May 28, 2018

Williston teen checkmates peers in chess tourney (4/23/09)

April 23, 2009

By Mal Boright

Observer correspondent

Chess is the thinking person’s game, and David Ro, 14, of Forest Run Road in Williston has it pretty well figured out.


    Courtesy photo
Brothers David (left) and Daniel Ro challenge each other to a game of chess. David, 14, tied for first place in the middle school division of the Vermont State Chess Tournament earlier this month. Daniel finished second in the sixth grade division.

The middle school student, who attends Mater Christi School in Burlington, tied for first place in the middle school division of the Vermont State Chess Tournament April 14 in Berlin. Ro brought home the first place trophy after a certain time honored ceremony.

“We flipped a coin after the event and I got the trophy,” Ro said.

William Brooks of Grand Isle was the other first place designee.

There was a certain déjà vu for Ro, who won the event last year after a co-sixth grade championship in 2007.

Ro says he has been playing chess for several years and has a challenge coming from within the family. Younger brother Daniel took second place in the sixth grade division in the same tournament two weeks ago.

“I learn from him,” Daniel said of his older brother.

Has the student ever bettered the teacher?

“Not yet,” said David.

As for the game itself, David Ro said he prefers to play in an offensive mode, and the king is the toughest piece to work with.

He also said that the first moves in a game have little consequence, but the key situations develop some seven to 10 moves into each game.

David Ro said he is able to think and plan some seven moves ahead of what is on the board.

Next year David moves into the high school level of chess; a victory in that tournament leads to a national event.

For a guy who thinks seven moves ahead, that is only a year hence.

The son of Chris and Una Ro, David is also a successful tennis player.


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Senate passes charter changes (4/23/09)

Bill alters zoning administrator rules

April 23, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

A bill allowing Williston to change its charter passed last week after being temporarily lost in the legislative shuffle.

H. 31 shifts the zoning administrator from an appointed position to a hired employee and requires solid waste processors to have written agreements with the town.

The legislation, sponsored by Williston Reps. Terry Macaig and Jim McCullough, was quickly approved in the House and was forwarded to the Senate Government Operations Committee.

The bill was approved by the committee but then remained inactive for a couple of weeks. Macaig said he noticed it wasn’t on the calendar for a vote by the full Senate.

Macaig asked a clerk to look the bill up and “lo and behold there it was,” he said, overlooked and not yet scheduled for a vote. The full Senate finally passed the bill last Friday.

Legal problems surrounding a former zoning administrator prompted the town to seek changes to rules governing the position. D.K. Johnston was charged in January 2008 with stalking after a real estate agent accused him of sending her harassing e-mails, faxes and written messages, some laced with profanity.

Johnston later resigned under an agreement that forbids negative references from the town.

Under state law, a zoning administrator is nominated by the Planning Commission and appointed by the Selectboard to a three-year term. Trying to fire Johnston before his term ended would have triggered a lengthy process, including public hearings and potential litigation. The charter change gives the town manager authority to hire and fire the zoning administrator.

The other charter change involves a single word in state statutes that regulates agreements between municipalities and solid waste processors. The law states that solid waste facilities “may” enter into contracts that provide payments to towns. The charter change says that solid waste processors “shall” enter into a contract.

Town Manager Rick McGuire asked for the revision, saying it would give Williston more clout in future negotiations with solid waste companies that do business in Williston.

As of Monday, the charter change bill was awaiting Gov. Jim Douglas’s signature, said spokeswoman Dennise Casey. She said legal staff routinely reviews all legislation before the governor signs it.

Casey said she expects Douglas to sign the bill. State law requires the governor to act on legislation within five business days of its passage by the Legislature.


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Town faces choice with appointed seats (4/23/09)

Applications exceed openings

April 23, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The town of Williston has sometimes struggled to fill the dozens of appointed positions on boards and commissions. But now the town has more applicants than openings.

There are three people seeking seats on either the Development Review Board or the Planning Commission. There is only one opening on each board.

“It’s going to be tough,” said Town Manager Rick McGuire, adding that he doesn’t want a civic-minded volunteer to be disappointed.

The applicants are a strikingly diverse group.

Michael Alvanos, an architect, wants a seat on the either the Development Review Board or the Planning Commission. Heidi Auclair, a moving company owner, has applied for the same two boards. John Bendzunas, a federal probation officer, seeks a Development Review Board seat.

In addition, Carol Weston, an engineer who works for the city of Burlington, is the lone applicant for a seat on the Winooski Valley Park District’s governing board.

The Selectboard, which makes the appointments, was originally scheduled to interview each applicant on Monday night. But two of the applicants could not attend the meeting, so the board decided to defer a decision.

Nonetheless, the board did interview Auclair and Bendzunas. The applicants were asked why they applied and how they would handle a conflict of interest.

Auclair said she was interested in helping guide growth in Williston and ensuring new projects and businesses are in the best interest of residents.

On the conflict of interest question, “acting morally and ethically is very important to me,” she said. “If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.”

Bendzunas said his experience would help guide his decisions on the Development Review Board, a quasi-judicial body that rules on whether proposed commercial and residential projects conform to the town’s bylaws and comprehensive plan.

He likened the board’s review process to that of a court.

“The spirit of the Development Review Board … kind of has a lot of similarities to my job,” he said. “You get a certain case that represents a set of facts and lay them on top of the law.”

Bendzunas said his experience with the judicial system has allowed him to develop “a pretty good radar” about potential conflicts of interest.

McGuire said the town has in recent years been able to find residents to staff appointed boards and commissions, volunteer positions that sometimes require a considerable time commitment. But at times in the more distant past the town has been unable to fill openings. Several years ago, for example, there was a chronic problem with open seats on the Planning Commission.

Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig said the board would wait to fill the openings because the other applicants were not available for interviews.

McGuire said in an e-mail that those applicants are still interested in the positions. He hopes to reschedule their interviews for the Selectboard’s May 4 meeting.


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Mega church to present scaled-back plans (4/23/09)

April 23, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

What could become Williston’s first mega church will appear before the Development Review Board next week for a pre-application permit hearing on new, scaled down plans.

The Essex Alliance Church will begin the permit process again with the town after providing plans that are drastically different from the original ones presented two years ago.

The plans locate the church off Vermont 2A behind Beaudry Lane. The church bought 44 acres from Allen Brook Investments for $3.3 million late last year to secure the location. Church officials have stated in the past that Essex Alliance Church, which has locations on Old Stage Road in Essex Junction and at Essex Cinemas, outgrew its capacity in 2005, thus the need for a larger space.

According to the new plans, the church complex will consist of two attached buildings totaling 96,000 square feet. The main building will contain a 1,000-seat worship center, multi-use rooms, a bookstore, a café and a lobby area.

Administrative offices and youth ministries will be located in the main building as well. A two-story children’s ministry will be attached to the main building. Parking will be available for more than 400 vehicles.

While the church’s plans would still make it the largest place of worship in town, “it’s a scaled-down version of what they proposed originally,” said Williston Planning Director Ken Belliveau.

“The project is substantially different,” he said.

Original plans called for a church more than 141,500 square feet in size with parking for 600  vehicles and space for 1,800 worshippers.

Essex Alliance Church’s pastor, Rev. Scott Slocum, was unavailable for comment on the project’s changes. The church’s executive assistant, Judy Verity, said members of the church administration would be on hand at the Development Review Board meeting on April 28.

Other additions to the church’s plans include four housing units built off Beaudry Lane. The street will be improved and another entry point to the church would be built just south of Beaudry Lane. A softball diamond and soccer field are also proposed in the plans.

Belliveau said the church would also build recreation paths around the site, stretching to Allen Brook. He said the paths would help Williston create a trail network alongside the stream through town in accordance with the town plan.

Since Allen Brook is considered at risk for pollution, the church plans to build its facility far enough away from the stream to minimize storm water runoff. The open space and trail network will also help preserve the area, Belliveau said.

“In the long run, this will go a long way in protecting the water quality of the Allen Brook,” Belliveau said.

Essex Alliance Church is scheduled to present its plans at the next Development Review Board meeting, scheduled for April 28 at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall.


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Deciding between deer and humans (4/23/09)

Subdivision proposed for winter deer habitat

April 23, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

A 34-unit subdivision that includes 20 affordable housing units may make sense for Williston’s human population, but the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department says the land might be better populated by white-tailed deer.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Deer tend to frequent the fields pictured above, which are located below the proposed Settlers Village subdivision, says property owner Dan Fontaine. The fields border much of what the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department classifies as prime deer wintering grounds.

The nearly 300 acres in North Williston sited for a subdivision serve as prime winter habitat for deer. The deer population of Vermont numbers roughly 140,000.

Last week, brothers Mike and Dan Fontaine received a discretionary permit from the Development Review Board for their Settlers Village development off North Williston Road. While the board recognized the location as deer wintering grounds, it believed the project’s 223 acres of open space would mitigate any wildlife issues.

But the final verdict on that piece of the development will come during the state’s Act 250 environmental permitting process. An Act 250 permit ensures the development complies with environmental, storm water and wildlife concerns.

Dan Fontaine said deer frequent the wooded hillsides of his family’s property near the Winooski River, and can roam more than 1,000 acres stretching from the river to Williston Woods and Catamount Family Center.

“There’s a lot of land for them there,” Fontaine said, adding that Settlers Village would impact only a fraction of that section of town.

Deer habitat

John Gobeille, a wildlife biologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, said the Champlain Valley, and Chittenden County in particular, has some of the best deer habitat in the state. The area’s winters are generally milder than the rest of the state and easier on deer, he said.

Gobeille said he did not have data on the number of deer that might be living around the Fontaine property.

The Fish and Wildlife Department’s deer specialist, Shawn Haskell, said protecting deer wintering grounds means life or death for a herd. Winters that feature 18 to 20 inches of snow on the ground for more than a month can spell disaster.

“When there’s 20 inches of snow on the ground, they can’t move without using a lot of energy, which causes them to starve,” Haskell said.

The winters of 2001 and 2003 were particularly difficult for Champlain Valley deer, Haskell said, while the Northeast Kingdom herds took a hit this past winter. Haskell estimated 20 percent of the state’s herds could be killed off during a hard statewide winter.

Though the Fontaine property may seem like a fraction of the region’s deer habitat, Gobeille said Williston has lost significant deer wintering coverage in the past few decades. He said land around Taft Corners and IBM used to be perfect deer habitat until it was developed.

“If we didn’t have those deer yards, the population would crash in a bad winter,” Gobeille said. (Habitats) are becoming fewer and fewer over the years.”

Proposed changes

Gobeille said the Fish and Wildlife Department is not against development. He commended the Fontaines for scaling back their project from the originally proposed 49 units, as well as clustering the development rather than spreading it out over woodland and farmland.

“We’re not telling them they can’t develop there,” Gobeille said.

To minimize impact on deer wintering grounds, Gobeille said the department asked to have the 20-unit second phase of the project moved to another location. But that would require the Fontaines to remove several acres of mature trees.

In the current plans, both phases of construction would be built over existing sand pits already devoid of trees. The operating permit for the sand pit where phase two would be built expires in 2016 and would have to be replanted with softwood trees to meet its Act 250 requirements.

Fontaine said he doesn’t see much sense in cutting down trees when a nearby spot is already cleared and ready for construction in a few years. If trees were planted in the second sand pit, Fontaine said, it would be 50 to 70 years before the trees are mature enough to be considered prime deer wintering ground.

Fontaine said the project follows Act 250 guidelines closely, allowing for appropriate buffers to streams and including 75 percent of their land as protected open space.

“We’ve been working with them all along,” Fontaine said. “As far as I know, we’ve met their criteria.”

If the Fish and Wildlife Department stands by its proposal, the Fontaines’ project could be significantly set back. Settlers Village would have to return to the pre-application permit phase, said Williston’s Senior Planner Matt Boulanger. The Fontaines would again have to compete for growth management allocation, he added.

Fontaine said with support from town officials, he hopes the state will rule in their favor when applying for the Act 250 permit in the coming months.

“I like the project, our neighbors like it (and) the town likes it,” Fontaine said.


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School boards, CSSU side with RETN (4/23/09)

Charlotte board waits to hear from Comcast in contract dispute

April 23, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

School boards in Chittenden South Supervisory Union gave near unanimous support last week to RETN, the local education channel that has been embroiled in a contract dispute with the cable provider Comcast.

The school boards of Champlain Valley Union High School, Hinesburg, Shelburne, St. George and Williston all supported a resolution to champion RETN Channel 16, which stands for the Regional Educational Technology Network. The CSSU Board of Directors also gave its support to the network.

The Charlotte Central School Board abstained from signing a resolution. CCS Board Chairman Clyde Baldwin said the board wanted to hear from both sides of the issue before making a decision. He said an RETN representative has already explained the network’s side of the story.

Comcast has sent a letter to the affected school districts, but has not sent any representatives to school board meetings in the supervisory union.

“Out of fairness, we should wait to hear what Comcast has to say,” Baldwin said.

RETN provides coverage of local school board meetings and other school-related events for all CSSU towns and much of the Champlain Valley, including Burlington.

Comcast — the nation’s largest cable provider — has questioned RETN’s bookkeeping practices and financial reports. Earlier this year, Comcast petitioned the Vermont Public Service board to allow the cable company to suspend its contract with RETN North, which includes Williston and St. George. Comcast did not renew its contract with RETN South—which covers Charlotte, Hinesburg and Shelburne — when it expired in November 2007.

Both sides have reached an interim funding agreement while Comcast completes an audit of RETN’s finances. The audit is to be completed next month, when both parties will return to the Vermont Public Service Board for a hearing.

RETN Public Relations Associate Doug Dunbebin said resolutions of support from school boards are important to Channel 16. He said RETN would include all resolutions when it files a counter petition against Comcast in May.

“It shows that we’ve served our communities well and we’ve continued to serve them well,” Dunbebin said.

Only the Charlotte and the South Burlington school boards have not endorsed a resolution at this time.

Williston School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said the board found it important to support RETN, “particularly regarding their past work with us,” she said.

Worth referenced the resolution the Williston Board supported, which states that RETN brings “valuable contributions to students, our learning community, and our school board by providing public television access, enhancing democracy through transparency of government, and creating educational opportunities for students.”

Baldwin said the Charlotte School Board will remain “impartial and neutral” until it hears Comcast’s side of the story. He believes RETN does a good job of covering local education issues.

“We have been very satisfied with what RETN has provided to us,” Baldwin said.

He hopes a Comcast representative will visit the CCS Board at its May or June meeting.

A representative from Comcast did not respond in time for press deadline.


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Roundabout ruling collides with public opinion (4/23/09)

April 23, 2009

Opponents petition to overturn traffic measure

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Upset by plans for a roundabout in Williston Village, residents have launched a petition drive aimed at reversing the town’s course.

The petition states there is no evidence the roundabout is needed and asserts that it would “compromise our historic district” and hurt the church and convenience store at the intersection.

The roundabout was one of three options to smooth traffic flow at the intersection where U.S. 2 meets North Williston and Oak Hill roads. The Selectboard unanimously voted at its March 23 meeting to install a roundabout rather than add traffic signals or leave in place the existing four-way stop signs.

A study found the intersection was one of the most hazardous in the state, with 25 accidents within a five-year period ending in 2006. The high-crash designation made the intersection eligible for nearly $1 million in federal funding to pay for a roundabout or a smaller amount to install a traffic signal.

But many residents who attended a February public hearing on the issue argued intersection improvements were not needed because accidents have stopped occurring and traffic congestion has eased in the past few years.

Since the Selectboard’s vote, a groundswell of discontent has bubbled up among many residents.

The Williston Observer has received an unusually large number of letters to the editor on the topic, mostly from people angered by the board’s decision. There has been considerable commentary posted on Front Porch Forum, a locally operated Internet site that facilitates communication among neighbors. And Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs recently met with residents to discuss the issue.

Even Williston Federated Church, located at the intersection, has entered the fray. The church’s governing board voted to formally oppose the roundabout earlier this month, said Ken Stone, the board’s chairman.

Ginger Isham, who writes a recipe column for the Observer, apparently initiated the petition drive a couple of weeks ago. She was on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

But others involved with the effort said petitions have been placed at local businesses and circulated among neighbors. Williston resident Marie Lereau said on Tuesday the petitions she has collected have about 150 signatures.

“We’re just trying to spread it through word of mouth,” Lereau said. “Hopefully, it’s mushrooming.”

Town Clerk Deb Beckett said the people she’s heard from feel the board ignored their wishes.

“This is really ticking people off,” she said.

But not everyone opposes the roundabout. Resident Bob Pasco wrote a letter to the editor praising the Selectboard’s leadership. He said the roundabout was the best way to maintain traffic flow and the historic character of the village.

“It beats the heck out of idling in line and waiting for the light to change,” he wrote. “And it beats having flashing lights and overhead wires mar this historic intersection.”

Still, many residents were upset by the Selectboard’s decision. Some worry it would negatively impact the century-old Williston Federated Church and the busy Korner Kwik Stop.

“The town’s got a lot of nerve doing what they are doing,” said Mike Isham, Ginger Isham’s son. “There’s no room for it, and it will affect the church and a local business.”

Roundabout plans

The single-lane roundabout approved by the Selectboard was detailed in a study by Burlington-based Resource Systems Group. It would feature a center circle 120 feet in diameter and include rounded curbs and wide shoulders designed to accommodate large trucks.

The study presents a conceptual design that could be altered somewhat during final engineering, said Mark Smith, senior project consultant with RSG. But he said the size of the roundabout should remain roughly the same.

The roundabout would stay within the public right-of-way except for a 20-foot-long triangular-shaped piece of the Federated Church property, according to Smith.

But it does edge up to property lines at the Korner Kwik Stop and homes around the intersection. Smith acknowledged that landscaping and drainage work associated with the project could affect adjacent properties.

The new roundabout would not be comparable to the one in Maple Tree Place, Smith said. Supporters have pointed out that the retail center’s roundabout is much smaller and so does not function properly.

In any case, construction of the roundabout won’t begin any time soon. Final plans must be drawn up and permits obtained, a process that would take at least a year and perhaps much longer, Smith said.

Officials take notice

Residents can petition to hold a town-wide vote on the roundabout or any other issue. It is unclear whether the petition being circulated by Lereau and others would spur a town-wide vote.

Five percent of registered voters must sign a petition — 365 in Williston’s case — to trigger a referendum. But the petition being circulated does not include language specifically asking for a town-wide vote.

Regardless, the petition has gotten the attention of town officials. Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig said he would be willing to take another look at the roundabout decision if presented with a petition. Both Macaig and Town Manager Rick McGuire suggested a public forum would be the best venue for airing concerns and explaining facts.

The town has long considered a roundabout the best way to handle the rush-hour traffic backups. In fact, about six years ago the Selectboard approved a roundabout at the intersection. But the project languished for lack of funding.

Back then the roundabout also had foes, albeit only a few nearby residents. This time, opposition spread beyond immediate neighbors, although it appears to be coming mainly from those who live in and around the village.

Jill Mellion lives 2.5 miles away from the intersection on South Road but she is still strongly opposed to the roundabout. She considers it unnecessary and ugly.

“It would just make our little town look tacky,” Mellion said. “That sort of thing doesn’t belong in the village. We have Taft Corners already and we love it. We don’t need it here.”


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Postseason honors for nine CVU hockey players (4/16/09)

April 16, 2009

Champlain Valley Union High’s Division 1 state championship hockey team placed seven members on the coaches All-Metro Division team, while two members of the girls team earned all-Metro honors.

Sophomore forward Robbie Dobrowski and junior defenseman Eric Robinson were named to the All-Metro first team. In addition, both were awarded slots on the Burlington Free Press All-State first team.

Senior defenseman Owen Smith was named to the All-Metro second team and to the All-State second team.

Junior goalie Mark Albertson is third team All-Metro and All-State honorable mention.

All-Metro honorable mentions were earned by seniors Brady DeHayes, a forward, and Chris Howard, a defenseman, along with sophomore forward Kyle Logan. Howard also drew an All-State honorable mention.

Senior goaltender Nicole Bonneau and sophomore forward Molly Howard were named to the girls All-Metro second team. Bonneau was also a third team All-State choice while Howard was All-State honorable mention.

Academic All-Star selections went to Bonneau and Amanda Kaminsky. These honors go to seniors who maintain a minimum cumulative 3.5 grade point average.

— Mal Boright, Observer correspondent


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Rocky first inning leads to opening loss for CVU softball (4/16/09)

April 16, 2009

Coach Corinna Hussey and her Champlain Valley Union High softball team found plenty to build on in a 15-5 loss to Mount Abraham Union in Tuesday’s season-opener on a sun-drenched but chilly home field.

The 0-1 Redhawks return to action Tuesday in Barre against Spaulding High.

Here in the northern climes, first games can be tricky, given that teams have little time outdoors before the first pitches are fired.

On Tuesday, CVU found itself down 9-0 before getting its first chance to swing the bats. Mount Abraham put together three hits, including two doubles, five walks, three hit batters and one error, to dig a deep hole that the Redhawks could not escape from.

But after that deluge, the Redhawks played the Eagles pretty evenly over the final innings. Mount Abe got just one more hit to total four for the game.

Catcher Emily Himberg laced a pair of hits to pace CVU’s offense.

— Mal Boright, Observer correspondent


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CVU tennis teams eye further success on Thursday (4/16/09)

April 16, 2009

Having struck for victories over Essex High on Monday, the Champlain Valley Union High girls and boys tennis teams will be back on the courts Thursday with Burlington High providing the opposition.


    Observer photo by Ben Sarle
Champlain Valley Union High tennis player Cassie Smith (left) opens the defense of her 2008 individual state title with a win over Essex High’s Donna Gordon (right). The CVU girls tennis team swept the matches against Essex High on Monday afternoon.

The girls will be home at Davis Park in Shelburne and the boys will play at Burlington’s Leddy Park. Both sets of matches get under way at 3:30 p.m.

In their wins over Essex, the girls pulled a 7-0 perfecto at Davis Park, winning all matches. The boys scored a 4-3 victory at the Hornets’ home courts.

Girls victors in singles were Cassie Smith, Kylie deGroot, Anna Clare Smith, Abbey Stoner and Colleen McCarthy.

The teams of Christina Parker-Molly Ziegler and Kristin Donaldson-Wells Griffin swept the two doubles matches.

David Hildebrand, Mark Vecchio and Tabor deGroot scored singles triumphs for the boys while the team of Jameson Voll and Will Hurd won one of the two doubles matches to assure CVU of the overall team success.

— Mal Boright, Observer correspondent


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