May 20, 2018

Left without a home

Williston Community Food Shelf continues search for space

July 31, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Williston resident Jill Lang is tired of hearing the word “no” in recent weeks.

The Williston Community Food Shelf president has been working hard to find space for the recently founded organization, but to no avail.

“We’re a food shelf without a home,” Lang said.

She said town officials have told her there are no rooms available in public buildings and local churches don’t have the room either. That leaves Lang and other food shelf volunteers looking at spaces within commercial properties.

Lang said the food shelf considered space at a second-floor location at Maple Tree Place, but accessibility and practicality proved to be an issue. She said it needed to be handicapped accessible and easy for volunteers to bring food to the location.

The food shelf does have some loose requirements for a space, including a handicap accessible room that would be 20 feet by 30 feet, and a landlord or utility company that could donate free utilities.

Resident Maira Newell, who moved to Williston last year, said getting space has been much harder than many in the organization had anticipated. While living in Utah for more than 20 years and being a member of the Utah Food Bank, Newell said finding space in the Salt Lake City region was never an issue and people were always finding ways to help.

Many of the Utah food pantries were located in area churches. Williston has less church space available than what Newell was used to in Utah.

“Given the economy, I can see how a landlord would be reluctant to donate space,” Newell said.

Lang admits the search has come to some frustrating dead ends, yet she still hopes town officials might be able to find something small at a public location. She said if nothing comes to fruition in coming weeks, she’s ready to make signs and stand at Taft Corners to get people’s attention.

“I’m getting desperate,” she said.

Until then, Lang will continue searching for space. She’s been floating around several ideas, including using space at a private residence or having food available once a month at a public space, such as the Fire Department.

Making progress

The Food Shelf has also become a nonprofit organization in the eyes of the Vermont Secretary of State as of July 7. Any donation will now be considered tax free within the state. Lang said the organization is still working on attaining federal nonprofit status. She said the process takes time, but hopes to be official by this fall.

While there is no official space for the Food Shelf, people can still donate money to the organization or drop off goods at certain locations. Lang is in the process of organizing donation boxes at key locations in town, including the Town Hall, library, banks and other possible places.

Williston resident Ryan Simmons, who will be entering his senior year next month at Champlain Valley Union High School, is working with Lang and the food shelf as part of his graduation challenge. Simmons is currently building the wooden donation boxes that will be displayed around town.

He said the boxes are pretty basic, but he hopes to liven them up by incorporating the food shelf’s new logo — designed by the Observer’s graphic artist Jan Kenney — and by painting them. He said he’ll make five, but is willing to make more if there’s demand.
Simmons also volunteers at the Hinesburg Food Shelf, assisting patrons and stocking shelves. He said there’s a lot of support right now in Williston in getting its own location.

“I can tell everybody is pretty excited about starting this,” he said.

Once the Williston location is open, Simmons said he would volunteer there as well. He also plans to take part in the fundraising.
“There’s a real need right now with all the high prices of gas and high prices of mortgages and other costs,” he said.

The food shelf’s board of directors and interested community members have met regularly to discuss fundraising ideas and space issues. There are talks in the works to have a benefit dinner and silent auction, as well as a teen dance-a-thon.

To donate money or food to the Williston Community Food Shelf, mail to P.O. Box 1605, Williston, Vt., 05495, or call 802-735-6303. People can also call that number to find out ways to register for food with the food shelf. The organization’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 13 at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library.

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State Champs!


Contributed photo by Jeff Schneiderman

Williston’s 11- and 12-year-old Little League All Star team takes a victory lap after winning the Vermont championship on Monday. Read more on the story.


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Williston gardeners show their color

 Photo by Tim Simard

Armand Leggett, a resident at Taft Farm Senior Living Community, stands next to his garden plot on Cornerstone Drive. Leggett grows a variety of vegetables and flowers and has entered the Williston in Bloom competition. Read more on the story.


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Around Town

July 17, 2008

New board members at VYOA

The Vermont Youth Orchestra Association Board of Directors elected five new members for three-year terms during its Annual Meeting on June 10. The new members are Fred Erdman of Richmond, Connie Metz of Shelburne, John Pacht of Hinesburg, and Katie Schaffer and David Yandell of Williston.

Schaffer is the former owner of a small bookstore in Rhode Island. She has participated in and worked for the Chorus of Westerly, R.I. for more than 30 years. She is an accomplished photographer. A resident of Vermont since 2006, Schaffer lives with her husband in Williston.

David Yandell is a professor of Pathology and Medicine at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. Specializing in human molecular genetics and varying levels of cancer research, he has held posts at Harvard Medical School and at the Harvard School of Public Health. Yandell is also a musician who participates with his family in a variety of musical endeavors. His son, Duncan, is a violinist with the Vermont Youth Orchestra.

Support the troops

The Freedom Fund, a Burlington-based, non-profit organization that sends supplies and letters to U.S. soldiers in Iraq, has set up a donation box at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library.

According to The Freedom Fund's Web site, the group helps newly deployed National Guards and other units headed for Iraq.

The box at the library will be in place through July, and contains a list of items to donate.

For more information about The Freedom Fund, go online to


Willistonian joins Vermont Consultants Network board

Professor Robert Kenny of Williston was elected as a member-at-large to the Board of Directors for the Vermont Consultants Network. Kenny, MBA, CPA has taught and undertaken many administrative roles at St. Michael's College for more than 30 years. During that time he has served as a consultant, primarily on financial and strategic planning matters to individuals, nonprofit organizations and businesses in the Chittenden County area.

The Vermont Consultants Network,, is a nonprofit organization that meets monthly in South Burlington.

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Gadue’s out; Passport looks to move locations

Gadue's out, Passport Video in

July 17, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Two tenants at Cornerstone Drive in Williston will experience some changes in the coming months. Gadue's Dry Cleaners will be closing its Williston branch at the end of August and Passport Video hopes to take over the space around the same time.

Gadue's Dry Cleaning owner Mark Gadue confirmed the company, which has 10 other locations in the Champlain Valley, is closing its Williston branch.

"We have a great, loyal customer base, but it's just not the best location," Gadue said.{mosimage} 

Nicole Senecal, a real estate agent with Omega Real Estate Associates, said Passport Video plans to take over the Gadue location at the end of August, but there is nothing definite. Senecal's father, Al Senecal, owns the Cornerstone Drive buildings and lets Omega manage the site.

Gadue's lease ends Aug. 31, while Passport's lease expires in December. Senecal said there are efforts to let Passport move before December, but Omega also wants to find another tenant for the video store's space.

"They intend on downsizing, it's just a question of when," Senecal said.

The current Passport location is a 2,800 square-foot space, while Gadue's Dry Cleaning is only 1,420 square feet, Senecal said.

Observer photo by Tim Simard
Passport Video on Cornerstone Drive is looking to move across the parking lot into the space currently occupied by Gadue's Dry Cleaning when the latter's lease runs out at the end of August. Gadue's does not plan to renew the lease

The locally owned video store, which has had to deal with competition from online video renters such as Netflix and bigger video store chains, is moving to a smaller space to "cut overhead," according to owner Mike Bergin.

Passport Video is currently bolstering its DVD collection and selling its VHS cassette collection. Customers can buy the old cassette tapes fairly cheaply, Bergin said, depending on the movie title. All videos are on sale as a two-for-one deal, he said.

Bergin said Passport currently has more than 7,000 DVDs, many of which are new releases, for rent. With the store focusing on renting only DVDs, there is no longer a need for a large space, he added.

"We used to have that (amount) in VHS tapes, but we've sold a lot off," Bergin said.

Bergin said he's looking forward to moving his store the short distance. He said there's still a need in Williston for a locally owned video store, even amidst the online competition. He added his store works best for patrons who want to view a new release as soon as it comes out. People who use Netflix sometimes have to wait a long time before a new release is mailed to them, he said.

"We make things available to (customers) when they want something right away," Bergin said.
As for Gadue's Dry Cleaning, Gadue said there aren't any plans to open another location in town, but he was open to the possibility. Gadue bought out the previous tenant, Mountain Air Cleaners, and began leasing the spot about five years ago.

Gadue said he wants to maintain the customer base he had in Williston and wants to encourage clients to sign up for the route delivery service, or to visit one of the company's other locations.

"We certainly have a number of very loyal, local clients and we hope that we can keep them," Gadue said.
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Unicel trying to expand Williston coverage

July 17, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Those annoying dropped calls that happen so frequently along the northern end of North Williston Road could soon be a thing of the past. The wireless phone company Unicel is looking to install equipment that would boost a signal through a narrow stretch along the Winooski River, which also encompasses a section of Route 117 over the river in Essex.

Unicel is looking to use the silos and farm buildings on Mike Fontaine's farm as a structure to place its wireless equipment. According to the project's Act 250 documents, plans would include the installation of six panel antennas mounted to the side of a 55-foot tall silo, a 10-by-12-foot equipment shelter located between the farm's silos, an ice bridge to protect the cable outside the silo from winter weather, and telephone and electric lines.

William Dodge, a lawyer for the Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC law firm that is acting as outside counsel for Unicel, said the company is working with Fontaine on presenting the equipment proposal to the town. He said Fontaine has been easy to work with.

"We're in the process of working on it, but it's been generally positive," Dodge said.

Observer photo by Tim Simard
Cellular wireless equipment rests near the top of the silos at the Martel Farm on Mountain View Road. Unicel has proposed the installation of similar equipment on a silo on Mike Fontaine's farm in North Williston.

Fontaine said representatives from Unicel came to his farm and did some research in the area to find a good cellular antenna location. He said he hasn't had to do much work and is hopeful the town agrees to the wireless communication equipment. He said the equipment would be hardly noticeable.

"Everything is going well," Fontaine said. "They've done all the research and studies they need to do."

Along with the Unicel equipment, Fontaine and his brother, Dan Fontaine, are in the process of subdividing part of his land for the proposed 49-unit Settler's Crossing development. Fontaine's property is located in the town's agricultural-rural zoning district.

Dodge said he was not at liberty to discuss when Unicel would like the cell antennas installed or for how much the company would rent the silo space from Fontaine. Fontaine said he'd like to keep the rent per month cost "personal."

The Martel Farm off Mountain View Road has similar wireless equipment installed on two of its three silos. Pat Martel said the equipment is so nondescript "you wouldn't even know it's there."

Martel said she and her husband, Andre Martel, let the wireless company Nextel install the wireless devices seven years ago. Since then, U.S. Cellular has taken over the rent, Pat Martel said.

"They've come through on all the contracts and have done everything they're supposed to," Pat Martel said.

Andre Martel declined to say how much they earned in rent per month, but that it "pays for all the taxes."

Fontaine and a representative of Unicel are scheduled to present the preliminary plans to the Development Review Board at its next meeting on Tuesday, July 22 at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall.
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Town clerk alters hours

Office has longer days, shorter workweek �

July 17, 2008
By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Town Clerk Deb Beckett recently extended hours and shortened the workweek for her office. Now she has tweaked those hours after finding people liked to come in a little late, but not during dinnertime.

Residents can pay tax bills, check public records or do other business with the clerk's office Tuesday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The office remains closed on Mondays.

Earlier this month, Beckett moved to a four-day week, with longer hours running from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The office used to close along with the rest of town departments at 4:30 p.m.

Beckett said she discovered that many people liked to come in right after work, between 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. But few people showed during the office's last hour of operation.

Beckett now figures that adding hours at the beginning and end of each day will best serve the public.

"The earlier hours are more convenient for some people, while the later hours are more convenient for others," she said.

The change mirrors a fuel-saving measure now being made in workplaces around the country. In Utah, state employees will begin working four days a week starting next month. Closer to home, the Middlebury town clerk's office last week began a Monday-Thursday workweek.

Beckett said the change here is an experiment to see if longer hours will better serve the public. Fuel savings for the department's four employees is a fringe benefit, as is the three-day weekend.

The long weekend is "nice, but it wasn't the main factor," she said.

Kathy Smardon, assistant town clerk, said she appreciates the fuel savings. Her round-trip commute from Jericho is more than 20 miles.

She said the most common way residents are using the extended hours so far is to pay water bills and renew driver's licenses.

Other town departments will continue to maintain their usual hours. Town Manager Rick McGuire said a four-day week wasn't compatible with work carried out by most other departments.

Attorneys and paralegals are among the most frequent users of the clerk's office. Peter Schubart, an attorney with real estate law firm Wick & Maddocks, said he visits Williston to check property records. He said the new four-day week is OK.

"Basically, it would be better to be able to go any day," he said. "But it's not wildly inconvenient that I can't go on Monday anymore."

The new hours are scheduled to run through the end of August, Beckett said. She then plans to reevaluate the arrangement.

At least in September, it is likely the clerk's office will have to revert to a five-day week to meet state requirements related to the upcoming November election. Already, Beckett will have to open the office on Monday, July 21, the filing deadline for candidates.

"Maybe we will switch from being closed Mondays to being closed Fridays," Beckett said. "We'll see how it goes." �

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Back in business: Old Brick Caf

July 17, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

The popular Williston Village eatery, the Old Brick Café, will reopen next month after being closed for nearly a year. New owners Melissa Blanchard and Scott Nicholson have been busy every day in preparation for the Aug. 5 opening.

This is a first-time restaurant venture for the couple, who have dreamed of opening a restaurant. When Blanchard discovered the Old Brick Café was looking for new owners, she jumped at the chance.

"It's been our dream," Blanchard said. "We saw the building, contacted Dave (Herskowitz, the owner) and decided to give it a shot."

Herskowitz is renting out the space to the new owners — who have purchased the name of the restaurant and all the equipment — and hopes they do well with the restaurant that he had success with.

Observer photo by Tim Simard
Old Brick Café owners (from left) Scott Nicholson and Melissa Blanchard, along with Chef Traclyn Bogges, stand outside the Williston Village eatery on Williston Road. The 'new' Old Brick Café will reopen on Tuesday, Aug. 5.

"It's good to know someone who's opening a restaurant is this enthusiastic about it," Herskowitz said.

Herskowitz closed the restaurant last September because it was requiring too much of his time, which he wanted to devote to family and other business ventures, such as real estate, he said.

Kitchen backgrounds

Blanchard has worked in the dining industry off and on for several years. She said she's done a lot of prep work at high-end restaurants, such as the North Hero House in North Hero.

She said working with food has always been a part of her life, even though she went to college to study art. She remembers cooking with her mother and grandmother, making dishes from scratch, and she said she wants to bring that feeling into the new restaurant.

Blanchard and Nicholson have brought along Chef Traclyn Bogges, a friend of Nicholson's for close to 10 years. Bogges attended Keiser University Center of Culinary Arts in Tallahassee, Fla. before working at high-end retirement communities in Florida as the single chef in the kitchens. She has competed in different American Culinary Federation competitions, picking up one silver and two bronze medals for her dessert creations.

Bogges just moved to Vermont from Colorado Springs, Colo. with her husband, Scott Bogges, and their daughter, Eva.

"Trace kicks butt, that's why she's here," Blanchard said.

Nicholson is working more on the business and marketing angle, as well as being one of the restaurant's first servers, Blanchard said.

Nicholson said there's been community buzz building in town, thanks in part to a brief opening on July 4, when Blanchard and Nicholson sold homemade treats to Independence Day parade watchers.

"Right now, it's been mostly word-of-mouth," Nicholson said.

Blanchard agreed.

"We've had people randomly stop in and say, 'We're happy you're opening soon!'" she said.

The former Ayurvedic Center of Vermont, which was also located in the building, has recently moved. The space is being turned into an apartment for the Bogges, Herskowitz said.

Big ideas

Both Blanchard and Bogges have been working hard to create a unique menu that will bring customers back time and time again. Traditional breakfast items will be available, such as French toast, omelets, pancakes and more. Lunch will also be a creative time, with daily soups, pan-seared crab cakes, chicken satay, a Cuban sandwich and individual potpies, to name a few items. Saturdays and Sundays will offer a creative brunch menu. Most items will be available to go, Blanchard said.

Bogges said she wants to hear back from the community as to what residents want to see in the Village eatery.

"People are tired of the choices around the box stores," Bogges said. "They're looking for something different around here."

Blanchard said she plans to use as many local products as she can, including buying meats from LaPlatte Beef, like Herskowitz used to do when he ran the restaurant.

Blanchard said she also wants to offer catering for area businesses looking for simple sandwiches for different events.

Bogges has several ideas for desserts, including a new creation she's called the Vermont-lava, a local take on the traditional baklava, which include local maple syrup.

"I make a really killer baklava," Bogges said.

Other ideas floating around include specialty dessert nights, when Bogges would make elegant desserts typically available only in the best restaurants, she said.

"I'm hoping I can really apply my culinary skills," Bogges said.

For now, Blanchard, Nicholson and the Bogges are busy repainting the interior and getting the restaurant ready for the August opening.

"I can't wait for the fifth," Blanchard said.

The café is scheduled to be open from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. Saturday and Sunday will feature brunch from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Blanchard is hoping to open the restaurant for private dinner parties in the future.
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Williston gardeners show their colors

Williston in Bloom judging begins next week

July 17, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Armand Leggett stood proudly near his small garden plot Tuesday morning at Taft Farm Senior Living Community on Cornerstone Drive in Williston. Leggett's garden has grown considerably since he began planting around the first of June, he said

Leggett's plot is chalk full of vegetable plants, including cucumbers, summer squash, green tails and tomatoes, with colorful flowers planted along the edges.

Contributed photo
Mike Jones entered his water garden, pictured above, in this year's Williston in Bloom competition.

"I've been working on it every day," Leggett said, grinning widely. "I come out here and talk to it!"

Leggett, along with several other Taft Farm community members, have planted 27 garden plots and flower gardens, competing as a group in the Williston in Bloom town beautification competition.

Melissa Kelley, property manager for Taft Farm, said the community has been involved with Williston in Bloom for a number of years. She said the community's residents enjoy the two garden areas that are set up in the spring.

"It fills up every year," Kelley said. "There's never any not taken."

Williston in Bloom began in 2002 as part of America in Bloom, a community-based beautification program that includes the competition. There are five categories residents could enter, including a vegetable garden, an annual and perennial garden, a comprehensive landscape, a water feature and a rain garden, which is a new category this year. A grand prize is also awarded to an overall garden winner.

The grand prize is a gift certificate to Gardener's Supply Company. All participants this year will receive a 10 percent off coupon to a local garden center. The registration deadline to enter was last week.

This year's judges have been chosen and will soon canvass the town, looking at the best of the best of Williston's gardens. According to Williston in Bloom member and Master Gardener June Jones, 10 residents have signed up to be judged in the competition.


Rain garden

One resident is participating in Williston in Bloom's rain garden category. Resident Rebecca Tharp has entered her garden, and is also taking part in the Rooftop to Rain — Rain Garden Contest, hosted by the Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District in partnership with the University of Vermont Extension and the Lake Champlain Sea Grant.

Ashley Lidman, assistant manager at the conservation district, said traditional gardens are built raised up above the yard or in mounds. Rain gardens are the opposite, built within a depression to collect storm water, like a natural bowl.

"The idea is that water enters the garden, sits and becomes cleaner, and then slowly re-enters the ground," Lidman said. "It's better for the water quality and the environment."

Lidman said making a rain garden is easy and many plants found around residents' houses can be transferred to these natural gardens. The plants have to be able to handle very wet soils, but also prolonged periods without rain.

Lidman said nine people in Chittenden County have entered and the goal is to have at least one residence entered from all county towns. The deadline to enter the rain garden in Williston in Bloom has passed, but there is still time for the conservation district's contest, which ends on Aug. 31. A full brochure of information can be downloaded from the district's Web site,

Repeat competitors

Dana Partelow is participating for a second time this year, after placing second in the annual and perennial garden category last year. Partelow said gardening is a "natural stress reliever" and the contest allows her to exhibit her hard work.

"I'm one of those free spirits that likes things growing down the driveway," Partelow said, adding her garden flanks both sides of her driveway on Isham Circle.

Mike Jones and his wife, Cathy, have participated for several years, although they took last year off. Instead, Jones was a judge for last year's contest.

As a judge, Jones said he traveled to different homes looking at gardens and judging them on criteria that included visual impact, originality, multi-season use, and color and texture.

This year, Jones is entering the water garden at his home on Katie Lane, complete with a three-foot deep pond, which he has been working on for several seasons. He believes it's ready to be judged this year.

Jones credits his wife for the design and gardening work every year at their house. She starts planting certain plants inside their house in February and then transfers them to the garden when it warms up. She's the one with the real talent, he said.

"My job is to dig holes and move bushes around," Jones said with a laugh.

Awards are received in either August or September during an awards ceremony, with the date to be announced. Jones said the ceremony is a good opportunity to view other residents' gardens.

"You go to the awards benefit and get to see what everyone else has been working on," Jones said. "It gives you ideas for the following year." �

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Struggling Catamount considers development

July 17, 2008
By Greg Elias
Observer staff �

All is quiet during a recent Friday afternoon visit to Catamount Outdoor Family Center. Only the faint rustle of leaves and the distant chirp of birds can be heard at one spot along the 20 miles of trails that run like veins through the 500-acre facility.

The silence is almost startling, especially if you've just come from bustling Taft Corners, Vermont's biggest retail center, located just a few miles west.

Catamount's unspoiled land has played a central role in the town's history. Thomas Chittenden, Vermont's first governor and Williston's founder, built a two-story brick home here in 1796. Farming has come and gone, but the rolling landscape framed by distant mountains remains much as it was more than two centuries ago.

Observer photo by Greg Elias
Lucy and Jim McCullough pose near a pond at Catamount Outdoor Family Center. The couple is considering developing a portion of the 500-acre facility to ensure it remains financially solvent well into the future.

But change may be coming. This spring, a master plan outlining development possibilities was completed. While offering few specifics, the conceptual plan suggests that development could include dozens of residences, a "magic building" to support recreation programs and other structures.

Despite rising property taxes and increasing maintenance expenses, Jim and Lucy McCullough have stubbornly clung to the land, which Jim's great-grandfather bought in 1873. Since opening Catamount in 1978, they have tried nearly everything to keep it financially viable. They've grown Christmas trees, built an ice-skating rink, opened their home to bed-and-breakfast customers and converted the operation into a nonprofit.

Thousands of people visit the recreation center each year, paying daily use fees or buying annual memberships to bike or ski on the trails. Summer camps attract hundreds of youngsters and generate additional revenue.

Still, Catamount remains on shaky financial ground, with expenses exceeding revenue by nearly $50,000 in 2006, according to the nonprofit's tax return, a public record. The 2007 tax return has not been filed, but Lucy McCullough said Catamount's financial picture improved last year.

Yet user fees haven't been generating enough revenue to cover rising expenses, Jim McCullough said. Catamount has also been less than lucrative for the four family members who work there. Combined, they drew only $67,611 in salaries in 2006, according to the tax return.

So the couple, who operate the center along with their daughter, Abbie, and her husband, Eric Bowker, are considering development. But they vow to resist the kind of cookie-cutter subdivision or high-priced homes that have replaced so much former farmland in Vermont.

"If we just needed to capitalize, which we do, that would be a solution," Jim McCullough said. "We've got a hilltop that you could put a dozen million-dollar home sites on. Then that dozen families would have that hilltop. Then tens of thousands of people — into perpetuity — would not get to use it again."


Plan short on specifics

A 23-page master plan completed in May provides a broad outline of potential development but leaves specifics to be decided later.

At least 75 percent of the currently undeveloped land will be set aside for "wildlife habitat, recreation and natural serenity," according to the plan. Portions of the remaining land would be developed in a "sensitive and appropriate manner."

Development could include an unspecified number of residential units. One part of the plan indicates that septic systems could serve at least 80 homes on one part of the property. Another section calculates a total of 40 to 44 housing units.

The plan deliberately omits specifics because it remains to be seen how the various elements will fit together, said Jim McCullough. The idea is to get the right mix to preserve recreation opportunities and open land.

"We're not doing this for housing," he said. "We're doing it to create the working landscape that supports the needs of the community and Catamount."

Development could also include a 7,800-square-foot "magic building," which would serve as an indoor refuge for those participating in outdoor recreation. It may contain office space and locker rooms with showers. Other buildings could house an indoor ice skating rink and pool.

The plan talks at length about minimizing the impact of development on the environment and Catamount's natural beauty. Clustered housing on small lots are one possibility, as are live-work units for Catamount employees. Power for the magic building and indoor pool could be provided by wind turbines or solar panels.

Permitting process

Before anything is built, however, plans will have to clear numerous permitting hurdles.

Catamount is located in the town's agricultural-rural zoning district, where only farming and limited residential development is permitted. The district allows a maximum of one home for every two acres, which would in theory permit more than 200 homes to be built.

But other zoning restrictions further restrict development, said David Yandell, chairman of the Williston Planning Commission.

"The truth is, there is no likelihood it will ever be developed that densely," Yandell said.

Recent changes to Williston's land-use ordinance gives properties like Catamount a chance to work outside of the conventional zoning. Called the specific plan option, the provision could allow Catamount to propose development that includes "substantial public benefits" and in return be exempt from zoning requirements. The ordinance lists a commitment to conserve open space among the factors that qualify as a public benefit.

But a specific plan also triggers a more stringent review process. Approvals are needed by the Planning Commission and the Selectboard. A citizen committee would be formed to provide input on plan particulars.

Catamount has yet to formally submit an application to the town. Lucy McCullough said the nonprofit's board is scheduled next month to talk about when that application should move forward.

Community resource

Much is at stake, not just for Catamount, but for the community as a whole, said Williston resident Rick Blount, who serves on the nonprofit's governing board. He said Catamount, which he has frequented for 20 years, is the kind of place that separates Vermont from other states and Williston from other suburbs.

"I've become more and more aware of what an amazing resource it is, and how endangered this type of place is, not just in Vermont but everywhere," he said.

He said Catamount's continued existence speaks volumes about Vermont values and the McCulloughs' commitment to the land.

"They could make a lot of money selling the place," he said. "But they are thinking generations down the road."

How long can Catamount hold on with revenue-producing development likely years away? The McCulloughs said they don't know. It is clear, however, that the couple, who lease their land to the nonprofit, face increasing financial pressure.

A recent town-wide reappraisal increased the assessed value of their land by 64 percent. That will likely result in a steep property tax hike. The McCulloughs have appealed the appraisal.

Stepped-up fundraising efforts may help. Catamount received about $40,000 in donations in 2007, Lucy McCullough said, roughly double the previous year's amount.

The McCullough's said they hope the plan will keep Catamount open for public recreation and the land in their family for generations to come.

"My family has had the goal since the early 1900s, well before I was born, to have the property under a single manager anActive Imaged family ownership," Jim McCullough said. "So we want to honor that with this plan.

"Catamount was our land-use experiment. People will tell you today that the highest and best use of farmland in Chittenden County is to sell it for development. But we disagree." �

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