November 26, 2015

WINGers give Williston five key areas for future focus (April 17, 2008)

WING Discusion


Observer photo by Pogo Senior

Participants at WING engage in discussion as ideas and concerns for Williston's future are grouped into several major categories.

April 17, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Does Williston need a community center? Better bike paths? A reduction of its carbon footprint? More than 100 Williston residents gathered at Williston Central School over the weekend to answer some of these questions and discuss the direction in which they want to take the town.

"This is for the enhancement of the community," Tony Lamb, town moderator and event co-chairman, said on Friday. "More dialogue is a good thing. This kind of thing allows for direct participation in your community and it can be very powerful."

The community event, known as Williston Into the Next Generations (WING), was organized by a local steering committee in November. According to Lamb, the Friday and Saturday forum was created to give all residents an opportunity to speak on important town issues.

WING was a continuation of the Shelburne Farms and the University of Vermont's PLACE, or Place-based Landscape Analysis and Community Education, program, which helps residents connect to their community through geography and history. The program offered a series of classroom and outdoor presentations in Williston in the fall.

Delia Clark, the WING facilitator, said the event had two goals — to strengthen vitality and community support and ensure Williston's sustainability in the future.

She told those who attended this was a chance to identify and clarify a shared vision.

"What kind of community do you want to be today?" she asked. "What kind of community to do you want to be in the future?

Residents sought to answer those questions by breaking into nine small groups Friday evening and Saturday morning to discuss various local issues.

Group members had to reach a consensus on how to move forward on certain initiatives. For instance, citizens interested in getting a community center would have to take their cause to the Planning Commission and Development Review Board, said Lamb.

On Saturday, the smaller groups brought their findings to the entire WING contingent, which eventually decided to focus its attention on five items: community-gathering spaces, environmental initiatives, responsible government models, transportation needs and maintaining Williston's rural character.

Clark, director of the Center of Place-based Learning and Community Engagement, was pleased with the turnout and the accomplishments. She has also led Vision-to-Action forums, which are community discussions similar to WING, all over the United States and Eastern Europe.

"I was struck by how much people were invested in the heart and soul of their town," she said. "It seems like the rest of Vermont has their own need for Williston (in terms of shopping and industry). I think this gave a chance for locals to express their own needs and concerns."

WINGing it

WING kicked off Friday evening with a community potluck supper and preliminary discussions on how the event would work. There were presentations from UVM graduate students on the history of Williston and how it could influence into the future.

Gary Hawley, a resident who sits on the town's conservation board, said he hoped the topics for discussion could be solved in the near future. The event would ask tough questions of Williston's residents, he said.

"How do you keep the rural character of the town, but allow for continued growth? Questions like that," he said. "There's quite a bit of structure to (WING), although I'm not sure what's going to come out of it."

Lamb said there was discussion within his groups that Williston is made up of several unique and diverse parts and the town is the sum of all.

"There's always a lot of talk of keeping the village the center of this town's activity," he said. "It's really the symbol of the Williston experience."

Lamb said ideas were put forth to reach out more to residents in the parts of town that are sometimes forgotten, such as the large section of town south of Interstate 89.

"It's important to link all areas of Williston, in terms of transportation, and culturally and geographically as well," he said. "We hope to recognize different parts of town and to not homogenize them, but to celebrate them."

Moving forward

Judy Sassorossi, a Williston Selectboard member and WING co-chairwoman, said she was very pleased with the event.

"It was a wonderful, free flow of thought," she said. "Weaving that social fabric was nice."

Clark said she hopes to see residents work at the initiatives they talked about. She said some residents have already decided how they will proceed, either by presenting to various town boards or forming new citizen groups. Much of what was discussed will be written up and released to the public shortly, she said. The WING organizers also plan to have future follow-up meetings.

"I hope they have come up with some collective dreams that could become a reality," Clark said.

Clark said through current politics and the growing force of globalization, making a difference at the local level is more important now than ever.

"Pretty soon we're going to be hearing about the red state-blue state debate all over again," she said. "We're a deeply divided country right now. At the local level, you don't have the luxury of being divided. You have to transcend the divisive politics."


[Read more…]

Former CVU players help Vermont sweep New Hampshire

July 17, 2008
By Mal Boright
Observer correspondent

It has not happened often in recent years, but Vermont teams of graduated seniors swept New Hampshire on Saturday in the Merchants Bank-Rotary Twin State Basketball Classic at the University of Vermont’s Roy L. Patrick Gymnasium.
Former Champlain Valley Union High School center Greg Gause scored seven points and led his team with six rebounds as the Vermont boys whipped their Granite State counterparts, 75-66.

It was the Vermont boys’ first victory since 2004. New Hampshire still owns an 18-10 advantage in the series.
Alison Wettstein and Katie Edgerton were key players in the Vermont girls’ 65-58 triumph, only their second victory in the last 11 meetings.

Wettstein chalked up eight points, and hit one of two tries from beyond the three-point arc.
Edgerton hit a single point and chalked up three of the smart-passing Vermont team’s 17 assists.


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State sides with school administration on hours of instruction

Parent group asks officials to release detailed audit info

July 17, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff


The Vermont Department of Education released a report Tuesday reinforcing the Williston School District's internal audit that calculated the hours of instruction students receive in science and social studies.

In a letter addressed to the parent group Williston Schools Re-Configuration Campaign for Change and copied to Chittenden South Supervisory Union Superintendent Elaine Pinckney, DOE Acting Commissioner Bill Talbott wrote, “Based on all of the information that the Vermont Department of Education has within its possession, and based upon the above investigative steps, I do not find a basis, at this time, to conclude that the Williston School District is materially out of compliance with the School Quality Standards … and the State Board of Education Rules and Practices.”

The DOE issued the letter in response to a complaint, lodged last month, against the school district by Campaign for Change. The group asked the state to look at four areas: the hours of instruction in science and social studies in the upper houses, the hours of instruction in all subjects in the lower houses, whether or not teachers in the district are instructing subjects they've been licensed for, and if Williston students are receiving an equal and adequate education as detailed in Act 60.

A state law, Act 60 is the Equal Educational Opportunity Act, part of which requires schools to comply with School Quality Standards. The DOE monitors compliance.

The news is a victory of sorts for the administration, which has said the district uses integrated learning to help meet or exceed the state mandated 120 hours per year in each core subject — English, math, science and social studies. Campaign for Change has argued the hours of instruction for science and social studies, which meet half the year in most upper houses, is not meeting state requirements.

“We kind of expected it,” Nardelli said of the DOE's findings. “I don't know if that report is going to satisfy everybody, and I think there are still some questions that will come up with the Frameworks Committee.”

The Conceptual Frameworks Committee is a recently formed group of administrators, parents, teachers and students that will develop a plan for the future of the school district.

Ann Smith, a member of Campaign for Change, said she was disappointed by the DOE's findings, stating she had hoped the department would have done more investigating.

“They didn't do their own audit,” Smith said. “They just took (the administration's) word for it.”

Jeff Smith, Ann's husband and another member of Campaign for Change, hopes to explore an appeal process with the state.

“We're not going to let this go,” he said. “Ethically, I just can't. Our kids are being left behind.”

Fighting for information

Last week, Campaign for Change invoked Vermont's Open Records Law asking the administration to provide a more detailed audit report on hours of instruction in science and social studies, as well as in English and math. Also requested were reports on gender equality per house per grade.

The administration released a report on science and social studies in the upper houses on Friday, but the parent group is still awaiting word on the rest of its request. According to the Open Records Law, the administration has two days from the date of the request to release the information.

Jeff Smith believes there's “no way” the school is meeting grade level expectations in science and social studies. According to Smith, his son, a student in Phoenix House last year, did not receive the 108 hours of direct instruction in science the administration said he did. Based on his son's schedule, Smith figures only 80 hours were taught.

“To put it bluntly, I'm not very happy,” Smith said. “I just don't trust anyone associated with that school anymore.”

Sarah Hibbeler, a parent and member of Campaign for Change, believes the difference in hours of direct instruction and integration for each house will bolster the opinions of parents who believe there is inequality between teams.

“Would you rather be in the house in the very low end of this range?” Hibbeler asked hypothetically.

Nardelli believes the houses are fair and equitable, even with the different hours of instruction. He said each house tailors its teaching to student strengths, and to have the same standards for all could be a large mistake.

“We can't box kids in,” Nardelli said. “It would lead to a tremendous failure.”

Kevin Mara, another member of the parent group, is becoming impatient with the administration for not releasing the rest of the requested information, especially the information on gender equality.

“I'm kind of at a loss,” Mara said. “I'm trying to stay communicative and objective, but it feels like road blocking.”

Nardelli said the administration is checking to see if it can release the gender information requested. He said there's no report per house compiled for gender equality. He said he believes there may be lines the school can't cross in releasing information, since it could compromise the identity of students.

Mara, a community member of the Frameworks Committee, looks forward to having discussions within the group.

Hibbeler is also waiting to see where the committee takes the conversation.

“Frameworks is where everything is sitting right now,” she said.

[Read more…]

Right to the point

July 17, 2008
By Mike Benevento

We decide the Axis of Evil’s fate in November


In his 2002 State of the Union Address, President Bush singled out Iraq, Iran and North Korea as sponsors of terrorism and seekers of weapons of mass destruction. Coming a little more than four months following Sept. 11, the speech justified the three as potential adversaries in the War on Terror. More than six years later, the upcoming presidential election will help influence the fate of those three nations and the prospect of peace throughout the world.

In his address, Bush observed, “States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.”

At the time of Bush's address, Iraq was America's biggest threat. Since then, many claim that Bush lied about Iraq's WMDs as a pretext to invade Iraq.

How quickly (or politically conveniently) they forget. Iraq has been using WMDs since the 1980s. Saddam used chemical weapons during his country's war against Iran and against Iraqi Kurds — with horrific results.

In December 1998, President Clinton launched air attacks against Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. He justified attacking Iraq by declaring, “Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons.”

In 2003, President Bush, the United States and its allies backed up Clinton's declaration, invading Iraq and toppling Hussein's evil regime. Although restoring order has not been quick or easy, Iraq has a budding democracy, the country is being rebuilt and the surge has reduced the violence.

While political debate rages on about the next steps, the past year's successes yield hope for a democratic, independent Iraq. However, victory or defeat lays in the hands of the next president — with Republican candidate John McCain pushing to stay the course and Democratic candidate Barack Obama calling for rapid withdrawal.

Concerning Iran, in his speech Bush warned, “Iran aggressively pursues these weapons (of mass destruction) and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom.”

Because Iran under the Shah was a longtime American ally, its people do not harbor hostility towards America. In contrast, the leadership, led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, believes differently. Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be wiped off the map and for America's destruction.

Defying the United Nations Security Council, Iran pushes hard to become a nuclear state. The country is the world's leading supporter of state-sponsored terrorism. Since America supports Israel's right to exist, many believe that before President Bush leaves office, the United States, Israel, or both will attack Iran's nuclear facilities.

Once again, Americans divide mainly along party lines as to how to deal with Iran's emerging threat. While conservatives like McCain want to eliminate Iran's nuclear and terrorist programs, Obama and other liberals aim to talk with Iranian leaders to gain their cooperation.

Looking across the globe, during his 2002 speech Bush noted, “North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.” It has been a major player in state-sponsored terrorism and nuclear weapons proliferation. Indeed, in 2006, it defied the United Nations by testing nuclear munitions after stern warnings to the contrary.

The United States and four other nations have negotiated during the past four years with North Korea to eliminate these programs. Unlike Iran and Iraq, it appears that the Communist regime is responding positively to diplomatic carrots and sticks.

Within the past several weeks, North Korea gave China an account of its nuclear activities. According to USA Today, it agreed to disable its biggest nuclear facility in return for fuel oil and economic aid. The country also agreed to inspections of its nuclear facilities. In response, President Bush announced that he would lift U.S. trade sanctions and remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Since Bush's Axis of Evil speech, the War on Terror's results have been mixed. The upcoming presidential election will very much influence the war's outcome. Either the Democrats capture the presidency and return to a more isolationist America, or the Republicans remain in the White House and continue to defend America's interests throughout the world.

Come November, the choice is ours.

Michael Benevento is a former Air Force fighter jet weapon systems officer. He has a bachelor's degree in Military History and a master's in International Relations. Mike resides in Williston with his wife Kristine and their two sons, Matthew and Calvin.

[Read more…]

Liberally speaking

July 17, 2008
By Steve Mount

Breaking up the Axis of Evil


Technically, the United States is not now, nor has it been since 1945, at war. The Constitution is very specific on the point — for a legal state of war to exist, war must be declared by Congress. No such declaration was made for Korea, nor Vietnam, nor Iraq, nor Afghanistan, nor Iraq the second time around.

But in 2002, just a few months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush created a new kind of declaration, a declaration that we still live with every day. This declaration was that some nations, and three in particular, were an Axis of Evil.

In his declaration, Bush put these nations and the world on notice: “America will do what is necessary to ensure our nation's security.”

Those three nations, of course, were North Korea, Iraq and Iran.

These nations all seemed to derive perverse pleasure out of goading the United States and the world.

Iraq's Saddam Hussein infamously ordered the use of poison gas against his own people in the 1980s and used “human shields” in 1990. He was dispatched by the most direct of means.

After being told that Hussein had and was ready to use all manner of weapons of mass destruction — chemical, biological, nuclear — he was deemed a threat that had to be dealt with harshly.

His nation invaded and overwhelmed by American and British troops, Hussein fled and hid. He was captured by U.S. troops, and was then tried, convicted and hanged by Iraqi courts.

In North Korea, “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il is a megalomaniac dictator who sees nuclear weapons and missile development as more pressing needs than the care and feeding of his people.

Here, Kim has had a better fate than Hussein. Much of this likely has to do with the fact that he actually has nuclear weapons — something Hussein could only dream about. Though his tests seemed to fizzle, they were nukes nonetheless, and the United States and four other interested nations have been negotiating with Kim's acolytes for years.

With the symbolic implosion of a cooling tower at North Korea's nuclear fuel processing facility, a potential crisis seems to have been avoided.

The third leg of the Axis is Iran, with which the United States has had poor relations for nearly 30 years. The big question is, what to do with Iran?

Iran has cycled through a procession of leaders, both political and religious, over the last 30 years, and so it is hard to point a finger at a single individual to rally public opinion. Iran, though, seems intent on drawing that attention to itself.

Whether it is direct threats to shipping in the Persian Gulf or the Straits of Hormuz, issuance of threats against the United States and Israel (including banners declaring “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” in military parades), or the recent test-firing of missiles capable of reaching Israel (going so far as to use PhotoShop to make it look like more missiles were fired than actually were), Iran's saber rattling seems designed to provoke a response.

Though the Bush administration correctly says that a military option is always on the table, my sincere hope is that we take the tack that we took with North Korea.

Unfortunately, preventing a conflict is not going to be easy. Iran is deliberately making Israel feel like it is backed into a corner. Iran's unfortunate and irrational animosity toward Israel could be its undoing, and the undoing of any chance for peace in the region.

Equally unfortunate, diplomacy is not seen as one the Bush administration's strong points.

On this one, though, we can't wait for an Obama administration. This is something Bush will have to deal with in his waning time.

If Iraq was the only example we had, I would not be confident that Bush could fix this one without force. But with the example of North Korea added to the picture, I think we have at least even odds of averting crisis.

Our troops, and civilian populations in Israel and Iran, would not be able to tell the difference between a declared war and an undeclared war. The result in either case is invariably death and destruction. For this last leg of the Axis of Evil, hopefully diplomacy will be the weapon of choice.

Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at or read his blog at

[Read more…]

Recipe corner

July 17, 2008
By Ginger Isham

Cool, quick and delicious desserts

A few hot, humid days like we have had recently can dampen one's spirit for cooking. I am resorting to something that goes against my beliefs — instant mixes! The heat can make you feel like treating yourself to a fancy dessert. It's OK once in a while, as mother would say, as long as “it doesn't become a habit.”

Pineapple cream pie

1 graham cracker piecrust

1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple in own juice, drained

1 box of instant lemon pudding (3.4 ounces)

1 8-ounce carton of frozen whipped topping, thawed

Mix pineapple and pudding in a bowl until mixture thickens. Fold in whipped topping. Pour into graham cracker piecrust. Refrigerate for several hours. Serve slices of pie with a whipped cream flower and top with several fresh blueberries or fresh sliced strawberries.

Blueberry pudding

4 cups blueberries

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

8 slices of white bread with crusts removed, spread with soft butter

Bring berries, sugar and water to a boil in saucepan over medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Put two slices of bread, with buttered side down, in a 9-by-4.5-inch loaf pan and cover with some of the hot berries. Continue to layer, ending with fruit on top. Let cool. Chill in refrigerator. Take out of mold on a platter and slice.

Serve with ice cream or whipped cream and berries (optional).

Angel puff

(Do not make/bake on a humid day)

8 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon vinegar

1 quart fresh strawberries

1 pint of whipping cream, whipped

Beat egg whites until frothy, add cream of tarter and beat until almost dry. Slowly add 1 cup sugar, vanilla and vinegar and continue beating. Slowly add rest of sugar and blend and mix until egg whites are stiff. Pour into a greased 8-inch spring form pan and bake in 250-degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool and remove sides of pan and top with strawberries and whipped cream. Elegant enough for a queen.

Ginger Isham was the co-owner of Maple Grove Farm Bed & Breakfast in Williston, a fifth generation family farm on Oak Hill Road where she still lives. She cooked for guests for more than a decade.

More Community Forum Articles

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Letters to the Editor

Calling Farm Festival volunteers

For the last 14 years, Adams Apple Orchard and Farm Market has hosted one of the biggest annual family activities in Williston. Our Fall Harvest Festival is designed to be a not-for-profit event to compliment our apple harvest. The weekend includes a petting zoo, marionette shows, cider-making demonstrations, hay wagon rides (used by Williston Central School as a fundraiser), pony rides, Bouncy Cow, crafters, food vendors and more. Approximately 5,000 visitors a year enjoy the fun for a few hours or a full day at our two locations. Entrance to the festival is free, as are most of the activities, with a few exceptions.

The expenses for this event reached more than $8,000 last year. This has been partly offset over the years by supportive area businesses and individuals. Although many of our past sponsors continue to help, we will need additional support this year due to the rising cost of the event. Help in the form of volunteers would be greatly appreciated. Should you, your business or organization wish to help in any way, please stop by our Farm Market on Old Stage Road for information.
Our family looks forward to continuing the Fall Festival tradition for the enjoyment of the community for years to come. With your help we will be able to do that.

The Adams Family

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Model horses gallop into the valley this weekend

At Guy's Farm and Yard Monday afternoon, Jill Floyd meticulously set up one of her model horses for display. She carefully placed the saddle and reins on a tiny Arabian horse she's nicknamed Sir Dappy. As a final touch, she set a miniature rider on the horse's back in the sidesaddle position. It's a routine she's honed after years of working with her hundreds of model horses.

"I have what people might call a black hole or bottomless pit collection," she said with a laugh. "(The models) come in, but they never really come out."

WING Discusion
Observer Photo by Tim Simmard

Jill Floyd's model horse, Sir Dappy, is on display at Guy's Farm and Yard in Williston. There will be a model horse show on Sunday as part of the Everything Equine and Horse festival at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction.

Collecting model horses is a passion Floyd discovered as a teenager and has pursued for more than 20 years. She's accumulated more than 700 models, keeping a select few on display in her Colchester apartment.

Floyd enjoys sharing her hobby, and this weekend she'll help run the model horse show at the two-day Everything Equine and Horses event at Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction. Other events include a live horse show, demonstrations and seminars.

The model horse portion of the festival is part of the Breyer Model Horse Tour, sponsored in part by Breyer Animal Creations, a New Jersey-based model company, and Guy's Farm and Yard, a home and garden store with locations in Williston, Morristown and Montpelier. Floyd works part-time at Guy's in addition to her full-time job at Stantec in South Burlington.

Kathleen Fallon, communications director for Breyer, has known Floyd for more than seven years and said her dedication to her hobby made the upcoming show possible. Fallon said Breyer picks different geographic areas every year for the model horse tour, and chose the Champlain Valley as its only Northeast stop this year.

"(Floyd) and her large group of hobby friends are invaluable," Fallon said. "They're always trying to get more kids and adults involved."

Floyd, who has put on smaller model horse shows in the area for more than 13 years, said it will be a chance for the model horse community to get together, and for the public to see what a show is all about.

A lifelong horse-lover

Describing herself as a "horse crazy little girl," Floyd learned to ride while growing up on a horse farm with her parents. After her family moved away from the farm and she couldn't ride as often, she latched on to model horses.

"For me, it's the challenge of finding that rare model," she said. "It's the collector in me. It's a hobby that got me through some rough times as a kid."

Depending on the breed and the model's rarity, most Breyer horses retail for $10 to $40. Special lines cost more and other brands, including the Peter Stone Company, sell comparative models at higher prices, marketing mostly to collectors.

Floyd said the most expensive models she owns retail for $600 to $700. She got them by volunteering at a three-day model horse show in Kentucky several years ago.

"Breyer has the most popular and affordable horses," she said. "Lots of collectors start with them."

Horsing around

The model horse event at Everything Equine and Horse on Sunday will feature a judging contest. Floyd, who has attended numerous model horse shows on the East Coast, said creating an award-winning model takes much more effort than just removing the horse from the box.

Models are sometimes repainted and have miniature horse tack added for authenticity. Floyd said judges look for realism and creativity, as well as at many of the same qualities analyzed by a judge of real horses.

"Everything I've learned from the real-horse world I've taken over to the model-horse world," she said.

Stephen Mease, communications director for Champlain Valley Exposition (Editor's note: Mease also does freelance photography for the Observer), said past Everything Equine events, which have been going on for five years, have drawn 5,000 to 7,000 people. He expects the model horse show to bring more attendees.

Floyd loves being part of the model horse community and has made lifelong friends.

"The community is growing, which I'm really excited about," she said. "I, for years, thought I was the only one in the state who did this. It turns out I wasn't."

Everything Equine and Horse show takes place Saturday, April 26 from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, April 27 from 8:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m., at Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the gate. A two-day pass is available for $14 and kids under 5 are free with an adult. For an updated shedule and information go online to



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St. George mulls zoning changes

Public forum scheduled for Wednesday

April 1, 2008

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

St. George will hold a public meeting next week on new zoning that steers development toward the center of town and away from hillsides and farmland.

The forum is scheduled for Wednesday, April 23 at 7 p.m. The session, scheduled to last about two hours, will be held at St. George Town Center.

Officials hope the hearing will prompt comments from residents on the proposed changes, which reduce allowable density in much of St. George while increasing density in the middle of town along Vermont 2A.

St. George, with about 750 people and 2,300 acres, has a fraction of the population and land area of most Chittenden County towns. Except a few businesses, a mobile home park and some small subdivisions, it remains largely undeveloped.

"We are probably the only town in Chittenden County that has a clean slate," said Planning Commission member Connie Kendall. "We get to start fresh to a great extent."

The new land-use rules would create seven zoning districts. Roughly half the town would be in either the rural district, which allows one unit per 10 acres, or the limited development district, which permits only one unit for every 25 acres. The current zoning has five districts, with the most restrictive one allowing one unit for every 10 acres.

Kendall noted that topography plays a significant role in the zoning. She said low-density districts are dominated by hills and ridges, including Mount Pritchard.

The new zoning eliminates the recreation district while creating others. The new village center and village residential districts permit denser development than what is allowed in that area — a sliver of land straddling Vermont 2A near the municipal offices — under the current zoning.

In the village center district, as many as 20 units would be allowed per acre. The highest density now allowed in any district is about three units per acre.

Spurred on by development

With two new subdivisions now undergoing the development review process and more projects potentially on the way, updated land-use rules are urgently needed, said Planning Commission Chairman Scott Baker.

"We are expecting pretty heavy pressure to develop farmland," he said. "The wave has come."

The proposed subdivisions, nine units each, are located on property that comprises roughly a quarter of the developable land in town, Baker said.

Dan Pillsbury has proposed one of the two subdivisions. He owns 160 acres of land in St. George. He closed his dairy farm operation in 2006 and now hopes to develop some of the land.

Pillsbury, who is also on the town's Planning Commission, said he generally likes the proposed zoning. But he wonders how he and other large landowners will be compensated for new restrictions on their property.

A portion of his land would under the new rules be restricted to one unit per 25 acres. Some of the land lies along a hilltop with views of Lake Champlain, Pillsbury said, making it an attractive site for homes.

Baker said the town is looking at ways to offset the impact stricter zoning would have on some landowners. The town could award density bonuses for those who cluster development on just a portion of their property, Baker said. Or it could allow the transfer of development rights from one property owner to another.

In any case, he added, the new zoning would not affect the proposed subdivisions, which would be grandfathered under the current rules.

In writing new land-use rules, St. George is combining its subdivision and zoning regulations into one unified document. A new town plan was passed about two years ago.

The subdivision rules were written in 1980 and zoning was established in the '80s, so there are conflicts between the town plan's broad goals and the outdated land-use rules, Baker said. The idea is to dovetail zoning with the town plan.

Kendall said the Planning Commission hopes residents will also provide guidance on issues related to allowable uses in each of the zoning districts. Still being considered is whether to permit large retail stores, automobile dealers and industrial facilities.

Kendall acknowledged that the zoning changes may provoke pointed commentary. She said she welcomes the input.

"Folks may come in with strong opinions about the density of their property," she said. "I'm really looking forward to that discussion."

[Read more…]

Firefighters, police in contract talks

Officials mum on negotiation details

April 10, 2008

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Williston public safety employees are negotiating contracts that will set pay and benefits for the town's only unionized workers.

Talks began Monday on a revised agreement with the town's police officers. The current contract, which expires July 1, covers 13 full-time officers and two dispatchers. They are represented by Teamsters Local 597.

Negotiations with Williston's four full-time firefighters started about two months ago, said Town Manager Rick McGuire.

The firefighters, hired in 2006 to supplement a contingent of volunteer on-call firefighters and rescue workers, are negotiating their first contract. They voted in November to join the International Association of Fire Fighters.

McGuire and union representatives declined to provide specifics on the negotiations. Each side cited ground rules that forbid public comment unless talks reach an impasse.

"I really can't say anything," said Capt. Tim Gerry of the Williston Fire Department. After several negotiating sessions, Gerry said he is pleased with progress so far.

McGuire said because the firefighters' contract involves starting from scratch, the process is more difficult and time-consuming.

"There's lots and lots of issues to talk about because we're starting a whole new agreement," he said.

Gerry said talks haven't even touched on wages and benefits yet because both sides are still trying to hammer out work rules and responsibilities.

The full-time firefighters — Gerry, Keith Baker, Ryan Prouty and Sean Soper — are currently paid from $17.72 to $21.04 an hour.

If history is any guide, talks with the police union could be contentious. In 2005, negotiations reached an impasse after just a month.

Police claimed they were among the lowest-paid officers in Chittenden County and considered picketing. A mediator and a fact finder were employed to break the stalemate. A new agreement was finally struck in December 2005.

Contract talks in prior years were also contentious. And there have been other tensions, including grievances that officers claimed amounted to a pattern of harassment in 2004.

Detective Sgt. Bart Chamberlain declined to comment on what pay and benefits officers are seeking in the negotiations. He was cautiously optimistic about the prospect of reaching an agreement before the current contract expires.

"We're hopeful everything will go well," he said.

The pay scale for police ranges from $18.04 an hour to $27.64 an hour, depending on years of service and rank. Dispatchers' pay is between $16.22 and $21.40 an hour.

Duane Messier, who as business manager for Teamsters Local 597 will help negotiate the police contract, said the first order of business is to find items in the existing contract that will remain unchanged.

Although he would not talk specifics, Messier said the general goal is to ensure Williston officers' pay and benefits stack up to compensation received by officers in other Chittenden County towns.

McGuire said he will try to look out for taxpayers' pocketbooks and still be fair to employees.

"Anytime you negotiate a contract there's an effort to balance interests," he said. "You want to keep costs down. But you also want to make sure pay and benefits are competitive or you end up with problems with the organization. Either you have higher turnover or lower morale. And that has a cost to the organization, too."

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