while recognizing that the products are hand-crafted art.

Many of the pieces incorporate animals. The backrest on a bench in Groten’s yard, for example, is shaped like a bear.

“When I use animals in my work, a lot of it is working with them as totems in the Native American way …,” he says. “There’s a spiritual connection with animals that I have.”

He also feels a spiritual connection to the wood itself. “The truth is the wood speaks to me, too,” Groten says. “I’ll be pulling an old, rusty nail that’s been there for 200 years, and the wood just goes ‘ah, thank you.’”

Barnoire is apparently the only business in the state using old wood to produce custom-made furniture, according to Kathleen Wanner of the Vermont Wood Manufacturers Association. But she says the state has many, many small businesses working with wood.

“I would venture to say there isn’t a small town in Vermont that doesn’t have some small producers or small shops,” she says.

More than 18,000 people are directly or indirectly employed producing wood products in Vermont, according to a 2000 report by Williston economist Jeff Carr.

Groten, 32, is married and has two young children. He grew up in the Poughkeepsie, N.Y. area.

There was a woodworking shop in his house, and Groten learned the craft from his father and both his grandfathers. “So I was always woodworking growing up, working with tools, working with my hands,” he says.

Groten came to Vermont in 1992, attending the University of Vermont and studying music and philosophy. After graduating, he worked in a record store and as a musician. He has recorded a CD with Guagua, a local jazz band.

Groten also worked as a house framer, but concluded that finish carpentry was more to his liking. In 2001, a Burlington woman asked him to build an armoire using wood from a barn on her property. Barnoire was born.

Groten built a word-of-mouth business, but a lack of financial resources kept production limited. Last year, his wife, Courtney, was accepted into the Rhode Island School of Design, so the family moved and Groten put the business on hold.

Lamer, 27, grew up near Portland, Me. He attended Skidmore College, majoring in anthropology. After that, he lived in Italy and Alaska before moving to Vermont about three years ago.

Lamer says he had always wanted to be a carpenter. A few years ago he saw a feature about Barnoire on WCAX-TV. Lamer called Groten and ended up working for him as an apprentice for the summer.

The men were reunited this year in a bit of synchronicity. Lamer was enrolled in the School for International Training in Brattleboro. One assignment involved writing a feasibility study for a new business.
Lamer tracked down Groten and asked if he could make Barnoire the study’s subject. As it turned out, Groten had recently dusted off his own business plan and planned to return to Vermont.

For now, the men work out of Groten’s house off Vermont 2A, near the Williston-St. George line. The home showcases Groten’s creations, with custom-made furniture and cabinets throughout. The workshop – actually a garage – is filled with old wood, which spills out into the driveway.

But Groten and Lamer are trying to move beyond word-of-mouth advertising by actively marketing their business. Barnoire products are on display at Floral Gallery in Maple Tree Place in Williston. Last weekend the men exhibited work at the Green Festival in Washington D.C., which bills itself as the world’s largest environmental exhibition.

“Our vision – in a few years, maybe sooner – is to find an old barn and fix it up and use it for retail or studio space,” Lamer says. “We always have our eye out for old barns.”

Barnoire is located at 245 Lincoln Road in Williston. The business can be reached by calling (888) 660-BARN or by visiting www.barnoire.com

[Read more…]