May 26, 2011By Adam White Observer staff
The Williston Development Review Board voted on Tuesday to grant a six-month extension for developers of the Atwood/Hood affordable housing project off North Williston Road to submit final plans for approval. The Board approved the extension by a vote of 4-1, with chair Scott Rieley – the lone naysayer – questioning whether the additional time was warranted.
“We are here to uphold the code, not to be party to your business plan or changes in your business plan,” Rieley said. “My concern … is what constitutes new information, versus a business decision on your part. They are not the same thing.”
The extension granted on Tuesday was the third given to the project during its approval process. Senior planner Matt Boulanger said that the developers had been granted an initial six-month extension as allowed by the town bylaws and a second under the advisement of the town’s land-use attorney, based on the project being “tied up in litigation.”
Making the third extension contingent on DRB approval was necessary, Boulanger said, in the interest of “fundamental fairness” in a situation that has surpassed established guidelines.
“We are somewhat out on a procedural limb here,” Boulanger said. “What do you do when the bylaw – and state law – stop telling you what to do?”
Town planner Ken Beliveau expressed wariness before the meeting of granting the project yet another extension, saying that it could “create a precedent” that might prove problematic in the future. Had the extension not been granted, the developers would have been required to submit their final plans – in compliance with all existing conditions of approval – to the town next week, or begin the entire approval process over again in the pre-application stage.
As it is, the extension is effectively keeping alive a zoning bylaw that was amended in June 2009. The project was approved under regulations that permitted two dwelling units per acre, to be calculated using the total acreage of the property involved. The new bylaw allows for three units per acre, but excludes wetlands and steep slopes from the acreage calculation. Boulanger said that there are approximately three acres of wetlands involved in the Atwood/Hood development.
Several neighboring property owners voiced opposition to the project at Tuesday’s DRB meeting. Briant Hamrell questioned why developers were struggling to manage the affordable housing component when their attorney, Randy Amis, was a former executive director for the Champlain Housing Trust. Igor Arsovski argued that the necessity for another extension was really “based on the business environment … a climate that can go up and down at any time.”