November 23, 2014

Life in Williston

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By Karen Wyman

Birthday party mode

 

We successfully made it through the Easter season, and now my household is in full birthday party mode. The twins will be turning five in June, and they are very eager to start planning their bash. Never mind the fact that my husband and I both have May birthdays, the girls think the next exciting event as soon as Easter is over is their birthday.

We are currently debating (ok, arguing) over a theme and venue for their party. Luckily, there are so many choices right here in Williston for us to consider. The girls love arts and crafts, so we could have a beading party at Bead Crazy or a craft party at AC Moore. Like most 5-year-olds, they also love to dance and run around, and appropriately Green Mountain Gymnastics, The Edge and a variety of other local dance and exercise studios offer up their wonderful facilities for the kids to shake their sillies out. Other options include a movie party at Majestic 10, a glamour trip to a hair/nail salon or a tea party at a local bakery. If we decide to have the party at our house, there are even Williston residents who specialize in face painting and who offer bouncy house rentals.

One year, we had the pleasure and thrill of Miss Ellie (beloved performer at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library and music teacher at Heartworks) bring her famous Preschool Party to us! Williston offers so many choices, plus it has the added convenience of a quick trip to I Party, Christmas Tree Shops or Toys ‘R’ Us for decorations and goody bags. For those who love to bake your own treats for a party or other occasion, a stop at Amarah’s Chocolates in Taft Corners Shopping Center is a must. They have candy for any theme that you can add to a goody bag or use to decorate cakes and cupcakes.

It all seems so quick and painless to plan a birthday party in Williston, unless of course, no one can agree on a single aspect of the party. One of my girls desperately wants Justin Bieber to sing at her party, and the other one wants to have a sledding party for her June birthday. Oh, to be so naïve and innocent again! Unfortunately, with such unlikely desires, it appears that no matter what theme we end up with, both girls will be sorely disappointed.

On a positive note, during our research for party locations, we did come across upcoming summer happenings that we could all agree upon. We were excited to find that Maple Tree Place has already posted to its website information on its Summer Concert Series. Sitting on the green, eating snacks and catching up with friends while dancing and listening to great music is one of our favorite summer events. The Williston Recreation Department has also released its much-anticipated Spring/Summer Activities brochure. The girls were thrilled to sign up for their third year of Challenger British Soccer Camp and to finally be old enough to play in the Fall Soccer League. We also found that another one of our favorites, the Williston Farmer’s Market, will be back starting June 6 on Wednesdays from 4-7 p.m. We can’t wait to stroll around and try fresh foods and visit with the vendors. In a way, it was disheartening for me to see that so many other people can successfully and seamlessly organize large events that appeal to so many, yet I can’t even bring together a birthday party for five-year-olds! If only Maple Tree Place could schedule The Biebs for a Concert on the Green, half of my problems would be solved. Then all I would need is a few feet of snow to fall in mid-June, and we would be ready to party! I wish my little girls realized that a Justin Bieber CD and a Sno-Cone machine is as close to their theme ideas as they are going to get.

Karen Wyman has been a Williston resident for six years, and lives with her husband and twin 4-year-old daughters.

Letters to the Editor

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Four-way stop best solution for intersection

I completely agree with Jim McCullough on a solution for the Mountain View Road/North Williston Road intersection. I have lived on Governor Chittenden Road for 12 years. I cross through that intersection daily and have worried daily since my son got his driver’s license whether he and my daughter will get through the intersection safely as they head off to school. I also often cross through that intersection as a pedestrian to walk my dog along the bike path.

Like Jeff Fehrs, I have never had the luxury of letting my children cross that road to bike to school alone — it is just not safe. We have new families moving in on our road and unless we get a better solution, this will be the case for them as well.

North Williston Road has only gotten busier in the past 12 years. The cars have only gotten faster and the drivers seem to be in a bigger hurry than ever. Crossing through the intersection has only gotten more dangerous.

I agree the more affordable (by ten times), simple and common sense option of making this intersection a four-way stop is the right one. The speed of the cars commuting up North Williston road is not appropriate given the intersections proximity to the pedestrian path. A four-way stop will check the speed of those hurried cars commuting through our town. Further, Vermont drivers may not know what to do in a roundabout, but they certainly understand what to do at a four-way stop: stop, it is the law.

The four-way stop is an affordable solution that makes perfect sense. I say let’s give that a try before we overspend on a less-than-perfect solution.

Kathy Erickson

Williston

 

Rescue dogs visit Heartworks School 

Mike Halpin of Essex Junction and his dogs, Sadie and Mollie -— of The New England K-9 Search and Rescue Unit “Scent to Serve” — visited HeartWorks School in Williston on April 3 to showcase their search and rescue skills for the children and teachers at the school. Following an indoor demonstration and brief talk about the wonderful work that the K-9 unit does to assist in finding missing people in the New England area, the trio performed sample search and rescue techniques out on the playground area, even locating someone who was hiding behind a tree.

Both the trainers and the 13 canines in the unit wear work vests equipped with special search and rescue equipment as they perform their duties, working closely with area law enforcement agencies as they assist in tracking and locating individuals who are lost or missing. Mike instructed the children that if they should ever become lost in the woods that they should “Hug a Tree,” which means to find a large tree to sit under as they wait for someone to find them and to stay put and not wander around.

Of their more than 180 searches together, Mike told of his most rewarding rescue, which involved working with 9-year-old Sadie, along with the rest of the K-9 unit, to find a 6-year-old boy at 2 a.m. who had been lost in the woods for 13 hours.

During the demonstrations on the playground, 9-month-old Mollie used her training in shepherding to circle around and around the older dog Sadie as she “protected” her and guided her to a safe place. After the successful completion of both training and actual search and rescue tasks, the dogs are rewarded with playtime using their favorite Frisbee.

We would like to thank Mike, Sadie and Mollie for sharing their impressive life-saving skills with our school community and would also like to thank the Gernander family for arranging this exciting demonstration for the children. For more information about the work this amazing group does throughout the New England area, visit www.nek9sar.org.

Laura Poirier

Heartworks Administrative 

Assistant

Guest Column

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Take ‘ten point pledge’ on Earth Day

By George Plumb

 

Sunday, April 22 is the 42nd anniversary of the original Earth Day in 1970. During that Earth Day, air pollution was a major issue and global warming was presented as a possibility, although others had been warning of it since 1958. What they didn’t know about at that time was the acidification of our oceans. Researchers at Columbia University have found that carbon dioxide emissions have lowered the pH at a rate unparalleled in at least the last 300 million years of our planet’s history. This literally means the death of life as we know it on 71 percent of the earth’s surface.

Although strong government action would be of considerable help in reducing carbon emissions, it is we the people that are causing the problem. We are fortunate in Vermont that we have a governor who understands the importance of dealing with this problem and his administration has developed a Comprehensive Energy Plan that calls for 90 percent reduction in Vermont carbon emissions by 2050. However, 350vt.org and its Fossil Fuels Freedom Campaign say that is not nearly fast enough to avert the worse of global warming. Its goal is a net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2025 and in support of this carbon goal, we should achieve 90 percent of our energy needs from clean, just, renewable sources by 2025.

David Stember, who works full-time as the staff organizer says, “According to a host of our foremost climatologists, we have already altered earth’s climate from patterns we have called normal for over 10,000 years. We have precious few years to stop the buildup of greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. If we miss this short window, things will very quickly get so far beyond our control that runaway climate change is unalterably programmed into the destiny of this planet. The magnitude of this epic disaster is such that every living species on earth today–including humans–is now at grave risk of eventual extinction. The only good news about the impacts of climate change is that people are now able to see some of the impacts that are already happening.”

We are already seeing what devastation global warming can bring to Vermont. However, to the best of my recollection no Vermont leader has ever acknowledged that each one of us helped cause Irene by our carbon emissions over the years, or that we have an individual moral responsibility for the sake of future generations to reduce our personal carbon emissions.

Now is the time to walk the talk! Every leader, at the state and national level, if they haven’t already done so, should be installing solar photovoltaic and/or solar hot water, driving a fuel efficient car and maybe even an electrical vehicle, limiting their plane travel, and doing everything else within their means to reduce their carbon emissions.

This Earth Day, I encourage our leaders, and indeed all Vermonters, to take a strong ten-point pledge to live more sustainably and publicly demonstrate that you are going to do something about it before it is too late. To see who has already taken the pledge and to take it yourself, go to http://www.vspop.org.

 

George Plumb is the executive director of Vermonters for Sustainable Population and the author of the 2011 report “Vermont Environmental Trends: The Population Connection.” 


 

Around Town

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Register for Jiggety Jog

Registration is now open for the 21st Vermont Respite House 5k Fun Run and Jiggety Jog. The event takes place on Saturday, May 12 at the Allen Brook School in Williston. Check-in begins at 8 a.m.; the timed 5k run starts at 9 a.m. with the Jiggety Jog following immediately after. Participants of all ages and fitness levels will walk, run, bike, in-line skate, push strollers and pull wagons to raise pledges for Vermont Respite House, a home-away-from-home for people with terminal illness. Pets on leads are welcome to join the fun.

The $20 registration fee goes towards the participant’s fundraising total. Individuals who raise $100 in pledges will receive a Fun Run t-shirt. Individuals or teams who raise $1,000 or more will become members of the Jiggety Jog Club and will be honored for their achievements at a ceremony following the race. Last year’s run raised $73,600. Runners who participate in the 5k run will receive an official time and top finishers will be awarded medals in all age categories.

Event participants can register online at www.vnacares.org/news-events/Fun-Run or call                802-860-4435 for more information.

williston’ s Green Up Day

Williston’s Senior Planner Jessica Andreoletti is preparing for the town’s annual Green Up Day, set for May 5.The Town will have a booth at Williston Community Park with trash bags and refreshments. “It would be good to get teams of folks to walk the Allen Brook to collect trash, as well as along the roads and in our neighborhoods and parks. I am looking for food/beverage donations from local restaurants/coffee shops/grocery stores,” Andreoletti wrote in an email to the Observer.

Residents may sign up early and pick up their bags at the Planning Office in April, or may show up on Green Up Day at the concession stand at the Community Park starting at 8 a.m. to enjoy refreshments, pick up trash bags and select an area to “green up.”

Questions should be addressed to Andreoletti at 878-6704 x 4 or by email [email protected]

Selectboard reviews town, police personnel policies

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By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Two weeks after the Williston Selectboard unanimously voted to uphold an amended version of a written disciplinary warning in the grievance hearing of Detective Sgt. Bart Chamberlain, revisions to the town’s personnel policy, police department policy and grievance process were discussed in detail at Monday’s Selectboard meeting.

According to Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire, personnel policies relating to the Williston Police Department since the decertification of the police union have followed a hybrid process that has reflected elements of both the town’s overall personnel policy and the former collective bargaining agreement the department negotiated through the Teamsters Local 597 union.

The department voted to decertify the union on Aug. 30, 2011, by a 9-0 margin. The two eligible employees who did not take part in the vote were Dispatcher Deborah Davis and Sgt. Chamberlain – the latter of whom said he arrived four minutes late and was told that the vote was closed.

As part of an internal investigation of the department conducted in 2011 at a $12,000 expense to the town by consultant Thomas Tremblay, it was revealed that certain members of the department felt that the union contract unfairly benefited Chamberlain and Davis by awarding overtime shifts based on seniority.

“What we want to try to do is address some of those concerns that led them to the decision (to decertify the union),” McGuire told the Selectboard on Monday. “Some of the issues that we tried to address that were a concern with the members included the method that they use for distributing overtime between the officers.”

A draft of the amended police department policy provided to the Selectboard for review included a section addressing an overtime rotation list to be used “to ensure fair distribution of overtime.”

The proposed changes to the town’s personnel policy include amended language specific to the employee grievance process that would limit the types of grievances that are eligible for a public hearing before the Selectboard. The amendments would grant the town manager the discretion as to the method and manner of conducting a hearing relative to grievances, and would make the decision of the town manager final – with the exception of grievances involving suspension without pay, demotion or dismissal.

Selectboard member Chris Roy said that the cost of the grievance process to taxpayers needs to be considered.

“One thing to keep in mind is every time we do a hearing here, the town’s going to be paying for two lawyers,” said Roy. “So literally, as it is now, any disagreement regarding any of the personnel policies, in theory, whatever it is, no matter how minor, they could appeal it all the way up through to us. … We’ve got to figure out when it makes sense for the town not only to divert the monetary resources, but also manpower resources.”

While Selectboard Deputy Chairman Jeff Fehrs acknowledged that it would be wise to set parameters for the types of grievances that can be appealed to the Selectboard, he said he’s undecided as to what those should be.

“I’m not looking for the Selectboard to take on additional responsibilities – in fact, I think in many ways shedding some responsibilities is not a bad thing,” Fehrs said. “On the other hand, I want to make sure that we treat the employees fairly and appropriately.”

No formal action was taken by the Selectboard regarding the personnel policy revisions, which will be revisited at a future date.

Schools partner with Y for after-school programs

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By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

After considering a proposal to institute an in-house “School’s Out” after-school program, the Williston School Board instead decided at its April 11 meeting to commit to a one-year partnership with the Greater Burlington YMCA.

Although Williston schools have utilized the YMCA’s after-school program for the past 23 years, next fall will mark the first time that the district will actively use school resources and personnel to collaborate on after-school activities with the YMCA.

The board’s decision came after first hearing a presentation from Jeff O’Hara, the current associate principal at Hinesburg Community School, who formerly served as the coordinator for the School’s Out after-school program in the South Burlington School District.

In advocating for a school-run model, O’Hara said it would complement the Williston School District’s extended school day proposal, which is still in a conceptual stage and would provide additional instruction for students after normal school hours.

“We need to start thinking about school and after-school programs not being separate but being one and the same,” O’Hara said. “When I think of extended school day, I think of reframing the way that after-school programming is done, so that it is no longer called after-school programming, but it is an extension of the actual school day.”

O’Hara also pointed out that there is a financial incentive to the district to not outsource its fee-based after-school program.

“Every dollar put into the after-school program in Williston would go back into the Williston schools,” he said. “It also provides opportunities to share human resources.”

Julie Peterson, director of school-age programs at the YMCA, also presented to the board. She cited how her organization has changed over the years from strictly providing child care services to hosting homework clubs, and said that it will continue to adapt to the needs of the school district.

“We don’t want you to collaborate with us because of our past,” said Peterson. “We want to look forward and into the future.”

Williston District Principal Walter Nardelli said that while he likes what both programs have to offer, a more prudent course of action would be to start by partnering with the YMCA instead of starting from scratch with a school-based program.

“I think that the program that Jeff talked about is a really good program. I also think right now, there’s not really a skeleton built for Williston. There’s no framework now,” Nardelli said. “The YMCA has a very strong framework of what it offers students right now and what it offers the community.”

Williston Central School Principal Jackie Parks also expressed a preference for partnering with the YMCA.

“I’d like to see us partner with the Y and try that for a year,” said Parks. “Some of that for me is the oversight of it and the resources it will take to have our organization take (an in-house program) on. I think it’s worth a year of really working together and partnering and trying to enhance what we have on both levels.”

On a motion by Josh Diamond that was seconded by Deb Baker-Moody, the board unanimously voted to direct the school district to enter into a collaborative partnership with the YMCA for the upcoming school year.

Remembering the Holocaust

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By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Amanda Terwillegar (left) and Amy Wardwell (right) co-teach the Holocaust and Human Behavior course at Champlain Valley Union High School. In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 19, students in their class will give presentations about the Holocaust during the school’s morning advisory period. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

Each year on the 27th day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, Holocaust Remembrance Day – known as Yom HaShoah in Hebrew – is observed.

Inaugurated in Israel in 1953, the day to remember the approximately 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust was first observed in the United States in 1980.

Although Holocaust Remembrance Day falls on Thursday, April 19 this year, Champlain Valley Union High School remembers the Holocaust every day of the school year.

Holocaust and Human Behavior, established two decades ago by former CVU instructors Sam Intrator and Robert Burnheim, is the only CVU course that meets on a daily basis.

Available to juniors and seniors as an elective, the Holocaust studies course examines the history of Judaism, anti-Semitism and the rise of the Nazis – as well as the psychological and sociological aspects of the Holocaust.

“One of the goals of the course since its founding is to educate students in a way that hopefully … they would never be vulnerable to become a cog in a system like that (of Nazi Germany),” said Amy Wardwell, co-instructor of the Holocaust and Human Behavior class with Amanda Terwillegar.

Terwillegar emphasized the human behavior component of the course and the continuing importance of the Holocaust as a cautionary teaching point.

“What purpose does it serve in the world to learn about the Holocaust if you can’t apply it to your life here and now and the needs of the future?” Terwillegar asked.

Citing the deconditioning and herd mentality training tactics of Nazi officers, Terwillegar used contemporary evidence of genocides in Rwanda and other parts of the world as examples of the ongoing relevance of the Holocaust’s lessons.

“A lot of our course is about the human behavior aspects of group mentality, and when people are in groups, the pressure to be a bystander is very strong,” Terwillegar said.

The theme of Holocaust Remembrance Day at CVU this year is to celebrate rescuers and to acknowledge that people are more alike than different and should therefore stand up on behalf of one another.

In honor of that theme, students in the Holocaust and Human Behavior class organized a project in which they will give presentations about the Holocaust during the school’s morning advisory period. They will also hand out puzzle pieces, on which students are asked to write a pledge of how they plan to stand up on behalf of other people.

The completed puzzle will be displayed at CVU for the remainder of the year as a reminder of students’ pledges and as a memorial to those who lost their lives in one of the worst acts of genocide in modern history.

‘Don’t be a bystander’

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WCS students, parents discuss results of Youth Risk Behavior Survey

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Williston Central School eighth-grader and Vermont Kids Against Tobacco member Summer Bishop listens to an audience comment during ‘Dialogue Night.’ (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

Attention parents: Did you know that 6 percent of Williston Central School students in grades 6-8 have reported having tried to kill themselves? Or that 8 percent of students have used inhalants? Or that 45 percent have stated that it is “sort of easy” or “very easy” to obtain alcohol?

Those were just a few of the statistics that were revealed April 11 at “Dialogue Night,” in which WCS students and parents discussed the findings of the 2011 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey Report.

Although comprehensive survey data is available at the Chittenden South Supervisory Union level, WCS members of the Vermont Kids Against Tobacco (VKAT) leadership group chose to focus on several key areas of concern at the WCS level.

“It was important to have student voice,” said Sarah Klionsky, a student assistance program counselor at WCS who helped analyze the data. “It would be very different to have the faculty say, ‘This is our area of concern.’  It seemed much more powerful to have the students say what the areas of biggest concerns are.”

To ascertain the areas of focus, VKAT members held a meeting in January at Pizza Putt in South Burlington. In addition to the aforementioned statistics, students identified tobacco and marijuana use, seatbelt use and drinking and driving as salient talking points.

Identified as areas of concern were the fact that 18 percent of WCS grade 6-8 students have reported riding in a car with someone who had been drinking alcohol and that 11 percent responded that it would be “sort of easy” or “very easy” to obtain marijuana.

Among the suggested actions to help prevent risky behavior among WCS youths were the proposed creation of a class to help kids know how to help a friend in need, and the establishment of a “Chillin’” mediation club.

On the positive side, 81 percent of students reported always wearing a seatbelt when riding in a car, while 97 percent think it’s “wrong” or “very wrong” for someone their age to smoke cigarettes.

In addition, 0 percent of WCS students in grades 6-8 reported smoking cigarettes before the age of 11 – a metric that was greeted by a round of applause when it was announced at the April 11 meeting.

Shari Carr, a planning room outreach coordinator at WCS, said that while she was generally pleased with the categories VKAT students chose to zero in on, an important metric not discussed was the percentage of students who talk with their parents about school.

Although data wasn’t available at the WCS level, only 52 percent of CSSU students in grades 6-8 reported talking to their parents every day about school, while 4 percent said they never talk about school with their parents.

Craig Sampson – whose son, Nick, was among the VKAT presenters at the meeting – said that all of the evening’s areas of concern can be addressed by one simple principle: involvement.

“I think, overall, I can summarize a lot of these topics by something one of the students in our group said: ‘Don’t be a bystander,’” Sampson stated. “It’s as simple as that. I think it covers everything, from the students talking to their fellow students, from the people who work at the school talking in private with some of these students – whether it be (about) bullying or suicide – and calling the parents and getting them involved, as well as the parents in our community.

“I think a lot of times, though, a student might feel that they are tattling, or a parent might feel like, ‘it’s none of our business,’ and I think that’s where a lot of us make our mistakes. Don’t be a bystander,” Sampson said.

Catamount expansion plans reviewed

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Transportation impact fees also discussed

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

It was a full house at Tuesday’s Williston Planning Commission, with appearances by interested parties in the planned construction of grid streets off Vermont 2A, plus Catamount Outdoor Family Center owners Jim and Lucy McCullough.

The McCulloughs last appeared before the Planning Commission on Feb. 7, when they unveiled their expansion plans for the Catamount property, which is located in the Agricultural/Rural Residential Zoning District and would require the town to adopt a specific plan to change the area’s zoning.

On Tuesday, the McCulloughs came armed with responses to the commission’s request for greater specificity involving the substantial public benefits the project could offer the town.

The project’s proposed public benefits include:

Several miles of trail easements

The availability of two “designated country parks” for the community

Traditional land and habitat conservation

Housing

Private schools

Jobs

A health and wellness campus

Although Jim McCullough didn’t provide specifics regarding some of the public benefit categories, he did indicate that jobs would be created in the “light manufacturing” industry and that the proposed housing includes apartments, townhouses and single-family homes.

Should the town decide against adopting a specific plan for the expansion of the Catamount property, Jim McCullough cautioned that a potential alternative could involve the sale of the entire property, which would likely result in the closure of Catamount and the loss of community access and educational opportunities.

Planning Commission Chairman Jake Mathon recommended that the McCulloughs proceed with submitting a formal application to the town for the project, as it is too difficult in its present conceptual state for the commission to rule on the viability of the project.

“At this point, I’m almost ready to recommend that if you want to go forward with an application, please do so, because we can’t really make a decision without actually seeing the specifics of what you’re going to do,” Mathon said.

Mathon added that the McCulloughs should be cognizant of the substantial public benefit criteria that are outlined in chapter 9 of the town’s Unified Development Bylaw.

“A lot of these (benefits) on the list sound great, but they wouldn’t qualify under our bylaws,” said Mathon.

Commission member Kevin Batson said that while trail easements and public parks would qualify as a public benefit, the housing component of the plan would need to include “perpetually affordable” housing in order to be considered.

Williston Director of Planning and Zoning Ken Belliveau warned that traffic considerations will likely be one of the biggest sticking points with the proposal.

“The big bugaboo is going to be traffic,” Belliveau said. “That’s going to come up, and it’s going to come up big, and it’s going to come up fast.”

The Catamount center is located on Governor Chittenden Road and is accessible from North Williston Road at an intersection that has come under considerable public scrutiny as a crash-prone area.

Jim McCullough proposed that a phased build-out of the Catamount expansion could coincide with phased transportation improvements, while also acknowledging that the project will require the town to think outside the box.

“It’s a concept that does fly in the face of conventional zoning,” McCullough said. “I also think that because of the self-contained nature of it, it actually creates more opportunities (for the town).”

TRANSPORTATION IMPACT FEE UPDATE

In other business, the Planning Commission reopened a public hearing from April 3, in which the commission fielded a request from Taft Corners Health Center owners Marie and Albert St. Amand to amend the town’s bylaws to allow a transportation impact fee “credit” to be issued as a form of compensation for the construction of a public street, which could then be recouped at a later date should the health center decide to develop its existing property.

The Planning Commission decided against their proposal, on the basis that it would set a precedent that is not in the town’s best interest.

“Although you’re doing the right thing and we’d like to see that there is some compensation for the expense you’re doing,” Batson told the St. Amands regarding the public street construction, “we can’t put that language into here. We can’t do a credit for future development because this bylaw has to get used for years to come in many other situations.”

 

This Weeks Popcorn: “Mirror Mirror”

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It’s All About Image

2 & ½ popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer

 

A witty update of the Brothers Grimm rendition of “Snow White,” what director Tarsem Singh’s satiric paean lacks in pacing it nearly ameliorates via elegant design and topnotch production values. And even if Disney’s Sneezy and Co. have been replaced by a new gang, Julia Roberts’s watershed portrayal of the evil queen is still nothing to sneeze at.

In short—no inference to the new dwarves, or dwarfs, depending on personal preference—rest assured your own little ones won’t be shortchanged by this latest version of the classic fairy tale. With colorful characters, heroic and otherwise, nicely integrated into a moral-rich script, odds are Mom and Pop will also benefit from the refresher course.

The lessons are doled out smartly, delivered with just enough tongue-in-cheek sleight to preclude Junior from feeling the movie is treating him like a baby. One can only hope the same can be said for Gramps and Granny. Thanks to a brighter batch of kids nowadays, there is less and less need for children’s films to communicate on more than one level.

What puzzles me, though, is how so many of these precocious, intelligent, multi-tasking, downloading tots grow up just in time to take the place of the uncaring, selfish, hedge fund types who pass you on the highway shoulder in their black BMWs? In addition to 5 points and a $1,000 fine, these aggressors should be required to view “Mirror Mirror.”

Then they’d see the depravity of their vanity and conceit, deliciously exampled by Julia Roberts. Parodying the whole inner and outer beauty thing with panache and aplomb, including a stop at the vagaries of approaching middle age, she unselfishly unfurls a new wrinkle to her talents, pun shamelessly intended. She is reason enough to see this film.

Narrating at story’s outset from a secret hideaway where she colludes with that mirror, mirror on the wall, imbuing her, at a cost, with magical powers, she asserts this is not Snow White’s tale, but rather, hers. Of course, soon after when we meet the sweet young thing, winsomely acted by Lily Collins, the underdog mode kicks in and we beg to differ.

Yeah, it’s the same old, heartrending story, which makes you feel just a little bad for the resultantly squirming, good stepmothers who accompany little Taylor or Britney to the Bijou. Well, at least this one’s beautiful. But sarcastic, oh my goodness, and not a stitch of guilt evident in her declamations as she delights in demeaning the kingdom’s true heir.

Still, be it known our gal has pluck. She is a princess through and through, the puzzlingly absent King’s blue blood legitimately coursing through her veins. But oh sigh and alas, dear Daddy has never returned from the forest where treacherously lurks the killer beast. And the lousy wicked queen, who has now bankrupted the domain, keeps her subjugated.

‘Tis a sad scene indeed. But be not dismayed. After all, this is PG, and the purpose is not to make one a misanthrope, but to teach you early-on that the darkest hour is just before the dawn. And, lest you forget the clichés in all those fairy tales your family’s devoted nanny read you, where there’s a distressed princess, a charming prince is surely nearby.

This one, handsome enough, and egotistical in a comically harmless way, is engagingly portrayed by Armie Hammer. Renbock, Prince Alcott’s loyal retainer and foil, played by Robert Emms, helps facilitate the repartee through which he unfolds his mantra. And just in case those two don’t provide enough laughs, such is fully assured by Nathan Lane

He’s Brighton, the queen’s ultra-toadying chief of staff and ineffectual sounding board…never at a loss for a disingenuous compliment or a self-effacing appraisal of his cowardice. A frantic, emoting, arms-a-flurrying treatise on the disgrace we at times suffer for job security, his example urges Johnny to shun being a brownnoser, if at all possible.

However, the film’s greatest lessons on what not to be, as well as the cause of its biggest laughs, emanate from Miss Roberts’s unexpected, little tour de force. Perhaps it’s easy to be the brunt of a joke about vanity and the aging process if you’re still as pretty as she is. Nonetheless, she’s apprised me of the inner beauty it takes to embody it so fearlessly.

While it’s fairly certain kids 5 through 10 will like this cutting edge retelling of the fable, the critic is aware of what their adult escorts want to know. Hence, registering a 6.5 on the Goldberger Kiddy Flick Painlessness Chart (10 being the least painful), know that “Mirror Mirror” lets parents and grandparents cast a good reflection with little sacrifice.

 

 “Mirror Mirror,” rated PG, is a Relativity Media release directed by Tarsem Singh and stars Julia Roberts, Lily Collins and Nathan Lane. Running time: 106 minutes