October 14, 2019

Liberally Speaking (10/29/09)

Thankfully, we're not a democracy

Oct. 29, 2009

By Steve Mount

“We live in a democracy!” is an often-heard cry from those who feel unheard in government. The statement, however, has a basic inaccuracy, an inaccuracy that could be described as simple semantics, but certainly is not.

The United States is not a democracy, and we should be thankful for that. What we are, instead, is a representative democracy. That one word makes all the difference in the world.

A democracy, in its purest form, is rule by the people. Every issue of importance is put to the people for a vote, and the majority rules. The system sounds good — everyone has an equal vote, an equal voice and the will of the people is the will of the majority.

There are, however, many difficulties with such a system, a couple of which I will detail.

The first is one of practicality. It is impractical to put every issue to the people in any but the smallest of societies. It’s often been said that the closest we, as modern Americans, come to pure democracy is that staple of March in Vermont, the town meeting.

While I agree that the town meeting is an important institution, it is notable that even small towns have learned that the town meeting is only effective as a method of governance to a specific point. Most obviously, town meetings are only held once per year. The rest of the year, the town is invariably run by representatives. More to the point, most people simply don’t want to be involved in the everyday decision-making of the town.

Western society has a rich history, dating a thousand years, of delegating authority. The authority must be kept in check, however, and in the United States we have devised institutions to do that. Elections are the most basic check, but we also have term limits, checks and balances and separation of powers.

So basic is the shift from democracy to representative democracy that we see it at every level of government. Not only in the U.S. Congress, but also in the Vermont Legislature, in the Selectboard, even to the FAP Advisory Council in our schools. Representative democracy is all around us and, unlike pure democracy, it works.

Another major problem with a pure democracy is “majority rule.” Most of the time, majority rule works just fine. When we are selecting a representative, the candidate with the most votes should be the winner. If the question of a roundabout on U.S. 2 is put to a vote, then the majority should carry the question.

But some things should not be subject to majority rule — basic human rights, for example. The ability of a person to speak his mind or to worship as she wishes should not be subject to a vote. If a people voted to institute slavery, the fact that a majority voted for it would make it no less a violation of human rights.

The Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution and the similar Declaration of Rights in the Vermont Constitution lay out for all to see those principles that we hold dear and which are not subject to a vote.

“The people have a right to freedom of speech,” the Vermont Constitution says. There is no exception that reads, “Unless the people of the state vote to remove that freedom from any person or group.”

This entire discussion came to mind because of a conversation I’ve been having with someone who is unsatisfied with our current national government. He advocates the abolition of the Congress and its replacement with the votes of the people. The idea sounds great in sound-bite format: “Your voice will be heard! Your vote will really count! Take the influence of lobbyists out of the government!”

These slogans are rooted in democratic principles, and might be true in a pure democracy. As noted above, though, it is impractical. We do not all want to be part-time politicians. We want to elect people to do that for us.

Democracy is a great idea in principle but a lousy one in practice. What we have done is taken that principle and tweaked the system to make it work for each of our levels of government. It can be improved, no doubt about that, but our attempts to improve the system should not include throwing it out and replacing it with something we know will not work.


Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at steve@saltyrain.com or read his blog at http://saltyrain.com/ls.


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Letters to the Editor (10/29/09)

Oct. 29, 2009


Thank you, Williston!

Whitcomb's Land of Pumpkins would like to thank everyone who participated in and supported our Annual Giant Pumpkin Display/Weighoff and Williston School Fundraiser.

We displayed and weighed some very nice and big pumpkins, which included a 736-pound pumpkin grown by Williston's Matthew Daily. It was a sunny and beautiful day and fun was had by all. A total of $785 was raised by pumpkin purchases, maze admissions and a bake sale.

A special thank you to our local business people for your generous prize donations.

The Whitcomb Family, Williston


Please sign new petition

There seems to be some confusion about the petitions being circulated about a vote for or against a roundabout at the intersection in the village.

In the spring, the Selectboard approved a roundabout where we now have a four-way stop. Petitions in the spring were circulated to get the Selectboard to rescind their vote.

This did not happen. The petitions out now are to give the town’s people a chance to vote “yes” or “no” for the roundabout by having the question put on the ballot in March 2010.

In addition to last week's list of where the petitions can be found, there are now petitions at the Sunoco next to exit 12.

Please sign soon, as the petitions need to be picked up by end of the month. We did not wish to do this petition drive during holidays or cold weather. Thank you.

Ginger Isham and Marie Lareau, Williston


Grandfather clock is Williston opportunity

I favor the acquisition of this important town treasure.

I am referring to the Williston Observer’s Oct. 22, front page article regarding a significant work of original Williston art in the form of a "larger than life" grandfather clock.

If you have not read the article, please do. In any case, upon reading it, please contact me with your advice for the Williston Historical Society Board of Directors with your opinion; acquire or not. I will forward your answers to the board.

I am not on the Historical Society board, but my wife Lucy and I have been members for many years. I participated in the preservation and moving of the Stove Pipe Corner School house to our Town Green. That process was as good for our community as possibly the preservation itself. I believe the Munson Grandfather Clock presents those same opportunities for our community.

Time is of the essence! Contact me at jim_mccullough@myfairpoint.net or at 878-2180 before 9 p.m.

Rep. Jim McCullough, D-Williston


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Guest Column (10/29/09)

Debunking the myths of teenage drinking

Oct. 29, 2009

By Dayna Scott

“All teens drink alcohol!”

That is, if you believe what you see and hear in movies, TV commercials, magazine ads and storefront displays. But don’t be fooled — this is just a profit-driven illusion on the part of the alcohol industry. Not all teens drink — in fact, 66 percent of our Chittenden South eighth through 12th graders didn’t drink in the past 30 days, according to the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

The myth that all youth drink alcohol (or even that most do) is just one of many promoted in our culture. Here are a few other myths related to underage drinking that Connecting Youth would like to dispel.

MYTH: In Europe, youth drink more responsibly than in the United States.

FACT: First, there is no such thing as “responsible” use by teens here since they are under 21 and alcohol is illegal. Allowing teens to break the law should not be viewed as responsible. In addition, consumption and binge drinking rates are actually higher in most European countries than in the United States. According to the American Journal of Public Health, the national rate of binge drinking among 12- to 18-year-olds in Germany and the United Kingdom is double that of what it is in the United States (55 percent vs. 25 percent). According to researchers from the PIRE Prevention Center in Berkeley, Calif., data collected from 15- and 16-year-olds in 35 European countries (from Greenland to Turkey) indicated that European teens drink more often, drink more heavily and get drunk more frequently than American teens.

MYTH: It’s better for kids to start drinking at a young age, so they learn how to “handle” it.

FACT: The adolescent brain is still developing — especially the front part of the brain that is responsible for judgment and reason. Many recent studies show that alcohol can have a negative impact on healthy brain development. In particular, it can lead to reduced sensitivity to intoxication, adverse effects to cognitive thinking and the actual reduction in the size of the hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Early drinking is also associated with a higher risk for academic failure, depression, suicide, sexual assault, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infection and other substance abuse. Young drinkers are also four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence.

MYTH: Teens are practically adults and are old enough to make responsible decisions.

FACT: Many teens can and do make responsible decisions; this is, however, in spite of the fact that their brains are not fully developed. Teens are more prone to risky behaviors and often make impulsive decisions. This is due, in part, to the fact that the brain does not fully develop until the mid-20s. Adults make decisions using the frontal cortex, which controls rational functions. The frontal cortex of a teen’s brain is the last part to develop and, therefore, teens rely on the back part of their brain (the amygdala), which controls the instinctual, emotional and impulsive functions. Teens are also more prone to peer pressure as they seek approval from their friends, which can interfere with good judgment.

MYTH: It’s OK for teens to drink, as long as they don’t drive.

FACT: Only one-third of underage drinking deaths involve auto crashes — so taking away the car keys doesn’t make underage drinking safe. The remaining two-thirds of youth alcohol-related deaths involve alcohol poisoning, homicides, suicides and unintentional injuries such as burns, drowning and falls.

MYTH: “Clean cut” kids or athletes are less likely to use alcohol or other drugs.

FACT: All kinds of kids are susceptible to use. These include athletes, drama students, national honor society members, students from all socio-economic levels — substance use can affect anyone. Beware of developing the attitude that “My kids are good kids — they wouldn’t drink or do drugs!” The labels “good” kids and “bad” kids put a moral judgment on what should remain an issue of health and safety. That said, sometimes the so-called “good” kids are more likely to get away with using because people don’t want to believe that they would do that.

MYTH: Kids are going to drink no matter what — it’s a rite of passage.

FACT: Remember, two-thirds of teens in Chittenden South do not drink alcohol. Parents can help raise that number by creating more healthy rites of passage for teens. Do something special to acknowledge major milestones and make sure it doesn’t involve alcohol.


Here are some tips on how to better communicate with your teen:

>  Listen, do not judge or lecture.

>  Have short conversations that allow your teen to share situations. Ask open-ended questions about pressures they may face socially. Have conversations regarding your values, rules and boundaries involving alcohol, tobacco and other drug use.

>  Work with your teen to develop a contract outlining the consequences to drinking — be sure it is something you can both sign off on.

>  Be available during times when your teen is socializing.

>  Volunteer to supervise or chaperone events at other homes in the community and through school.

>  Educate yourself about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, be a credible source of information for your teen and be willing to learn with and from your child.

Dayna Scott is the CY coordinator and grants administrator. CY, or Connecting Youth, is a community-based organization dedicated to creating a safe and healthy environment for young people. Operating out of Chittenden South Supervisory Union, CY serves Charlotte, Hinesburg, St. George, Shelburne and Williston and is located online at www.seewhy.info and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/connectingyouth.


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National exposure boosts pretzel business (10/29/09)

Oct. 29, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

A young Williston entrepreneur’s fiery snack received national exposure Monday morning. That’s when daytime talk show host and Food Network star Rachael Ray highlighted Alec’s Spicy Pretzels on her nationally syndicated Rachael Ray Show.

It was a quick mention, but one Alec Distler and his family hope will introduce the popular snack food outside the Champlain Valley.

Alec’s Spicy Pretzels started out last year as a small, family-run business. It was the brainchild of Alec, then a Williston Central School eighth grader. He now attends Champlain Valley Union High School.

Based on a family recipe, the pretzels are baked with a blend of spices that give the snack a kick and have garnered countless fans in the Williston School District and at CVU.

Alec’s mother, Lynn Distler, said the show’s producers expressed interest in the product and asked Alec if he’d be willing to send in free samples — 150 large bags of pretzels. Each audience member received a bag after the taping of Monday’s show, Lynn Distler said, as did Ray and her staff.

“It was a great little segment,” Lynn Distler said.

The Distlers hope the national exposure will help the business grow. In recent months, the pretzel snacks have been selling in more Champlain Valley convenience stores, as well as at Colchester and South Burlington high schools.

The company has also created a blossoming Internet business at www.alecsspicypretzels.com. Lynn Distler said the company has shipped pretzels all over the country.

The company expanded over the summer by hiring four part-time helpers and moved its baking operations to Burlington Bay Market, where the Distlers more than quadrupled their production capacity. Lynn Distler hopes Alec’s Spicy Pretzels will further expand into the New England market. She said her son wants to sell the snacks at Fenway Park next baseball season.

“This has been fun for us so far,” Lynn Distler said. “We’re just playing this one day at a time.”

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Salon, massage businesses open in renovated building (10/29/09)

Oct. 29, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

This past Columbus Day was the beginning of a “new world,” said salon owners Heather Ingham and Veronica Platt. Their company, Studio Ten, opened that day and became the first business to occupy the brand new Sola Salon.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Studio Ten owners Heather Ingham (left) and Veronica Platt are the first tenants to rent space at Sola Salon, located at 2141 Essex Road.

Located at 2141 Essex Road between Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel and Taft Corners Shopping Center, Sola Salon is the first business to open in the renovated building.

Massage Envy, a national franchise launching its first Vermont location, will open next month.

The Williston location of Sola Salon, which has franchises in 16 states, offers 16 studios for salon professionals to rent and open their own business. For Ingham and Platt, it was an opportunity to realize a dream of owning an establishment.

“We wanted a change and this just popped up at the right time,” said Platt, who, along with Ingham, worked as a salon professional at Richmond’s Bridge Street Hair.

Sola Salon’s franchise co-owner Phil Tonks said he hopes to attract upstarts like Studio Ten to his business. He’s looking for hair professionals and stylists tired of working at someone else’s salon or renting a chair at a professional space.

“This is exactly like opening your own business,” Tonks said. “You are in charge. You can decide how often you want to work. You can decide what kind of hours you want.”

The 16 salon spaces, both large and small, come with sinks, chairs, space for extra equipment and places to sell hair and beauty products. Two larger spaces, including the one occupied by Studio Ten, have two stylist stations.

Tonks said he’s looking for stylists who have experience and a solid client list.

Ingham said the key to Studio Ten’s opening in Williston was the 200 to 300 clients she and Platt hope to attract.

“If you don’t have a client base, you’re not going to make it here,” Ingham said.

Tonks owns Sola Salon along with his wife Julie Tonks. They also own Grand View Winery in East Calais.

Phil Tonks said opening the Williston franchise was something he couldn’t pass up. His son-in-law owns four successful Sola Salons in and around Las Vegas. Despite the differences between Nevada and Vermont, Phil Tonks believes the Sola Salon idea can work anywhere.

Tonks is also looking to expand into the Boston area, where he has franchise rights.


Massage Envy

Opening in the same building in the second week of November is Massage Envy, a national franchise chain with more than 600 locations in 42 states. Owner Amy Johnston said she wanted to open a Massage Envy after her friend inquired why there wasn’t a location in Vermont. After visiting one, Johnston became convinced the Burlington area would be a perfect fit.

Massage Envy will have 13 massage rooms and, to start, 10 to 12 massage therapists. Johnston is in the process of hiring therapists from Vermont’s large pool of applicants.

“All massage therapists we hire need to  be able to do Swedish and deep tissue (massages), because that’s what’s most requested,” Johnston said.

She’s also looking for therapists who have experience in specialty massages.

Clients can expect to pay an introductory fee of $39 for their first massage; subsequent massages would cost twice as much. If interested, however, customers can become members for $59 a month, which includes one 50-minute massage. Subsequent massages and spa treatments for members will cost $39, Johnston said.

“It’s a great deal if you become a regular visitor,” she said.

For more information about Massage Envy, call 879-0888. For information about Sola Salons, call 878-9906. To reach Studio Ten, call Heather Ingham at 363-1583 or Veronica Platt at 598-9729.


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Halloween photo contest (10/29/09)

Oct. 29, 2009

Beware the ghosts, ghouls and goblins this Halloween — and try to capture them with a camera, because the Observer is hosting a Halloween photo contest.

Submissions will be accepted until noon on Monday, Nov. 2. Entries should be saved as JPEG files and e-mailed to editor@willistonobserver.com. Include your name, address, phone number and time and place the photo was taken.

Entries are limited to three photos per household.

Observer staff will judge photos based on clarity, color, composition and ability to portray the Halloween season.

The contest is being sponsored by Ramunto’s Brick Oven Pizza in Williston. In addition to having the winning photo printed in the Observer on Nov. 5, winners will receive a gift certificate to Ramunto’s: $50 for first place, $25 for second place and $10 for third place.

The top 10 finalists will appear online at www.willistonobserver.com.

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Williston skater advances in regional competition (10/29/09)

Emily Young places second, qualifies for sectional

Oct. 29, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Emily Young glided to a second-place finish in a competition featuring the region’s best figure skaters, a successful first step in her quest to reach the national championships.

Young, 18, from Williston, competed in the senior ladies division of the New England Regional Figure Skating Championships held Oct. 21-25 at Leddy Park Arena in Burlington.

Young said her performance in the short program on Saturday was far from flawless. Still, it was good enough for third place leading up to the free skate the next day.

Young went last in the free skate, watching 18 other competitors perform before she stepped on the ice. She said the long wait jangled her nerves.

She fell on her first triple jump. But Young said she hit the rest of her jumps, saving some shaky landings. She finished behind only Alexandra Volpicelli from the Skating Club of Boston.

“In the end I fought hard in my free skate and put together a better program,” Young said.

The top four skaters in each division move on to the eastern sectionals, to be held next month in Delaware. The best four finishers in that competition qualify for the U.S. Championships in Spokane, Wash. in January and could earn a place on the U.S. Olympic Team.

Young, who grew up in Williston, has lived a nomadic existence the past few years to work with the best coaches and compete against top skaters. She currently lives in the Boston area.

Young said before the regional that she was thrilled to return home to perform in front of family and friends. Her parents, Todd and Elizabeth, and younger sister, Andrea, still live in Williston.

This season marks Young’s second run at the national championship. Young placed first in the novice division in the regional competition two years ago, then placed fourth in the sectionals. That qualified her for the nationals, where she finished eighth.

Injuries hobbled her last year. But Young has done well in 2009, winning a competition in Dallas as well before the runner-up finish in last weekend’s regionals.

Earlier this month, Young said  her goal was to return to the national championship. This season could be her last chance to devote so much time to skating because she plans to attend college next year.

Young said she is thinking about participating in skating shows and competing at the collegiate level. But she hinted that her plans could change if she skates exceptionally well over the next couple of months.

“It depends on how I to do in the sectionals,” she said. “If I keep going after that, who knows?”

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Williston Food Shelf waits for decision about lease (10/29/09)

Oct. 29, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

With two months left on its lease at Maple Tree Place, the Williston Community Food Shelf is looking at all options in case it needs a new home.


    Observer photo by Marianne Apfelbaum
Karen Sidney-Plummer

Food Shelf President Deb Beckett said she’s had conversations with representatives of Inland U.S. Management, which owns Maple Tree Place. She said the Food Shelf should know by Monday how it will proceed. A lease can be extended for another six months from the end of December, or a new home needs to be found.

“I think we’ll be able to sign another lease for six months, but we’ll know more soon,” Beckett said Tuesday.

Earlier in the morning, Beckett gave a tour of the Food Shelf to Maple Tree Place’s new general manager, Karen Sidney-Plummer. Beckett said Sidney-Plummer was impressed with the operation and discussed the Food Shelf’s future.

Sidney-Plummer started work two weeks ago, replacing former Maple Tree Place property manager Richard Golder. She worked for seven years at the Burlington Town Center on Church Street and helped the mall through its major renovation, she told the Observer.

Sidney-Plummer could not comment on ongoing lease negotiations with the Food Shelf.

The Food Shelf opened on Connor Way in Maple Tree Place last November. Originally, the nonprofit group did not have to pay for rent or utilities. When the six-month lease ended in May, the Food Shelf signed another lease, which runs through December. There is still no charge for rent, but the organization does pay utility costs.

Beckett hopes negotiations with Inland will allow the Food Shelf to establish a permanent location.

“It would be nice to be able to stay settled,” Beckett said.

If not, the Food Shelf’s Board of Directors is looking at other options, including a different space at Maple Tree Place or somewhere at a different site. Whatever happens, Beckett said Inland has been great in its support.

“I think Inland has been absolutely fantastic by allowing us the space for this year,” Beckett said. “It’s very generous for them as a corporation.”

School groups and organizations around town have also been generous with donations. Last month, the Williston Historical Society donated $506 collected during the July 4 Ice Cream Social. Students from Williston Central School donated a large amount of non-perishable items from a recent food drive.

Furthermore, the Observer’s Plant a Row for the Hungry Program, which provided fresh produce to the Williston Food Shelf and other nearby food pantries, recently reached its goal of collecting 1,500 pounds of food.

“It’s going to be getting a lot busier, but so far donations have been picking up, too,” Beckett said.

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Neighbors appeal Atwood fence (10/29/09)

Oct. 29, 2009

Developer Jeff Atwood appeared Tuesday at a Development Review Board meeting to hear an appeal against a fence he wants to build.

Ron and Maureen Caruso, whose property on Lefebvre Lane abuts land where Atwood plans to build an eight-unit subdivision, appealed a town permit granting Atwood permission to build a fence between the properties.

The Carusos called the barrier a “spite fence” that will block their views.

“Instead of looking out and seeing green, we’re going to look out and see a stockade fence,” Ron Caruso said.

Furthermore, the Carusos said the property where the fence is to be built belongs to them, since they have used it for more than 25 years. They told the board they’re working with the state to claim a section of the land through adverse possession, which can occur when someone proves he’s continuously used land longer than the disputed land’s current owner.

Atwood refuted the claim, saying, “I certainly pay taxes on it.”

Planning and Zoning Director Ken Belliveau said adverse possession is a civil matter.

Though  Atwood said he would not build the fence until he and the Carusos could reach an agreement, the Review Board ultimately rejected the permit upon learning that Atwood had supplied an incorrect address for the fence site. 


— Tim Simard, Observer staff


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Developer doggedly pursues rule changes (10/29/09)

Jeff Atwood attends dozens of meetings

Oct. 29, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Developer Jeff Atwood shed his coat, placed papers in front of him and then made an eight-minute speech at last week’s Selectboard meeting that was equal parts plea for cooperation and policy critique.

“I’m hoping we can come to some compromise and resolution but I don’t see it happening so far,” said Atwood, who recently appealed in court restrictions that he says make it impossible to build his eight-unit subdivision on North Williston Road.

The town plan calls for construction of modestly priced homes like those offered by his project, he added, but that can’t happen without the board easing the burden of Williston’s growth control rules.

Atwood has become a familiar sight at Town Hall. He has appeared at or had his project discussed during 35 meetings of various boards over the past two years, minutes posted on the town’s Web site show.

He has more recently focused on the Selectboard, attending a half-dozen meetings in 2009.

Earlier this year, he argued against provisions in the unified development bylaw that he said would prevent construction of his project. After the bylaw passed, Atwood continued to press his case, sharpening criticism of the land-use rules and implying that town staff and board members have a hidden agenda.

“Unfortunately, your staff has got their hands in the sandbox,” he said at the Oct. 19 Selectboard meeting.

“Are you making an accusation against our staff?” asked Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig. Atwood said he wasn’t.

But in an interview, Atwood said his comment referred to a conflict of interest complaint he filed against Development Review Board member Richard Asch and former Town Planner Lee Nellis.

A committee of the Board of Civil Authority investigated the complaint but found no violation of Williston’s conflict of interest ordinance, said Town Clerk Deb Beckett.

The town’s conflict of interest ordinance forbids the release of information regarding a complaint if no wrongdoing is found, so Beckett said she could not provide details.

Macaig said he was irritated by Atwood’s vague allegation and surprised that he attended the meeting after taking the town to court.

“He has a lawsuit pending, so I sort of wondered why he was there,” Macaig said. “He certainly has the right to come to the board meetings, but I don’t think we are in the position to do anything until there is a settlement or the lawsuit is heard.”

“I’m annoyed too,” Atwood said. But he said he still has “faith and confidence” that the town will reconsider restrictions on his project.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said Atwood has repeatedly made “veiled references” to wrongdoing that are impossible to rebut.

“It’s unfortunate for me as a member of the staff who treasures our good reputation,” McGuire said.

Under Vermont’s public meeting law, the board is required to set aside time for public comment, so Atwood has the legal right to speak at each meeting. But Macaig said he could impose time limits in the future.

Atwood filed a permit application for the controversial subdivision off North Williston Road about three years ago. The project attracted opposition from residents on nearby Lefebvre Lane, who argued among other things that the planned multi-unit buildings were out of character with the existing neighborhood.

The Development Review Board granted a permit for the project in April. But phasing rules and sewer allocation limits will force Atwood to wait until 2011 to construct homes, which must then be built over a four-year period.

Those restrictions make the subdivision financially unfeasible, Atwood said. It will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to install roads and other infrastructure, and he said he can’t afford to spend that much while waiting years to sell homes.

Atwood, along with co-applicants Dana and Brenda Hood, have appealed the project’s conditions of approval in Vermont Environmental Court.

The appeal challenges the phasing requirement, alleging affordable housing cannot be built “without undue financial sacrifice.” It also seeks to overturn a condition requiring Atwood to relocate driveways to avoid wetland buffers.

Atwood said he will continue to speak out at Selectboard meetings.

“I’ve got to keep pressing, I’ve got to keep fighting for it,” he told the board.



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