June 23, 2018

THE HUB: New editor at the Williston Observer

Stephanie Choate

The Williston Observer has named Stephanie Choate as its new editor.

Choate has been with the paper as associate editor since April. She worked as a reporter for the Williston Observer and The Charlotte Citizen, a weekly paper previously owned by the same company that owns the Observer, from 2009-2011. She spent the last year and a half traveling in Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand, doing some freelance writing along the way.

Prior to working with Williston Publishing, Choate spent a year at the Patriot Ledger, a daily newspaper outside of Boston. She graduated from the journalism program at Northeastern University after completing several long-term internships at news organizations in California, Vancouver, B.C. and the Boston area.

To contact Choate with a story idea, comment or letter to the editor, email editor@willistonobserver.com or call 872-9000, ext. 17.

— Observer staff report

THE HUB: Business insurance to ensure business as usual

A look at key person insurance and buy-sell agreements

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

“If you get hurt and miss work, it won’t hurt to miss work,” former New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra quipped in a 2002 TV commercial for Aflac individual disability insurance.

But what about the hurt an employer could feel if a key employee gets injured or meets with an unexpected death?

That’s where key person insurance plans and buy-sell agreements come in.

Michael Junga, a Hinesburg-based personal financial representative for Allstate Financial Services LLC, explained the difference between the two business planning tools.

“A buy-sell (agreement) is designed to liquidate and transition ownership of the business,” Junga said. “A key person (policy) is to sustain the business.”

A buy-sell agreement is often utilized by business partners when establishing a company, to avoid a potentially messy estate settlement with a deceased partner’s heirs. While there are myriad permutations to the structure of such an agreement, a common strategy is to have stockholders enter into an agreement to have their estates sell their shares back to the company at death. To finance the repurchase of the stock, the company funds insurance policies on the lives of the shareholders, with the business listed as beneficiary.

According to report materials prepared by Advisys Inc., a financial planning software company utilized by Allstate and other financial services companies, benefits of buy-sell agreements include “an orderly transfer of the operation, management and ownership of the business,” “a mutually agreeable sales price and preservation of business value” and “a value that is binding on the IRS for federal estate tax purposes.”

By contrast, a key person plan is a stopgap solution to provide monetary compensation in the event that an employee critical to the day-to-day operation of a business dies or becomes incapacitated. In either scenario, insurance proceeds can be utilized to ensure that a business continues functioning through the hiring and training process of a temporary or permanent replacement.

As Junga explained: “Usually the business owns the policy, one of the key people is the insured—either for disability, or for life insurance—and the beneficiary is usually the business again.”

Although term life insurance is often utilized in key person plans purely for its death benefit provisions, Junga noted that companies sometimes opt for forms of permanent life insurance, which accumulate cash value that can be used for loan purposes.

“If a business had to go and get a loan at a local bank, it could be 6 or 8 percent for a business loan, or sometimes even worse than that,” Junga said, pointing out that the interest rate on a life insurance loan is normally much lower, or could even be zero.

The Advisys materials report that even though “key employee disability insurance has become a specialty product and providers of this important coverage are becoming more difficult to find,” actuarial data suggests that it is more likely that a person will become disabled than die before the age of 65.

“Insurance claims studies indicate that the odds of becoming disabled for 90 days or longer are much greater than dying during one’s working years,” the report states. It cites data from the Society of Actuaries’ 1985 Commissioners’ Disability Table, which indicates that a business with a 25-year-old employee has a 58 percent chance of losing that person to at least one long-term disability prior to age 65. If a company has two employees in that age group, the probability jumps to 82 percent.

Junga, who observed that “mom and pop situations or family-owned businesses are ideal for key person planning,” summarized the concept in layman’s terms.

“A key person plan is designed for rehabilitative purposes of the business, not to transition the ownership of the business,” he said. “It’s designed as a Band-Aid until things can be operational again at full capacity.”

THE HUB: Thai cuisine returns to Williston

Honey Thai Cuisine owner and head chef Sam Sithiprasert (left) stands in the front dining area of his newly founded Williston restaurant with chef Pornngam Johnson. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

A vacant Williston building that formerly housed a combination Japanese steakhouse and Thai restaurant has reopened—as a Thai restaurant.

The structure, located just north of Taft Corners on Vermont 2A, was the previous home of Douzo Restaurant. It is now called Honey Thai Cuisine, and exclusively serves Thai food.

The owner and head chef is Essex Junction resident Sam Sithiprasert, who formerly cooked at Winooski’s Tiny Thai Restaurant and the since-closed Bangkok Bistro in Burlington.

A native of Pattaya, a city 90 miles south of Bangkok, Sithiprasert moved from Thailand to Mississippi in 1991 and worked at Thai restaurants in Miami and Manhattan before moving to Vermont in 2002.

“I worked at a Thai restaurant for many, many years,” he said. “The time (came) to open a business.”

Neo Hansriworapong, a former server at Douzo, also built its sushi bar and painted its wall art. He has retained his dual role of server and interior decorator at Honey Thai, contributing a large mural of a stream flowing past a Buddhist temple on the restaurant’s east wall.

Hansriworapong, who hails from Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand, gave high marks to Williston and its citizenry.

“Around here is a nice location. We’re lucky we get this restaurant,” Hansriworapong said. “The people here are very good, nice people. They love Thai food, also.”

Honey Thai’s menu contains such staples of Thai cuisine as pad thai and Massaman curry, as well as a variety of fish species and what the menu terms its signature dish: boneless duck with homemade sweet honey sauce.

Hansriworapong observed that his friend Sithiprasert’s cooking is unique in its combination of Thai spices with traditional American surf and turf fare, such as the “Spicy Steak,” which features grilled sirloin with a spicy chili basil sauce, or the “Green Mountain Salmon,” a grilled salmon fillet with green curry sauce, fresh basil leaves and vegetables.

He added that any of the menu items listed with a chili pepper graphic can be adjusted by patrons, depending on their tolerance for heat.

“When you order something spicy, it’s up to you. You can tell the server how spicy—one to five stars,” Hansriworapong said.

Sithiprasert has applied for a liquor license for his establishment and plans to convert the former Douzo sushi bar into a liquid bar, serving beer (including Singha, Thailand’s most popular export) and wine (including sake).

Honey Thai began serving food on Sept. 11, but its grand opening won’t be for another six weeks or so, Sithiprasert said. He envisions having an open house, where guests can sample small portions of his restaurant’s large variety of Thai cuisine.

However, he was quick to add that during the normal course of business, Honey Thai will by no means be a buffet-style affair.

“When the order comes, we cook,” Sithiprasert said.

LIFE IN WILLISTON: Don’t fall behind on health

By Karen Wyman

As the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, it is so tempting to stay inside and eat comfort food and sleep. Too bad we couldn’t hibernate and pause our lives until spring comes. However, fall is a critical time of year to take important precautions to protect your health and the health of those around you. It is no time to fall behind!

Many families schedule health check-ups and physicals, vision and hearing tests and dental cleanings right before school starts. If you cram all of these critical appointments into a few weeks, then you can just slack off for a few months, right? Unfortunately, there are many more preventative measures that should be done during these next few months but often get overlooked.

I know the topic of immunizations opens up many debates. As a mother and a health care professional, I believe the majority of recommended vaccinations have an excellent risk-versus-benefit ratio for the majority of people. I also realize that everyone has a unique background and medical history, so a medical professional should always be consulted to help analyze each individual’s own risk-versus-benefit assessment.

That being said, I want you all to know that this year is slated to be the worst year for Pertussis (whooping cough) in more than 50 years. Quite a few people have asked me why there are so many cases, many in our own community, despite immunizations against it. The short answer is that 15 years ago the CDC switched the pertussis vaccine for infants to a version that is better tolerated. It now appears that immunity wanes more quickly with this form of the vaccine. As the CDC reevaluates its recommendations for boosters, it’s reassuring to know that those who have been vaccinated and still happen to develop the disease will have milder symptoms, a shorter duration and won’t be as highly contagious. I encourage you all to check with your doctor to make sure you are up to date, especially those of you who will have contact with infants.

Of course, no fall health check is complete without including a flu shot! If you don’t get a flu shot because of a fear of needles, you will be happy to know there is a nasal spray formulation and a new intradermal vaccine with an extremely small needle now available. If you worry about the use of mercury as a preservative, you can always request a preservative-free shot. If you’re age 65 or older, there is a high-dose flu vaccine that helps seniors to build up a stronger immunity. Also, if you qualify, there is a pneumonia vaccine as well. Ask your doctor or pharmacist (sorry for the shameless plug!) for more information. I also want to remind all senior citizens that the Medicare Part D annual enrollment period is Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, 2012. You can call the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging (CVAA) at 1-800-642-5119 for assistance with this often confusing and overwhelming process. Ok, I’m getting off my pharmaceutical soapbox right now!

I would be totally remiss if I didn’t also mention preparing your home in the fall to protect your and your family’s health. The Williston Fire Department kindly posts important safety reminders in front of the station, including changing smoke alarm batteries and this week’s message to get chimneys and heating units inspected. We recently had our fireplace inspected and cleaned, and we were shocked when both a carbon monoxide and a natural gas leak were discovered. These hidden dangers made me even more paranoid than usual, and I immediately scheduled a furnace inspection and a dryer vent cleaning, which I knew were overdue. These findings were also what prompted me to write this column about my fall prep list in the hopes that some of you may remember vital actions that need to be completed for your home and family before winter. I know automobiles should also be included in this winterizing list, but I just can’t bring myself to think snow tires yet. Now that I have totally stressed you out, I do want to wish you a happy, healthy and safe autumn. And no, despite my fervently spreading the word in today’s column, I am not going as the town crier for Halloween!

Karen Wyman has been a Williston resident for seven years, and lives with her husband and twin 5-year-old daughters.

AROUND TOWN: Hike for Hunger this weekend

This weekend, local residents can join Hunger Free Vermont’s 16th annual Hike for Hunger to stand in solidarity with the 90,000 food-insecure Vermonters who struggle to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis. Vermont is currently ranked the 11th hungriest state in the nation.

The Northern Vermont Hike for Hunger is set for Saturday, Sept. 22 at Catamount Outdoor Family Center in Williston. Check-in will start at 10 a.m. and the hike will begin at 11 a.m. The event is intended to heighten awareness about the issue of hunger in our communities and raise support for Hunger Free Vermont’s programs that feed children, families and neighbors, and teach communities to cook. Hunger Free Vermont’s programs, such as its School Meals Outreach Program and Early Childhood Nutrition Outreach Program, help create sustainable food solutions to ensure that all Vermonters have access to nutritious food.

The event will consist of a 3 mile or 1.5 mile hike option, followed by a community celebration with food from the event’s sponsor and prizes for top fundraisers. Participants will receive t-shirts and giveaway bags. Additionally, Evolution Physical Therapy and Yoga will provide a warm-up yoga session at 10:30 a.m. before the hike begins.

Nearly 50 hikers have signed up, but Hunger Free Vermont hopes to have upwards of 100 participants. To register, visit www.hungerfreevt.org/do/hike-for-hunger. Registration is $25, which you can pay on the day of the event, or fundraise toward.

Letters to the Editor

Pine Ridge not a good fit

After soccer on Saturday morning, I was sitting watching all the kids running around the community playground and worrying about the future. With the possible purchase of the former Pine Ridge School by the residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation program run by Maple Leaf Farms, I am concerned about the safety of my kids, the kids in our neighborhood at Sunrise Drive and the kids who go to and play at the Williston Central School. Many points concern me. Patients are both voluntary and court-ordered. These patients also include opiate- and heroin-based addicts. The facility would not be locked and has no security on site with a limited night staff. There will be an increased demand on our ambulatory and police services. While I try to be a compassionate person, I don’t believe the place for a rehabilitation facility is in the middle of a densely populated area, especially with so many young families around. If one of my family members needed help, I would not want them in a facility where in two minutes they could be in someone’s house, five minutes at the Interstate, 15 minutes to a general store and 20 minutes at a school. All it would take is one incident of violence or burglary or threats to safety to affect someone for the rest of their life.

After being a part of the Williston community for over 20 years, I would hope that the town would put the safety and concerns of its residents above the promises of undeveloped land. Sunrise at French Hill, the houses on Governor Chittenden Road and the houses on French Hill are the closest, but this is an issue that affects all of Williston. Voice your concerns to the Selectboard, because silence means agreement.

— Karen Allen



Working for balance

Last week’s guest column by Lori Marino conveys some understandable concerns about the new development coming to Williston at the Taft Corners parcel known as Lot 30. I read in Ms. Marino’s piece a desire to preserve the small town character and sense of community of Williston.

Those of us who serve the town on elected and appointed boards, as well as our highly qualified professional planning staff, share this desire to sustain a Williston that is both attractive and has a pleasing local character. Great care and thought have gone into our zoning ordinances and building requirements as a result. Far from being a “strip mall,” the development on Lot 30 will meet strict design requirements, be accessible through grid streets rather than directly off Route 2A, be surrounded by sidewalks and have shorter setbacks to promote a more pedestrian feel, and house both office and retail space to make good use of the available land. Furthermore, this development will bring more jobs to the area, and the businesses’ property taxes, impact fees, and sales taxes will help all Willistonians continue to enjoy a high quality of life along with some of the lowest property taxes in the county.

I believe we can and should balance the preservation of small town character and aesthetics with beneficial economic development through thoughtful planning. When this new development is completed, I think residents will see that Williston is a leader in achieving this balance.

— Debbie Ingram



I support Jay Michaud

I am writing to show my support for Jay Michaud as state representative and to urge others to do the same. I have been working closely with the campaign and have found that, as a businessman and entrepreneur, Jay understands what Vermont needs for its citizens. He truly cares about improving the lives of Vermonters and has the right knowledge and experience to make that happen. We cannot wait any longer for new representation.

As a senior at Champlain College, living on my own three hours from my small hometown in Vermont, I struggle to pay my bills. I go to school and work full time just to get by. Every day I worry about rent, my car payment, gas to get to school and work, and food just to survive. I cannot even afford health insurance. Once I graduate, I’ll have college loans to pay on top of everything. With all of this on my plate, I fear I will not be able to stay in Vermont, as it does not have much to offer me.

Jay understands these dilemmas of my generation. That is why he is fighting to make the health care system more affordable, as well as housing. Cutting taxes will lower rent, which will in turn make it so I can save some money for my future. Creating more jobs in Vermont means I could stay close to my family in the state that I love and grew up in. That is why I support Jay. He understands and he cares. He is not doing this just for me. He is in it to improve the lives of all Vermonters, so you should support him, too. We will be lucky to have him as a State Representative.

— Alexandra Madore


GUEST COLUMN: Local businesses and national chains offer choices, not end of a dream

By Jim Bauman

As I enjoyed the remnants of a locally produced bag of Distler’s Fiery Pretzels this evening, I read with great curiosity and some concern the passionate arguments put forth by Lori Marino regarding the recent construction progress on Lot 30 in the commercially zoned area next to Ponderosa, Hannaford, and the new CVS on Route 2A. Marino complains “how many drug stores do we need…” and about the “add water and stir” food that she feels Panera will be selling to hapless Williston residents and others.

Localism of this sort, where we are directed to determine which business can and cannot operate in our state and our towns based on value judgments about who owns them and where they live, the quality and social value of the products they’ll sell and the services they’ll offer, and if they fit in with our version of “the wonderful dream of coming home to Vermont,” are at best curious to me and at worst potentially strangling the future economic prospects of our state.

Apparently, we don’t need another pharmacy choice or the ability to get our hair cut on a Sunday, and we should drive to South Burlington if we need to get a new cell phone or have a problem with our current one, because we already have Williston-owned businesses that provide these services. Actually, being a Williston resident for 12 years now, I think I can confidently say Williston’s town leadership and community have struck an excellent balance between promoting both local businesses and the choice and convenience of regional and national chain stores. Starbucks has not put Belle’s out of business, nor has Quiznos destroyed Vermont Sandwich Company, and neither will Panera put Chef’s Corner or Sweet Harmony Home Bakery out of business.

Each of these local businesses and national chains being present in our community offers us choices that we vote for with our dollars and our freedom. They employ Vermonters, pay taxes to the town and state, and find their place in our local community if they survive. Competition amongst these businesses for your dollars improves the choices and services available to us as Williston and Vermont residents. However, if we allow narrowly defined localism and wistful longing for a perfect Vermont experience to disallow these choices for our community, we limit not just our current options, but our future ones as well.

Vermont ranks at 39 out of the 50 states in a 2012 study by the network CNBC. Our housing prices and cost of living expenses are high with respect to the typical salaries offered in the state, and our high school students leave the state for out-of-state colleges at one of the highest rates in the nation. While it would be specious at best to tie these two trends back to only wistful localism, attitudes akin to the one expressed in last week’s Guest Column play a role. Less choices, having it be harder to open or move a business to Vermont, or to build a house here, less population, less jobs, lower salaries, smaller tax base, it all has a cost. As Vermonters, we are explicitly or implicitly paying that cost to live the Vermont dream, but let’s not needlessly increase that cost and limit our choices and future because we’re afraid our very capable locally owned business can’t stand up to a little national competition.

I’m looking forward to trying breakfast at Panera soon, but I’m also looking forward to enjoying our family’s next dinner and some live music and local beer at Monty’s. In Williston, you can have them both, and I, for one, am very much okay with that.

Jim Bauman is a Williston resident.

Yoga for mind, body and neighbor

Williston resident Leo Leach (facing right) and a group of locals get into warrior 1 pose during a yoga class at Williston Woods last year. Leach teaches a free class the third Sunday of every month to benefit the Williston Community Food Shelf. (Courtesy photo by Bernhard Wunder)

Observer staff

As bright sunlight from a crisp fall morning streamed through the windows of the activity center at Williston Woods, the room was quiet except for the steady breathing of yoga practitioners.

Yoga instructor Leo Leach weaved through the group’s multi-colored yoga mats, making slight adjustments to poses and guiding the group through a fluid stream of movement in a relaxing voice.

Sunday’s yoga session marked the return of free monthly yoga classes held at Williston Woods to benefit the Williston Community Food Shelf, resuming after a summer hiatus.

Leach said supporting the food shelf and raising awareness of the need in the community is only part of the benefit yoga class’s goal.

“The true objective is to really make it known to the public that there is a local yoga community who are putting their own needs aside to help others,” he said. “That’s the real value in this. It’s not how much food we collect and how much money we raise. The real value, as I see it, is the community coming together to help each other.”

The classes began in February 2011, after Leach stopped teaching Sunday classes at the Edge in Williston. There was a lot of disappointment among his regulars, he said, so he decided to start leading Sunday lessons once a month—this time, to benefit a community resource.

The classes—held the third Sunday of every month—are put on hold during the summer, when Leach leads Yoga on Church Street, a by-donation event that benefits Prevent Child Abuse Vermont.

Since the classes began last year, Leach said participants have raised approximately $1,500 for the food shelf, plus a large amount of food donations—though he noted that the figures weren’t the important part of the effort.

“The real focus isn’t on how much food or how much money, the value is in helping the community,” Leach noted.

Williston resident Harry Riendel—who has been taking yoga classes with Leach for years and tries to attend all the Williston Woods classes—said he felt “great” after the session.

“I’ve got a sweat on, I’m relaxed,” he said. “I find it to be very helpful for treating the body, and Leo’s been helping me understand how helpful it is for my mind.”

Willistonian Addie Hall also tries to attend all the Williston Woods classes, and has helped spread the word through Front Porch Forum postings.

“I always feel great after yoga, ready to take on whatever comes my way,” she said after Sunday’s class, yoga mat under her arm.

Leach began teaching yoga more than seven years ago.

“The biggest joy I get at the end of class is looking up and seeing all the beaming faces,” he said. “It touches my heart from the day I started teaching.”

Though many people practice yoga to take time for themselves and escape from the distractions and stresses of everyday life, a benefit yoga class incorporates another major aspect of yogic philosophy—putting aside one’s own personal desires, Leach said.

“We come to realize that we aren’t that different, we are the same,” Leach said. “That leads to compassion, where we place the needs of others before our own desires.”

At the end of Sunday’s class, with participants feeling relaxed and energized, he urged them to apply that feeling to their lives outside the studio.

“Take this feeling of peace and contentment with you, share a little love,” he said.

School boards back in session

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

With two weeks of the new academic year on the books, the school boards of the Williston School District and Champlain Valley Union High School met Sept. 12 for the first time since their respective summer retreats.

The Williston School Board kicked off its inaugural 2012-13 meeting by hearing a pair of presentations on early intervention education techniques at Allen Brook School.

Nancy Rondeau, a Reading Recovery intervention teacher, explained the work she and her colleagues do with first graders who placed in the bottom 25 percent of their kindergarten classes in literacy.

“The goal is to get those students up to the average level of the classroom in the shortest period of time,” Rondeau said. “We are teaching the hardest to teach students.”

Reading Recovery is a short-term intervention program for early school-aged children that was developed by New Zealand educator Dr. Marie Clay in the 1970s. ABS Principal John Terko is chairman of the Northwest Vermont-Addison Reading Recovery Consortium, a group that serves Chittenden, Franklin, Lamoille and Addison counties.

Michael Moss, who works alongside Rondeau, noted that 19 ABS students were identified for the Reading Recovery program last year. Sixteen of those 19 students, or 84 percent, made significant enough progress to be “discontinued” from the program by the end of the year, compared to a national average of 77 percent.

“Williston’s looking very good in terms of the number of students who successfully discontinue from the program,” Moss said.

Williston School Board Chairwoman Holly Rouelle sang the praises of Reading Recovery to the rest of the board.

“It is honestly the most intense 30 minutes of instruction and learning that I think I’ve ever seen,” Rouelle said.

Kathy Schaw, a math intervention teacher, followed with a presentation on the Math Recovery program at ABS. While she admitted that the program is still in its nascent stages compared to Reading Recovery, she highlighted the importance of early math skills as determiners of more holistic academic success.

“Mathematics is an important indicator of how successful kids will be in science, technology and reading,” Schaw said. “But the reverse isn’t necessarily true, even though you would think it is. Early success in reading doesn’t necessarily lead to success in math, science and technology.”

Yet Schaw acknowledged the hierarchy of remedial instruction.

“One of the first things I was told about math intervention is that reading trumps math,” she said. “So if a child needs Reading Recovery and math support, they need to go to Reading Recovery first. … So that’s one of our biggest challenges. How do we still give them that support without pulling them out of the classroom all day long?”


The CVU School Board used much of its meeting getting a head start on budget season, which typically doesn’t begin in earnest until November.

Board member Allen Mead prefaced the discussion with a recap of the budget for fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30, 2012.

“We were favorable to the budget on the bottom line by slightly less than $17,000 last year,” Mead said of the greater than $21 million budget. “To finish that close to budget, and in the positive, was remarkable, given all the various changes we’ve had in the budget.”

Joan Lenes suggested that her fellow board members should err more on the side of caution during the upcoming budget season.

“My reaction was it’s a little too close for comfort,” Lenes said. “Thank goodness it’s on the plus side.”

CVU is currently operating under a fiscal year 2013 budget of $21,425,188, as approved March 6, 2012, by voters in the four CVU member towns (Williston, Hinesburg, Charlotte and Shelburne).

Although the upcoming budget season will focus on developing a budget for the period beginning July 1, 2013, and ending June 30, 2014, CVU Principal Sean McMannon suggested that the board adopt a three-year plan for certain budgetary considerations.

Specifically, McMannon asked the board to consider allocating funding for instructional coaches, professional development, online learning and increased staffing. The last item, which carries an estimated $300,000 price tag in fiscal year 2014, is aimed at lowering the student load for teachers to an average of 18 students per class.

Board member Jeanne Jensen cautioned that the board should be wary of the tax implications to residents for such measures. Assuming the budget remains at its present baseline, a preliminary tax increase of 8.4 percent is estimated, based on projected enrollment numbers for the 2013-14 school year. The current fiscal year saw an approximate tax increase of 5.3 percent.

Jensen pointed out that the proposed budget additions would increase the tax rate another 2.5 percent.

“If I add 2.5 percent to 8.5 percent, that’s 11 percent. I’m not going to the community with an 11 percent tax increase next year,” Jensen said. “If we want Sean (McMannon) to start thinking about the budget, I would say that’s a showstopper for me.”

Mead submitted that while he’s in favor of planning with an eye toward the 2015-16 school year, compromises may need to be reached in the current budget season to make that vision viable.

“I think what’s been presented here gives us an opportunity to do something that I don’t think we’ve done consistently in the budget process in the past, and that’s make decisions with a longer time frame than next year,” Mead said. “I would be willing to implement more of 2015 in next year, but there’s got to be some potential trade-offs, so we’re not getting to that 11 percent.”

Town weeds out medical marijuana dispensary location

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

It was a dark and stormy night at the Williston Planning and Zoning office on Tuesday.

As the building’s lights flickered on and off and generator fumes wafted into the night air, Williston Planning Commission members Jake Mathon and Meghan Cope soldiered on through a meeting that sorely lacked a quorum.

Dispensing with a planned agenda that included discussion of recreation and school impact fee ordinances, talk instead turned to medical marijuana dispensaries.

The Planning Commission previously addressed the marijuana question at its Aug. 7 meeting, following a communication from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to Williston officials, which requested a formal town position on the possible location of a dispensary within town limits. At that time, the commission asked Planning and Zoning Department staff to prepare a map showing feasible locations for a potential dispensary.

Although current state law permits a maximum of four dispensaries operating in the state at any one time, it also stipulates that dispensaries cannot be located within 1,000 feet of schools or child care facilities. At the same time, it allows towns to specifically prohibit dispensaries, regardless of rationale.

As Mathon pored over a map prepared for Tuesday’s meeting by Williston Senior Planner Matt Boulanger, he proposed that the marijuana dispensary question is moot, due to the scarcity of potential locations in town.

“It doesn’t leave a whole lot of options, does it?” Mathon asked.

Adding to Mathon’s skepticism is the fact that the Vermont Department of Public Safety has granted conditional approval to two planned dispensaries in Burlington and Waterbury, according to a Sept. 12 report from The Associated Press.

Boulanger played the devil’s advocate, offering the hypothetical scenario that future state marijuana laws might become more lenient.

“What if the legislature comes back in a year or two and expands this, and says that now there can be more than four clinics in the state?” Boulanger posed.

Williston Director of Planning and Zoning Ken Belliveau said that if the town decides to assert its jurisdiction on marijuana dispensaries, it will likely require the input of the Development Review Board.

“It seems to me that if the town takes a stance on the issue, what it means is that somebody would have to come in and get a permit from the town before they could really do anything, especially if you said you had to get a discretionary permit, which would mean it would have to go to the DRB and would need a public hearing,” Belliveau said.

Cope expressed an indication of interest for that course of action.

“I like the discretionary permit piece, because it opens it up to a debate,” Cope said. “Essentially, if there’s a public hearing required, it’s very transparent.”

However, because of the absence of a quorum, no action could be taken on the matter.

The Planning Commission, a seven-member body under town charter, currently has five active members. Joel Klein, who recently submitted his formal resignation, hadn’t attended a meeting in more than seven months.

Belliveau made an open appeal for membership, suggesting that the Planning Commission, which requires four affirmative votes to approve a motion, is a less efficient body with only five members.

“You can’t get business done if there’s any dissent at all, if you don’t have enough people on the board,” Belliveau said, “and with too small of a board, I think you’re not likely to get as representative a sample of public opinion in the town.”