July 21, 2019

Selectboard nixes 24-hour business ban

Future firefighters intern in Williston

May 22
By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Amid legal concerns, the Williston Selectboard decided it could not help a local gas station by banning 24-hour businesses.

The operators of Clark's Sunoco had asked for an ordinance limiting hours to sidestep their corporate landlord's mandate to stay open around the clock.

Two attorneys advised the town that the Selectboard could not legally restrict hours of business operation, at least not on its own.

"I don't see the Selectboard having the authority to limit hours," wrote attorney Paul Gillies in an e-mail to Town Manager Rick McGuire.

The Development Review Board could impose limits on hours as a permit condition for a new business, Gillies wrote. And the town, through the "general law of zoning," could limit hours for certain kinds of permitted uses. "But the Selectboard hasn't that jurisdiction," he wrote.

McGuire said he also consulted with Jim Barlow, an attorney with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, who concurred with Gillies.

After learning of the legal advice, the Selectboard, at its meeting Monday night, directed McGuire to write a letter to Liz and Allen Lemieux, the Sunoco station's proprietors, telling them that the Selectboard could not legally pass an ordinance limiting hours.

Liz Lemieux said she had been hopeful the town would help. Lemieux said she needed some time to think about her next move, but she and her husband will likely drop the proposal.

"That's probably pretty much it," Lemieux said. She added that efforts to persuade the station's owner, Massachusetts-based J.A. Sandri, to change the 24-hour requirement in their lease are probably "futile."

Clark's Sunoco, located on Vermont 2A near Interstate 89, has struggled to maintain staffing around the clock while ensuring employees working the graveyard shift maintain their quality of life and stay safe, Lemieux said. The station has been robbed twice in the past two years, both times during the early morning hours.

Even before the legal opinions were in, McGuire recommended the town reject the 24-hour business ban. He and some board members wondered about the practicality of the move in a town with many businesses that operate around the clock.

The couple told the board at an earlier meeting that they were only seeking hour limits on retail businesses. Just one other business in Williston, the Mobil station at Taft Corners, is open to customers around the clock.

McGuire acknowledged that the town could change zoning to limit business hours. But he noted that state statute requires zoning amendments to be initiated by the Planning Commission, which then makes a recommendation to the Selectboard.

Aside from those hurdles, McGuire said existing businesses are usually exempt from zoning changes under grandfather clauses.

The town of Williston has changed much since the Clark's Sunoco opened in 1984, long before the big-box stores moved in. Lemieux wistfully looked back to a time when limits on business hours were common.

"Were blue laws really that terrible?" she said. "But you can't go back."

[Read more…]

Sales tax revenue rebounds

Uptick may forestall property tax hike

May 22 , 2008

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Sales tax revenue rose slightly during the first quarter of 2008, reversing a yearlong decline in a key funding source for Williston.

Receipts from the local option tax totaled $469,295 for the quarter ending March 31. That represents a 4 percent increase over the same quarter in 2007.

The uptick will likely forestall a property tax hike to balance the municipal budget, town officials said. Falling sales tax revenue prompted a 1-cent property tax increase last year.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said the latest sales tax numbers align with revenue estimates, so he probably will not ask the Selectboard to raise property taxes when the new fiscal year starts on July 1. The town in both the current and coming fiscal years has been conservative in estimates of sales tax proceeds.

"We do have some wiggle room in case things head south," McGuire said. "I guess I'll probably recommend we stay with the tax rate I recommended at town meeting."

McGuire said he will look at other sources of revenue before making a final decision on the recommended tax rate.

In 2002, Williston voters approved the 1 percent tax on local sales. It piggybacks on the 6 percent state sales tax.

In the years since, the town has used the sales tax to greatly reduce property taxes. The municipal property tax rate initially dropped by 70 percent.

The sales tax brought in slightly more than $2.5 million in 2007, funding nearly 40 percent of the municipal budget.

Local sales tax revenue increased steadily until last year, when the state enacted new rules that have apparently hurt Williston, among the handful of Vermont towns that levy local option taxes. The changes came as Vermont joined the Streamlined Sales Tax initiative, a multi-state effort to standardize collections and level the playing field between Internet and traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers.

Starting Jan. 1, 2007, purchases made in Williston but shipped elsewhere were no longer subject to the town's local option tax.

Since then, town officials have watched with concern as sales tax revenue dropped precipitously. Same-quarter revenue fell in each quarter of 2007, and the town finished the year with a half-million dollars less than it collected the previous year.

The rebound in same-quarter collections during the first three months of 2008 may be a statistical blip, not a long-term reversal, town and state officials say. They noted problems with reporting by retailers when the new rules took effect last year, perhaps resulting in an artificially low figure for the first quarter of 2007, the point of comparison for the latest numbers.

A recent downturn in the national economy has yet to be reflected in Vermont sales tax revenue — and presumably in Williston's local option tax. Sales tax proceeds statewide increased 5.6 percent during the first three months of 2008 over the same period last year, according to Bill Smith, a statistician with the Vermont Tax Department. He noted those numbers may not be exactly comparable to the local sales tax returns because of differences in reporting and accounting.

Concerns over the economy may actually be helping Williston due to what could be called the Wal-Mart factor. Though the company does not release sales figures for individual stores, the Wal-Mart outlet in Williston is among the town's largest retailers and so likely has an outsized impact on sales tax revenue.

Wal-Mart reported a 4 percent increase in profits during the fourth quarter of 2007. An analyst told the Associated Press that struggling consumers are choosing Wal-Mart over other stores because of its low prices and a "one-stop shopping experience" that cuts down on trips to other stores and saves gasoline.

Regardless of the quarterly numbers, Smith said Williston residents should feel fortunate to have revenue from the local option tax that offsets property taxes.

"Folks need to realize they have a sweetheart deal compared to some of their neighbors in the region," he said.

[Read more…]

Plans revised for recreation park

Fields would go behind Allen Brook School

May 22, 2008

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Plans for the proposed recreation park at Allen Brook School have completely changed since their initial release in February. Williston Recreation Director Kevin Finnegan presented the new design to the Williston School Board at last Wednesday's meeting.

The recreation park would be built on the former Mahan Farm fields and would encompass more than 20 acres. Finnegan told the board Williston needs the outdoor community space to curb overuse at the recreation fields behind Williston Central School.

"This is a much more community-oriented design right now," he said.

According to the plans, there will still be three all-purpose fields, which could be used for sports including soccer and lacrosse. There will be one little league baseball field, one softball field and one Babe Ruth league field. The first designs had three little league fields. The tennis and basketball courts have remained in the updated plans.

The original design for the field house had it closer to the school, but the building is now moved towards the multi-use fields. A playground and picnic area, complete with grills, has also been added to the mix.

"We have been working under a set of priorities that will address the needs of the town over the next 10 years," Finnegan said at the board meeting.

Finnegan said the change in field layout and added infrastructure could drive up the costs of the project, although he said there is no estimate as to what the cost would be. He said he hopes to put the request for a proposal out for contractors to bid on this summer.

The design drew praise from the School Board members and from community members gathered at the meeting.

"I think this is an amazing plan, not just for Allen Brook School, but for the whole community as well," said School Board member Holly Rouelle.

Redesigning the park

Doug Henson of Lamoureux & Dickinson Consulting Engineers helped to draw up the new conceptual plans along with Williston's Recreation Commission. Henson attended the board meeting and talked about some other additions to the park.

Henson said there was potential room for more than 50 extra parking spaces at Allen Brook School, and the possibility of an access road to the playground, with options for more parking and more handicap access. He added there were no defined parking requirements from the town as of yet.

Allen Brook School Principal John Terko said he isn't worried about possible parking issues.

"Most activities happen on the weekends or after school," he said.

The park is also being designed to take into account a possible completion of the long-delayed Circumferential Highway. Finnegan said the only aspect of the park that would be affected by the highway would be the town bike path. He said the path would have to be built as an overpass over the highway, gently sloping its way into the park.

Finnegan said he'd heard concerns from citizens not involved in town or school sports who were hoping for more community-based facilities. Those concerns were addressed with the addition of a picnic pavilion and grills, he said, adding the pavilion could be rented out to family groups and functions.

Finnegan said the money the recreation department has currently available is earmarked for development costs and the first stage of construction, which would be for a soccer field.

As the design process continues forward, construction may not begin for some time, Henson said.

"The shortest frame could have construction beginning in 2010," he said.

Finnegan added the design could still change completely after it goes through the permitting process with the Planning Board and Development Review Board, and receives input from the Selectboard and future construction engineers. The ultimate goal is to meet the needs of Williston, he said.

"If we can get it done as designed, it would be a huge boon for the community," Finnegan said.

[Read more…]

Local teens display graffiti’s good side

May 22, 2008

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

A large canvas leaned against the deck of a house in Williston. The canvas contained a smattering of colors and graphics, slowly morphing itself into a cutting-edge graffiti-style painting as Williston teens Dylan Peters and Jack Martin used a variety of spray paints to shape their creation.

It was a warm, sunny Friday afternoon at Peters' house when the artful duo was spray painting over the initial project. The finished display will be featured at the upcoming TeenFest Vermont at the Champlain Valley Exposition. And while the canvas was just a draft that Friday afternoon, a self-critical Martin didn't seem pleased with the work; Peters, however, seemed optimistic.

"It's OK," Peters said. "It'll get done."

Peters and Martin, both 15-year-old Champlain Valley Union High School freshmen, have been creating graffiti-style art over the past few years and like the freedom it allows.

"It's a really good art form and good way to express yourself," Martin said. "It's not like certain projects in art class where there's a right way and a wrong way."

Peters became interested in graphic art in the seventh grade, helping to start an art club. He credits Becky Layman, a former paraprofessional at Williston Central School, for introducing him to the art form.

Martin, a longtime friend of Peters, became involved as well. Martin said he started on paper, using markers, spray paint and stencils. In fact, more of their graffiti art has focused on smaller mediums — posters, prints and clothing — rather than large, canvas works.

Peters said some of his inspiration comes from Kehinde Wiley, and he was able to view the artist's work while visiting Washington D.C. Wiley, who paints vivid color portraits of hip-hop musicians and culture, is currently displaying his work at the National Portrait Gallery as part of the Recognize exhibit.

Peters and Martin agree that graffiti is becoming mainstream as artists, such as Wiley, gain more recognition. But they also believe the art form is becoming less respected as incidents of illegal artwork pop up in the news.

"I guess it's just that (graffiti art) is getting more attention," Martin said.

As Martin pointed out, most of the attention is negative. Recently, two teens — one from Essex, one from South Burlington — were charged with vandalizing property in South Burlington and Williston after an alleged month-long spree of painting graffiti. Chief Jim Dimmick of the Williston Police Department said he has no problem with graffiti art as long as it's not done on public buildings, or on private buildings without consent.

"It only becomes a concern when it's done on private property," Dimmick said. "(Artists) have to find a place that's mutually agreeable to the owner. Basically, there needs to be better communication."

Dimmick said he understands the majority of graffiti artists aren't vandals and also said there isn't much of a graffiti problem in Williston compared to Burlington and South Burlington.

"Occasionally we get complaints from activity at Maple Tree Place, but that's usually it," he said.

Peters and Martin said they prefer to work on their art on a smaller scale and have no desire to cause trouble by creating large works on public buildings.

Both Peters and Martin have been using stencils and creating new T-shirt designs with markers and spray paint. They have also been designing art on footwear — sometimes doing so for fellow students for $10 to $12 a pair, according to Martin. Most shirts and shoes Peters and Martin have designed usually take between 10 and 20 minutes to create.

"When it's in your head, it's fast," Peters said.

Peters and Martin have high aspirations. They have discussed starting their own "underground" design company, for shoes and clothing, based on their own graphics.

For now, they'll continue to work on their large canvas to be displayed at TeenFest. Both agree it will take some time to work out a design they'll both be pleased with, but they also seem happy at the prospect of creating.

"(Graffiti art) can let you create more and more new stuff all the time," Peters said.

Peters and Martin will display their work and provide live art demonstrations at TeenFest on May 31 and June 1 at Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction. TeenFest is being presented by Williston Publishing and Promotions, parent company of the Williston Observer. Visit www.teenfestvt.com for more info.

[Read more…]

Your way or the highway?

I-89 work to continue all summer

May 22, 2008

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A long line of brake lights cast a red glow on the rain-slicked pavement through Williston Village last Thursday. Westbound vehicles backed up for about a half-mile at the intersection of U.S. 2 and Oak Hill Road.

Repairs on Interstate 89 at French Hill have over the past 10 days clogged the formerly hassle-free commute along U.S. 2 as motorists detoured around the construction zone. The work is scheduled to be completed no later than Memorial Day, according to the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

The respite may be brief as the state gears up for a massive repaving project on I-89. But officials promise to minimize the impact, at least on daytime commuters.

"As soon as work is finished on French Hill, everything we will do will be done at night," said Robert Suckert, resident engineer with the Agency of Transportation.

The repaving includes 13 miles of southbound Interstate 89 running from exit 11 in Richmond to exit 16 in Colchester. Also slated for fresh asphalt is four miles on the southbound side between exits 13 and 16.

Those stretches have in recent years developed cracks and grooves. But first a more immediate and perhaps dangerous problem needed attention.

A deep dip developed on a 500-foot stretch of I-89 in the French Hill area of Williston. Scrape marks indicated that some vehicles were bottoming out, despite signs warning motorists to slow down.

Agency of Transportation spokesman John Zicconi said that work was considered a separate project because it involved reconstruction rather than repaving. The contractor has to dig down to the highway's base to complete repairs.

The clogged commute on U.S. 2 came as motorists tried to avoid the interstate work, which closed a lane and backed up traffic as far as exit 11 in Richmond.

Eastbound traffic on U.S. 2 sometimes backs up at the intersection of Oak Hill and North Williston roads during the afternoon commute. But westbound traffic usually flows smoothly.

After the I-89 work started, many motorists tried U.S. 2, which runs parallel to the highway through Williston. That led to clogged westbound traffic at the four-way stop sign and elsewhere between the village and Taft Corners during the morning commute.

Last Thursday at about 8:30 a.m., it took an Observer reporter 20 minutes to get through the backed-up intersection and drive the two miles to Taft Corners. That drive usually takes about 5 minutes.

State officials said the backups lasted for only about an hour each morning.  

"We found it was of a short duration," said Suckert. "Maybe it was a little bit of pain, but it was for a short amount of time."

An officer directed traffic at the intersection for the first three days of the I-89 repairs, which started May 12. But town officials concluded that human intervention was actually slowing the commute and asked the state to let the four-way stop sign do its job, said Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden. The state also adjusted the traffic light at Talcott Road, another choke point for traffic.

The contractor working on both dip repair and repaving projects, Pike Industries Inc., has yet to determine when and where the repaving work will begin, Zicconi said. The contract requires the project to be completed in October.

Another contract provision requires Pike Industries to do the repaving work at night. The precise work hours may be adjusted, Zicconi said, but will probably run from 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. or 7 a.m.

The ban on daytime paving means the impact on traffic — and the need for motorists to use detours like U.S. 2 — will be minimized, Zicconi said. Lane closures will be limited to the nighttime, and then only on the portion of the highway where work is taking place.

"The issue to stress to people is that peak-hour traffic will not be impacted," Zicconi said.

[Read more…]

Vermont Technical College expands Williston campus

College looks at new housing options

May 15, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Spring classes may have just finished up and the campus might be nearly empty, but for Brent Sargent, dean of the Williston campus of Vermont Technical College, this is the busiest time of year.

"We're accepting students for next year, finishing up the details for this year and we're under construction," Sargent said Monday.

Sargent said the small campus at Blair Park has gone through rapid growth. By the time the fall semester begins in late August, the college's east wing, which faces Route 2A, will undergo drastic improvements. New classrooms, administrative offices, a new library and machine shop are currently being built or have just been finished. The old chemistry lab already in place will move locations within the building.

The college is also in the process of purchasing a three-story office building, located at 72 Helena Drive, next to its campus. Jack Daniels, the college's dean of admissions, hopes the building will allow for even more classroom and office space, as well as double as a small student dormitory.

Daniels said the college hopes to have a purchasing agreement with J.L. Davis Realty by the end of the month.

Sargent said he hopes the changes will make VTC the premier technical college for residents in northern Vermont.

"We have so much to offer here," he said. "We offer a different option for college and we've filled a need that was missing in the Champlain Valley."

The main campus of VTC is located in Randolph, but in an effort to offer classes to people living in the Champlain Valley, VTC opened a Williston campus in the fall of 2003. That year, it had only 32 students enrolled in four associate programs, said Academic Coordinator Jean-Marie Clark. This past 2007-2008 school year, it had 397 full- and part-time students, with 19 associate and bachelor degree programs.

Students can major in subjects as diverse as business management, dental hygiene, software and computer engineering, and nursing. For full-time, in-state students, tuition next year will be $9,288 per semester. According to Clark, VTC has placed 98 percent of its students in related jobs following graduation.

"We really have a program that has hit home with a lot of people in Chittenden County," she said. "Some people want to live at home and work and still go to college. Some don't want to travel all the way to the Randolph location."

Clark said the college offers only night classes and works for students who have full-time jobs, while the Randolph campus has dorms and schedules many classes during the day, like a traditional college.

"The students we have in Williston are looking for cheaper options," she said. "It was generally an adult student base here, although that is slowly, but surely, changing."

Next year, Clark said the student body in Williston will be well over 400 and the school hopes to double that number in the next five years, mirroring the 800 to 900 students enrolled in Randolph.


The larger numbers of students means the need for more space. When the Williston campus started more than four years ago, the college only occupied the current east wing. It has expanded around Blair Park, scooping up retail space as it became available, becoming a 50,000 square-foot campus. Now the original building is being transformed. A new, modest library was completed last month and construction workers are ready to transform the chemistry lab into the Champlain Valley's best machine shop, Sargent said.

"The auto tech program will really be able to use this space," he said. "It's going to be set up like any model or machine shop."

Vermont Interactive Television, which is part of VTC, will remain in its West Wing space, but Champlain Orthodontics, a tenant, will be moving to a newer location in Blair Park.

More students have also meant a need for housing. Although VTC in Williston was designed as a commuter school, Sargent said 17 students were housed in the nearby New England Culinary Institute dorms. He expected more than 30 students would utilize the culinary institute's housing next year.

Daniels hopes the possible new addition to VTC on Helena Drive would allow for close to 30 students to stay at the Williston campus. He also said the current tenants of the building would be able to stay there.

"I have to assume that we'd let them stay until their lease is up," Daniels said. "We try very hard to be good neighbors."

Clark said the school has built a strong community, even though it mainly has evening classes. She hopes to see that community continue to grow as the school grows.

"(Students) really like it here," she said. "They like how we all know them personally. You can't hide in a class of only six people. They love the one-on-one instruction."

[Read more…]

Town appoints first members to CCTA

May 15, 2008

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

A former Army officer and a current state legislator will serve as Williston's first-ever representatives on the Chittenden County Transportation Authority board.

Al Turgeon and Jim McCullough were appointed to the positions last week by the Williston Selectboard. They will serve three-year terms.

Turgeon, 50, retired as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army in 2003. He is now an executive assistant to the vice president for finance at the University of Vermont.

McCullough, 63, has represented the town in the Vermont House of Representatives for the past six years. He also co-owns Catamount Outdoor Family Center in Williston.

The town won the right to representation on the CCTA Board of Commissioners when Williston voters approved membership in the organization in March. The town has for years funded the lone CCTA route in Williston, but was not formally a member.

Turgeon said with his children now grown he has the time for public service. He sees the board duty as a chance to get involved in his town after decades of moving from place to place in the military.

Turgeon has both personal and professional experience with transportation issues. He said he coordinated transportation for three years while stationed in Alaska. He also had a firsthand look at another country's public transportation system while stationed in Germany, biking, riding buses and taking subways to get around.

Turgeon has discovered the limitations of public transportation here. The existing CCTA route is miles away from his North Williston Road home, leaving his son, Chris, no easy way to get to his classes at UVM or to return home from his job in Burlington.

"Yes, dad takes him most days," Turgeon said. "But classes start at noon, and dad has to be up by 8 (a.m.)."

McCullough said a long-standing interest in public transportation spurred him to volunteer for the CCTA board. He remembers riding a Vermont Transit bus from his Williston home to Burlington High School when he was a teenager in the early 1960s.

McCullough served on the House Transportation Committee during his first term. He said he has long urged the town to join CCTA.

"The common perception that Vermont is rural and it doesn't need public transportation is totally bogus," he said.

Both men told the Selectboard their first priority would be adding a route in Williston. McCullough said service is needed to the several senior housing developments in town; Turgeon suggested a bus line that serves the subdivisions along U.S. 2, North Williston Road and Mountain View Road.

Five towns are currently represented on the board: Burlington, Essex, Shelburne, South Burlington and Winooski. Milton, which also voted this year to join CCTA, will along with Williston seat two new representatives when the fiscal year starts July 1.

Williston officials proposed joining CCTA after learning it would save $17,000 each year, the cost of a federally mandated service for people with disabilities. CCTA will now pick up the tab for that service. Williston budgeted $188,000 for public transportation in the current fiscal year.

Other appointments

In addition to the CCTA representatives, the Selectboard on May 5 also made several other appointments and reappointments, including:

Joel Klein was newly appointed to the Planning Commission and the Recreation Committee. He will serve a three-year term on the Recreation Committee and a four-year term on the Planning Commission.

Allaire Diamond was newly appointed to serve as a tree warden for a one-year term.

Olivia Loisel was reappointed to a three-year term on the Recreation Committee.

Kevin McDermott was reappointed to the Development Review Board for a three-year term.

Kevin Batson and David Yandell were reappointed for four-year terms on the Planning Commission.

Phil Swett was reappointed for three years to the Historic and Architectural Advisory Committee.

Abbie Bowker was reappointed for one year to the Winooski Valley Park District.

Susan Bishop was reappointed for two years to the Lake Iroquois Beach Commission.

Terry Macaig was reappointed for a three-year term as health officer.

Sue Powers was reappointed for a one-year term as animal control officer.

[Read more…]

Total turnover for planning office

Town Planner Lee Nellis announces August departure

May 15, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Williston town Planning Department will look a lot different come late summer. Town Planner Lee Nellis will step down in August, while a new employee will take his place. And, according to Town Manager Rick McGuire, two people have accepted positions soon to be vacated by zoning employee D.K. Johnston and environmental planner Carrie Deegan.

Nellis, who said he's really leaving Williston this time after almost doing so a year ago, will move to Wisconsin to follow his wife as she pursues a doctorate degree in development and regional planning. McGuire said the town is currently accepting applications for Nellis' position and hopes to have it filled before August.

McGuire said Jessica Andreoletti, a natural resources conservationist for the Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District in Williston, will start on May 20 in the new Planner One position, which will encompass much of Deegan's responsibilities.

Deegan is leaving at the end of the month to move with her husband to New Hampshire, but will be available on a consulting basis over the summer, McGuire said.

Matthew Boulanger will start on June 17 as assistant town planner, doing some of the work Johnston did before he resigned from that position last month. Boulanger comes from the Missoula County Rural Initiatives Department in Montana as an associate planner.

McGuire said all three new staffers will work on development review projects. He said the projects would be delegated to the individuals' expertise.

"It makes sense to divide up the parts instead of one person doing it all," he said.

Nellis says goodbye

Nellis said his four years with the planning office have flown by quickly. He's overseen the updates in growth center designation, new unified development and stream restorations in town.

He said much of the development work he's done has yet to become visible to Williston residents. This includes the planning for several hundred housing units and new commercial ventures currently in the works.

"As a result of these decisions, Williston is going to look a lot different in the next few years," he said.

Nellis said he would continue working for the town on a consulting basis, updating transportation impact fees and recreation impact fees, something he hasn't had the time to do.

Nellis was quick to praise the people he's worked with in the town offices and on various boards, calling them "energetic" and "hardworking," something he greatly appreciated. He said he and his family would also miss the friends they've made. Vermont would always be a special place, Nellis said, as it was the birthplace of his son, Henry.

"Williston is a great place to be," he said. "I think we'll miss the quieter pace of things."

New faces

Andreoletti is currently finishing her tenure at the Winooski conservation district, where she's worked for just over two years. Her primary work has been with the organization's urban conservation program, helping to reduce stormwater runoff. She said her work for the district would be very helpful in her new position.

"The most interesting thing to me is that Williston has a lot of open space and is developing quickly," she said. "I want to work with developers and make sure the land is developed correctly, environmentally speaking."

Andreoletti is a Connecticut native with family ties to Vermont. She attended Johnson State College for two years before moving to Washington state, where she got her bachelor's degree in environmental science from Evergreen State College.

Andreoletti is excited about her new position with the town.

"I could see myself doing the job for 25 years," she said. "This is something I've been working towards for a long time."

Boulanger, who grew up in nearby Monkton, currently focuses on rural land-use planning, as well as population, demographic and development trends in rural areas of Montana.

Boulanger said planning is done on the county level in Montana, since there are not many incorporated towns.

"Although the county is big, we spend a lot of time in the communities right on the edge of the city," he said. "They've seen significant growth in the last few years. And most of these communities don't have any zoning laws enacted yet."

As a result, Boulanger coordinated many community council meetings to get rural citizens engaged, he said. He tried to organize them in the New England-style town meetings he was used to from growing up.

Boulanger went to St. Lawrence University in New York, after which he volunteered for Americorps on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, helping with environmental planning. In 2005, he and his wife, Kate, decided to be "adventurous" and move West, where he took the planning job.

He said his job in Montana would be to Williston's benefit.

"My first hope is to hit the ground running and help the office as best I can," he said. "Basically, I want to come in and help with anything and everything."

[Read more…]

Holocaust survivor spreads message of tolerance

May 15, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Marion Blumenthal Lazan's favorite time of year is spring, when the air becomes warm and flowers begin to bloom. It's a time of hope, the Jewish woman said, as she remembered back to a spring more than 60 years ago. It was in April 1945 that Lazan felt the warmth of hope again after she was liberated from the horrors of the Holocaust.

Lazan, 73, spoke to a group of more than 50 area residents last Wednesday evening at Williston Central School about her experiences during World War II and how she was able to continue her life after years of confinement in detention and concentration camps. Her talk coincided with visits to Chittenden South Supervisory Union schools, including Williston Central and Champlain Valley Union High.

"Mine is a story that Anne Frank might've told if she had survived," Lazan said.

Lazan talked much about the need for peace in this "troubled world," calling for love, respect and tolerance, regardless of religion, skin color or nationality.

"It's such a simple message, yet so hard to achieve," she said.

Surviving the Holocaust

Lazan was born in Germany in 1934 to Walter and Ruth Blumenthal, around the time the Nazi party had gained control of the country. Seeing the fascist direction in which Germany was headed, the Blumenthals — Walter, Ruth, Marion and her older brother, Albert — escaped Germany for Holland, hoping for safe passage to the United States.

One month before the family was supposed to set sail, Germany invaded Holland and the Blumenthals were imprisoned in a detention camp. For more than four years, they sat stagnant in the camp until the Nazis began transporting thousands of Jews in Holland to the concentration camps in Germany for forced labor. Lazan said at that age she didn't understand the danger when the train boxcars arrived at her camp.

"The adults suspected and somehow knew what was in store for us," she said.

After a cramped and frightening journey, the trains reached the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany, the same camp where Anne Frank died.

It was around this time that Lazan, only 9 years old, witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust.

"Death was an everyday occurrence," Lazan said. "Bodies could not be taken away fast enough. Children saw things no one at any age should ever see."

After nearly 18 months at Bergen-Belsen, the Blumenthals were again placed in boxcars and sent to the extermination camps in Eastern Europe on a 14-day journey. Lazan said one of every five died during the train journey.

The Russian army liberated the train before it reached its destination. Unfortunately, Lazan's father died soon after from typhus contracted on the train.

"I separate myself from the war and the horrors, and that is how I've learned to live with it," she said.

In the end, the Holocaust claimed the lives of more than 6 million Jews and 5 million gypsies, homosexuals, developmentally challenged individuals and political dissidents.

Lazan, her brother and mother returned to Holland, where they were able to use the same tickets they had bought in 1939 to travel to the United States. In America, the Blumenthals settled in Peoria, Ill. in 1948, where Marion Blumenthal started school and quickly learned English.

She married Nathaniel Lazan soon after high school. They've been married for more than 50 years and have three children and nine grandchildren. Her brother Albert lives in California and her mother, at 100 years old, lives on Long Island near the Lazans.

Telling her story

Lazan began speaking about her Holocaust experiences in 1979 and wrote her book, "Four Perfect Pebbles," with author Lila Perl in 1996. A 2003 documentary, "Marion's Triumph," also tells her story. She continues to travel around the country, having spoken to more than 600,000 students and adults.

Carol Grau, an English Language Learning teacher at Shelburne Community School, had the idea of bringing Lazan to CSSU schools after seeing her talk in Burlington a few years ago. She said students in CSSU read Lazan's book and the reaction was well received.

"This is probably the best experience I've had in my teaching career," she said.

Deb Laskarzewski, a world languages teacher at Williston Central School, attended Lazan's talk after seeing part of her earlier presentation for students. They were very appreciative of the talk, she said, with many touched by the stories.

"It was really quiet in (the auditorium) for that many kids," Laskarzewski said.

Shawn Sweeney of Shelburne also attended Wednesday evening's discussion.

"The fact that anybody can come out of that horror and be so optimistic is amazing," he said. "She carries a tremendous message."

Lazan said she tells her student audiences they are the last generation to hear Holocaust stories firsthand.

"When we're not here any longer, it is you who must bear witness for us," she said. "Please share these memories and never forget them."

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Higher asphalt prices may limit paving projects

Rising oil costs impact road maintenance

May 8, 2008

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The rising cost of asphalt could reduce the amount of new pavement on Williston roads this year.

The town budgeted $227,150 for repaving projects in the fiscal year starting July 1. The budget would pay for new asphalt on eight stretches of road.

The budget, up 5 percent from the current fiscal year, was based on asphalt costing $53 per ton. But Public Works Director Neil Boyden said the town of Shelburne recently was quoted $64.21 a ton, 21 percent higher than the price Williston anticipated.

It is unclear exactly how far the paving budget will go because Williston has yet to put the work out to bid. But it seems likely that the annual effort to smooth the roughest roads will be scaled back.

"We may not get to all of them," Boyden said, adding that the town will probably use only one layer of pavement instead of two to stretch the budget.

About four miles of roads were to be repaved under the 2008-09 budget. Boyden said the highest-priority projects are Mountain View Road (Old Stage Road to Ledgewood Drive), Industrial Avenue (Vermont 2A to Muddy Brook) and Metcalf Drive. Those roads are in the worst shape.

The repaving effort includes finishing one project left over from last year. Boyden said in the next couple of weeks the town's contractor will complete 1.2 miles of Oak Hill Road between South Road and Sunset Hill Road.

Petroleum is a major component of asphalt. So paving prices are tied to the cost of oil, which has skyrocketed in recent months.

The town's paving budget is also being squeezed by a lack of state funding. Last year, the town received $123,000. This year, Williston did not get a state paving grant.

Paving work budgeted for each fiscal year is usually split between two construction seasons. The town does some projects in the summer and completes the remainder the following spring. That schedule allows the Public Works Department to adjust how much paving is done after accounting for highly variable snowplowing expenses.

Boyden said none of the roads slated for repair have deteriorated to the point that they have to be reconstructed, which is much more expensive than repaving.

"But if we wait another year some will probably be failing," he said. "So we have to cut if off before it gets to that."

Paving schedule

The following roads are scheduled to be repaved this summer or next spring:

Road name                                     Length

McJay/Lyman Drive                         0.6 miles

South Road                                     0.5 miles

Blair Park Road                         0.3 miles

Mountain View Road                         0.3 miles

Metcalf Drive                                     0.5 miles

Industrial Avenue                         0.3 miles

South Brownell Road                         0.5 miles

Maple Road                                     0.2 miles

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